Am I Indian?
In 1947, not knowing the answer cost one million people their lives. Because their leaders could not agree on ‘What is India?’. Because over 350 years of rule, the British had propagated the lie that India was so diverse there was no inherent unity to it. Indeed the British were needed to hold this sprawl together. When they departed, the country tore apart, expectedly.
That lie was beneficial to the British Raj, but why did Indians get amnesia?
That India had a geographic unity was known to Indians since Vyasa compiled the Mahabharata two millennia back, and defined Bharata: the land that is south of the mountains and north of the sea. As a principal character, he cast Gandhari, mother of the Kauravas. Gandhari: the lady from Gandhara, modern-day Kandahar in Afghanistan. The oldest copy of the Mahabharata was discovered in Kashmir. It is alive in the folk performances of south India: Kerala’s Theeyam, Karnataka’s Yakshagana, Tamil Nadu’s Terukkuttu. And lives in the east amongst the tribals of Bihar and Orissa.
Vyasa's intention with the Mahabharata was to inscribe Dharma in the heart of men, so they did not forget. The fact that it is enacted to this day would seem to fulfill Vyasa’s objective. But has it become a spectacle? Where the takeaway from the battle for dharma is battle, not Dharma? Otherwise, how could the violence of Partition have occurred? And of 1984, 1992, 2002 …
As independence approached, increasingly disillusioned by violence, Gandhi maintained that the Mahabharata, the story of a bloody war, was nevertheless written to establish the futility of war. And yet, the midnight birth of twins yielded twin migrations, an umbilical cord that cleaved into two, flailing east and west. In the Purana Qila of Delhi, the same Old Fort where the Pandavas had sought refuge, Gandhi found Muslim refugees huddling from the tyranny of their Hindu brothers. And the Mahabharata came full circle.
As we approach the 70th anniversary of India’s freedom, the question of ‘who is Indian’ is being bandied about again - a re-attempt to pour a plural India into the straitjacket of one religion. Tomorrow, 15 August, 2016, we mark 69 years of India’s independence and partition. Today, a 23-year-old girl from Tripura, driven purely by her grit and guts, vaulted on the Olympic stage for India in a maneuver that only five people in the world dare perform. Is she Indian? Hell, yeah! all of India will declare today. Even if most of us could not locate Tripura on the map before the Olympics began.
In a fine illustration of a karma yogi, Dipa Karmakar began training for this day 17 years ago when she turned six. Karma and Dharma, the twins that so bedeviled Arjuna on the battlefield, continue to confound many Indians to this day. And yet, the doing of one’s duty - how beautifully has Dipa Karmakar shown it to all of India today. When the tired question pops up next - Is he/she/they/Indian? - tell the questioner it’s been seven decades since the British left, time to wake up, no?!
Jago Mohan pyare …