If you are of Indian stock, you get a fair share of negative press due to your identity anywhere around the world. This can be attributed to many factors like a very stand out and complex culture; tremendous diversity in language, customs, and religions; an ancient civilisation, which has been unbending and proud; the recent and the current developing nation tag for the motherland.
We all know in our hearts that the characterisation of our identity that revolves around a few hanging nails like poverty, caste system, superstitions, backwardness is not entirely representative of us. There is much more that is great and golden about being an Indian and if shown and seen in the correct perspective, would not only change the perceptions of many but also possibly illuminate a new path for the world to follow.
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It is with this thought in mind that I decided to pen down this column, which is about identifying the great aspects of being an Indian, knowing why they are amazing and celebrating our uniqueness. We have had many brickbats for the negatives; let us look at the positives that make us great and nice. It might be a naïve view we might be presenting but there is no law against feeling happy about the simple things.
Above everything, the one soft power that Indians possess is their food. No one can beat the sheer range and array of flavours in the . The food changes dramatically every few kilometres in India with just a slight twist of fingers while adding turmeric or masala or chilli powder. There are non-vegetarian options but very importantly, no other cuisine in the world has so much variety and taste available for vegetarians. It has to do with the tremendously fertile and arable land available in India which grows vegetables and spices of all kinds that have found their way into cuisines. If there is one thing that can win the world for Indians, it is the cooking.
I would put our sense of family and respect for elders as the cornerstone of a strong and successful community anywhere we go. Stable families make for balanced personalities of children who grow up into responsible and mature adults. Respect for elders ensure a sense of humility and adherence to structure which is always useful as one steps into the world of work and life.
Indians have had an ancient and vibrant civilization with a strong foundation of knowledge and seeking.
Our Vedas and Upanishads were written thousands of years ago, our scriptures are full of vignettes on life, politics, business, and science. Our universities like Nalanda, Takshashila and Kashi were the top learning grounds in ancient times and that learning spirit continues to this day. It is no surprise that Indians are at the top of their classes in the West and represent themselves well in technology and business fields everywhere.
Our customs, rituals and even practices, if looked at in depth with an inquisitive open mind often reflect some sort of science behind them. An example is eating on banana leaves which is very eco friendly as these could just be thrown back into the soil where they would decay and become one with nature. A better example of recycling there would not be. An extension of this thought is the amazing co-habitation and that our culture has always fostered.
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What to say of the colour and joie de vivre amongst our daily lives that peek out of our clothes, our food, our festivals, our customs, and our celebrations. Every festival or ceremony has people turned up in the most colourful outfits, with tons of and flowers and the sheer variety and colour of the food apart from the amazing taste. Our celebrations have singing, dancing and lot of joy which we share not just with family but half the community.
Finally, the inclusiveness and large heart that the Indian people have is ubiquitous everywhere they go. It might be the ease with which a woman with a seat in a crowded bus offers to sit your little one as you are all standing, or the uninhibited sharing of their own food when someone gives you shelter at their home in case you are lost, or the way people helped each other in the terrible Mumbai floods in 2005 or in the number of mishaps happening in India.
Coming to the UK, every time I have come across Indians, I have helped with tips on saving money, physical help with chores, support during times of need and emotional succour when needed.
To be sure, all these qualities are not unique to Indians and there would be many communities over the world who might possess these but when you put all these together and look at ‘we’, you find a very warm, tolerant, open minded, industrious, successful, intelligent and joyous people who have a lot to offer the world.
Rejoice for being who we are, Indians, the amazing people, warts and all.
Abhijit Kothiwale is an IT sales consultant working for a large Indian multinational based out of London. He spent his education and early working years in India and after having lived in the US and Singapore, has made his home in the UK for the last 11 years. In this column, he gives his perspective on topics of interest to the Indian diaspora.