By Sanchita Khurana:
Enlisting India’s national treasures in the modern day is an act of careful selection based on contemporaneity and utility, while keeping in mind the particular “treasures'” unique native presence as well as its openness to change. I have chosen the following five as modern Indian treasures for the above mentioned factors, notwithstanding the abundance of other treasures that could be included in the list.
English became a language of official use in India as a result of the colonial expansion of English education system and English offices. Ever since, of course, the growth of the English language in the country has been tremendous. Today, India has the third largest English-speaking population in the world. What is interesting to me is the special variety of English that Indians speak. Although Indian English receives quite an amount of critical mockery from the “actual” English speakers, the peculiar Indianisation of English within this country is an exclusive example of the “chutnification” that expression in a “non-native” language requires. Deemed grammatically incorrect as it is, Indian English nevertheless is worthy of valuation as a specifically Indian presence, able to articulate Indian experience (of a colonial past of multiple invasions) while making the English-speaking Indian “modern” enough. Popularisation of this particular type of English has been assisted by novelists like Salman Rushdie and Arundhati Roy with their linguistic experiments. It is a smart move towards a cosmopolitanism and ‘corporate’ Indian expression without giving up the specificity of Indians.
In search for knowledge for leading long, healthy lives, the ancient Indian medicinal system has been a holistic healing treatment for any kind of ailment plaguing the human body. Basing its theories on the four rasasof the human body and claiming that no disease comes from outside the human body, Ayurveda reaches the very root of the problem and cures it by supplying the necessary elements and minerals in the appropriate amount. An “unsold” and “unschooled” botanic study of medicinal herbs has been the foundation of this medicinal system. While it has been ignored and undervalued for a long time, in the face of the fast and tangible treatment claimed by allopathic medicine, Ayurveda is again finding an important place in effective healing systems. In fact, it does what allopathic medicine cannot do, that is provide a wholesome solution to illnesses and create a balance of mind, body and soul; and it does not do what allopathic medicine most often does, that is, leave unwanted side-effects. The modern type of living with its stress-inducing factors and uncontrolled fast pace, has caused many modern day practitioners to resort to Ayurveda and its method of treatment. In considering this kind of a healing approach as the basis of all medical systems, Indian sages were not wrong after all– Ayurveda really is an Indian treasure of ever- increasing worth.
There will be no Indian who does not know of the legend of the good husband Rama or of the battle of Kurukshetra. Even if one lives outside India, the shared cultural past develops in the Indian psyche, by way of cultural anecdotes and folklore. Unconsciously or subconsciously, mythical knowledge shapes ethical values and cultural behaviour. The all-pervasiveness of the impact of the Indian epics is a reminder of the way history is perceived and the way it always shapes one’s moral choices. Didactic folklore which is a part of almost all cultures within India, draws heavily and mainly from these epics, moulding them according to their own pragmatic cultural realities. This “great Indian meta-text” appears inadvertently almost in every sphere of cultural production, giving Indian culture and tradition a lambent uniqueness and a solid reference point.
To add this small state to a list of Indian treasures might seem as trivialising the concept of “treasure” but I suppose that is precisely why it needs to be put on this list. Swami William called Goa not a mere place, but a state of mind, to be found and enjoyed after much looking– just like a treasure, isn’t it? With its diversely-developed but unique history in the background, the mosaic-like culture of the state of Goa reflects a belief in the trance-like enjoyment of life. Lazing around, enjoying fish curry and rice, breathing salty air, running a whole economy by serving guests from all over the world, Goans represent that transcendental state of mind where existence itself matters alone. Apart from its unmatched architectural heritage, its sundry flora and fauna and its beautiful beaches, it is valuable according to me as a symbol of not just multiculturalism but also of cosmopolitanism. A state where every thinking Indian experiences some kind of change during a visit (while holidaying!), owing to the sheer heterogeneity of cultural presence, must be some kind of national treasure, forming and dissolving at the same time the idea of a fixed Indian-ness while boosting the Indian tourism industry.
From being a cultural ambassador to a storehouse of patriotic portrayals, Indian (Hindi) cinema forms the basis of Indian multiculturalism. As melodramatic and loud as it is stereotyped to be, Bollywood is the most colourful treasure of Indian culture, offering in one full sweep, the moving impact of modernity as well as the inertia of traditional values. It promotes pluralism, apt for the multi-religious experience that India is made of and subsists on. Hindi cinema is the one subtle commentator that refuses to budge from its position as a chronicler and moral custodian of Indian experience. Ruled as it is by Bollywood and its products, the Indian popular imagination deems it of great value and use as a judge, sometimes a mirror, sometimes an ideal and sometimes an experiential proxy.
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