Happy Birthday, India!

28india1This Saturday, August 15th, will be India’s 68th Independence Day! Though a naturalized American, lately, I’ve been feeling deeply patriotic about Indian affairs. I read try to read the news regularly. I’m especially interested in the dichotomy between her growing cultural influence world-wide and the internal identity struggles at home. Sometimes, I forget what a young nation she really is… I know many people older than her!

When my family immigrated to the US, I too went through a similar identity crisis. As a young adult, I felt trapped between a very Indian household and a very American world around me. I attended temple, watched Bollywood movies before it was a fad, wore Sarees and actively participated in cultural events. My sister and I performed at various Indian festivals in full ethnic garb. While I enjoyed the cultural aspects of the eastern culture, my personal identity was being shaped by a very western world.  And, I hid most of my feelings from my family. The problem with living a double life is that eventually they catch up with each other. And, as you get older you realize that it’s simply not worth the trouble of keeping up a façade. While parts of my identity are authentically Indian, I’m a product of two opposing cultures. That, in itself, can explain my life’s story.

indiaRecently, I read a book called “The Argumentative Indian” by Nobel Prize winning economist, Dr. Amartya Sen. It was an eye-opening account of India’s journey through a series of essays examining India’s long history of heterodoxy- a rational argumentative tradition that has been crucial in the development of India’s secular policy. “Challenging the notion of the West as sole originator of liberal values, the book—which ranges over subjects as diverse as India’s ancient calendars, nuclear arms policy, relationship with China, gender and class inequality, representations in the Western imagination and the competing national visions of Tagore and Gandhi—bears forcefully on contemporary debates over multiculturalism, secularism and postcolonial identity.” I highly recommend this to anyone wanting a dispassionate and intellectual read. Sen argues that the world, including most Indians, have forgotten India’s long and deliberate “argumentative” tradition which fostered democracy and advancements in science, math and engineering long before the British arrived. However, in the post-colonial era, our identities were still battered from the British oppression that we were (are) unable to regain our memories. It goes on to challenge many western viewpoints about India and there are some parts that I do not agree with, especially Sen’s views about India’s nuclear ambition, but as with any book one must arrive at their own conclusions.

When I think about my own journey, it’s not so much about looking backwards as it is about remembering who I am. It’s about finding my authentic voice and learning to speak, argue, criticize and reason, intelligently again! It’s about identifying with a culture- my culture- rooted in pluralism and diversity and promoting those very principles wherever I am. As I listen to candidate after candidate running for president talking about the US being a Christian nation, it is important to remember that religious dogma doesn’t have any place in political ideology… That is a post for another time, and, I digress.

This Saturday, August 15th, is India’s 68th Independence Day! I can’t wait to celebrate my diverse heritage! Will you join me?

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