I too come from ‘two Indias’, where a cartoon is a leader and a leader a caricature
There has always been an India with scientific temper and another in which the cow exhales oxygen; a India where peaceful protestors are put in jail while a terrorist becomes an MP
My father was a liberal but he was also very conservative. Does that sound like a paradox?
He never listened to friends and relatives who warned him against educating his daughters and marry them off. He wanted us to become high achievers and be able to stand on our own feet and not be dependent on husbands for survival. And yet we were not allowed any freedom or choice in the clothes we wore; we were also strictly forbidden from cultivating boyfriends other girls our age did. Was that hypocrisy? Perhaps.
The turning point came when one evening he stopped me from donning even the mildest of make-up saying, the bare natural look was the best; but then he couldn’t take his eyes off a lady at the club who would have spent hours before the mirror fixing her face to get her look just right.
“She is so like a film star!” he marvelled.
The next day out went our conservative clothes and in came jeans, bell-bottoms, pantaloons and everything else we considered modern and trendy. My father had the good grace to retreat and allow the rebellion.
Not so my mother's bosom pal with five daughters and a young son. She grew up watching his brother-in-law bring her eldest sister three gold sets every year – on her birthday, their wedding anniversary and Diwali. His mother was very appreciative and boastful. “So loving he is. So devoted to his wife.”
But when her own son married and introduced the same practice in his own life, his mother was not appreciative any longer.
Joru ka gulam is how she derisively described him to my mother at least three times a year.
This is the India I grew up in, what it has always been, paradoxical, hypocritical, duplicitous and completely unaware of the contradictions. What was sauce for the goose was never sauce for the gander. Yet, growing up in an inclusive and pluralistic India, we never saw it as more than mild hypocrisy and something to be both ignored and laughed at.
But it is no laughing matter anymore even if a stand-up comedian tries to drew attention to the ‘two Indias’ we live in. For it is no longer about just making a difference between a daughter or daughter-in-law, or skirts as opposed to sarees, but about crushing farmers under your wheels on the one hand and starving them on the other and seeing nothing wrong in either. Or as Diksha Nitin Raut tweeted, ‘we come from an India where freedom fighters are labelled as beggars and those who beg for mercy are called ‘Veer’.
I was horrified to discover a friend who eagerly awaits biryani and sewai from her Muslim friend every year but in drawing room conversations would routinely and casually say “These Muslims have not been beaten enough!”
And I find I now live in an India, where choosing right over might is bias and lies over truth makes me an exemplar.
Yes, I come from an India where the cow breathes out oxygen yet human beings die by the hundreds for the lack of it; and I come from an India, where a cartoon becomes a leader and a leader is dismissed as a caricature.
Yes, I come from an India that has gone beyond the paradoxical, the hypocritical and the duplicitous and become worthy of a banana republic. Once upon a time I was a proud Indian, loving my country, warts and all and generous to all her faults. I would have died for my nation in a trice.
But how I only cringe. I cringe when China occupies my territory and the Red Eye meekly surrenders, I cringe when my nation's leader embarrasses us globally to profess climate change is only some oldies feeling cold in their old bones. I cringe when I hear a leader laugh at his people's misery, I cringe when he expects me to make gas from a gutter.
I am mortified when a Canadian friend writes to ask where he can find statistics about Indian dietary habits and how many of us savour cow urine. I want to go through the floor when my Australian friend texts about Indian media reports she has read and asks IF I need any material help from her country; when a German friend says I should not hesitate to ask for medical help during the Covid crisis because he has seen floating bodies and burning pyres in India.
Money might be of no help because nothing is available there, he says; so, I am finally reduced to begging for alms. Indeed, I am now no longer a proud Indian but a charity case. To top it all a Brazilian colleague sends me a report on corruption over an Indian company selling its vaccine to Brazil and my cup runneth over.
So, yes, I come from an India that was proud of its scientific temper but today is known only for its obsession with gobar and gomutra. I come from an India where the trinity of wealth, knowledge and power is represented by women (Laxmi, Saraswati, Durga), yet a petty priest can make fun of a woman minister and her male boss will let him get away with it.
I come from an India where peace workers reside in jail and a terrorist is a Member of Parliament. I come from an India of Buddha and Gandhi, but am constrained to witness violence every day.
And I come from an India where the cow is my mother but my mother is only a photo-OP, an India where the golden bird no longer resides on every branch and an India overtaken by bigotry violence, self-aggrandizement... and Adolf Hitler!
I come from an India which is no longer just hypocritical but clearly fascist, undemocratic, cringeworthy and an international joke presided over by Jack Nichols-like evil clowns and a Chaplinesque Great Dictator.
(The writer is Consulting Editor, National Herald, Mumbai. Views are personal)