Is Cosmopolitan, a ‘new’ identity for India?

The Cosmopolitan I am referring to in my post title is not of the international fashion magazine, but something far deeper and emotional. We are an emotional polity so anything remotely emotional borders on the political. A few months back a municipal school teacher on behalf of the National Sample Survey Organization knocked on my door for some data collection for the local body. Being a person trained in social research methods, I was enthusiastic to pitch in and participate as I then just relocated back to Mumbai. The survey administrator started off the brief survey by starting off in the local state language Marathi. Although I am fluent in Marathi, I opted to reply in Hindi for fear of making embarrassing grammatical errors in front of a native speaker.

The questions were fairly routine in nature which ranged from age to family income to education. The aspect which got me very uncomfortable and irritated was the questions regarding caste and religion. Those questions got me thinking about the fractured nature of India’s politics where the individual does not matter. He is nomenclaturized into narrow and disturbing sub divisions of caste, religion, and ethnicity. In the end, I am just a statistic for the State.  

Prof. Amartya Sen’s theory of ‘Plural Identities’ implies that one can be  culturally Bengali,  half Bihari by birth and a Christian by Faith along with being  Indian by political representation  all at the same time sans any contradictions. I am a product of a mixed marriage- My Dad is an ethnic Bihari born and bred in West Bengal and my Mum is an ethnic Bengali based in Mumbai. My Father speaks fluent Bengali and my Mum speaks fluent Marathi.  I was bred in the polarized Mumbai of the 90′s.  With stints of my childhood in Muscat, Oman, where my Father is an expat educator- grew up listening to Khaled and Cheb Mami along with Euphoria and Lucky Ali songs.

With traditional Rabindra Sangeet playing all day at home (With me listening to Bhoomi and Nachiketa-contemporary Bengali music), my parents tried their best to make me Bengali’ Bangali! Still I am labeled a Bihari many times around!

The Nation State has been poor to catch up with the blurring boundaries regarding cultural identities. People inter-marry between castes & languages and more commonly between faiths and hence their next generations do not have straight laced identities. Globalization and migration leads to love & relationships being fermented in an ‘out-of-the-box’ fashion. Purity of ‘Gotra’ is something Khap Panchayats will find hard to enforce as times move along. The Coercive influence of blatant brute force has its limits.  Arjun Appadurai in the book ‘Fear of Small Numbers’ elucidates the notion that minorities are manufactured as a totem for the majority community to feel good. Ethnocides are not organic, they are engineered.  A Hutu vs Tutsi Battle in Rwanda or a conflict in the Balkans are a classic example. People are not straight laced to be reduced to mere terms for analysts to play with.

A small anecdote from the Tiny Red Dot. The Singaporean Government’s efforts at maintaining effective multi-racial public policy efforts (such as an efficient HDB Allocation Policy) is made harder with greater number of mixed race couples earmarking their children as mixed race although the child has an option to re-categorize him/herself as Chinese, Indian, Malay or Eurasian later on in life. Arranged Marriages in the past have been a powerful social instrument of enforcing a pure blood line in the past. This social Institution is slowly withering away as well. Although there are websites such as community matrimony dot com to maintain the status quo. Films such as Vivaah and the Barjatya genre of films reinforce stereotypes too of caste in the grab of traditional values.

I have felt as much a Bengali in Kolkata as I have felt as a Mumbaikar in Mumbai and in the same breath felt as much at home in Muscat and Singapore where I have lived half my life.  But never felt at home or at ease with this politico-social construct of an ‘Identity’. It is a fluid mosaic with is dependent on the ‘Man in the Head’ in the words of Pico Iyer and not so much on biology or geography. In this age of globalization, we have fluid identities- every place that we live in, contributes a spec in to our soul and we transmit a vector of our emotions in to the place as well.

I would define myself as cosmopolitan rather.


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