Writing this article at 21 feels like penning a chapter of my autobiography, or chalking out a mental map of my numerous thoughts. This article comes from a girl who has her roots in Lucknow, was born in Delhi, has lived in Gurgaon, Ahmedabad and Bengaluru and aspires to take up her first job in Kolkata. Kolkata seems the obvious choice. The Lokmanya Tilak route must be completed.
The girl is left numb when asked the most basic question: “Where do you hail from, tumhaari mitti kaunsi hai?” She shies away from saying Lucknow as she has hardly been there though it is her ancestral place. Delhi – Nayi Dilli – is a city formed by migrants, and it is difficult to originally hail from there. Most of the time she gets away with Delhi, but that’s not what her heart says. She herself doesn’t know what her heart says. She hasn’t yet found the place which gives her that sense of belonging, which she can talk about with pride, that culture which she can don and walk around with pride.
She is an active participant and an active dancer during Navratri in Ahmedabad; she danced till she broke her bone during Ganesh Chaturthi in Bengaluru; she just can’t stop enjoying the parathas at ‘Parathe wali gali’ in Purani Dilli; Lucknowi chikankari kurtas have flooded her wardrobe; and she just can’t wait to blow the shell in Kolkata. Despite loving and respecting all these equally, she doesn’t know which to call her own. Will she ever know?
This is perhaps the story of the many service class people who have embraced the booming cosmopolitan culture with open arms. And it does creep into our everyday life, sub-consciously and super-consciously. After all, we migrate and become a part of the culture of that place. Even if we don’t, our social life ensures it happens. We dance, we play merry, come back in the night and then the lights are out. Have we embraced that culture or simply accepted it for societal reasons? What does it mean to embrace, and what does it mean to accept? We accept the numerous acquaintances in our daily life, but do we embrace them all?
The dictionary says that to embrace is to hug, or accept with an open heart. Most of the non-Gujaratis in Gujarat and many across the world have embraced Garba and Dandiya. But, is it a part of their culture? How do they make it a part of their culture? Do they want to make it a part of their culture? If so, what is culture?
The word culture comes across as a paradox. On one hand, it is associated with art, literature, music – things which seem accessible only to the elite. On the other hand, it is a part of one’s daily life – phrases like work culture, consumer culture, beer culture have been doing the rounds since one can remember. It is pristine yet utilitarian, exclusive yet inclusive, evolving yet constant, understood yet misunderstood; amid all of this, clearly a paradox, a paradox whose death, whose non-existence would make us all totalitarian beasts, the paradox which makes us human.
Since the advent of the information age, there have been numerous discussions, numerous debates about how the current generation is losing their culture; how culture is gradually waning, yet, how profound the influences of one’s culture are. It is worth wondering how something as intangible as culture can wane, or how something as constantly evolving as culture can be lost, or how something as subjective as culture can remain uninfluenced.
Embracing cultures – these two words have frankly had me boggled. At the surface level, it sounds quite simple, but as the shovel digs deeper the coarser gravel is unearthed. We all have indeed embraced other cultures on some level in this global age, but still have a long way to go. While we talk about embracing other cultures, it is far more important to understand and embrace our own. Culture and identity are synonymous. It is important to stand tall in the crowd. So what if one is a migrant? He too can have, or develop his own culture. Not staying connected to one’s roots due to inevitable circumstances doesn’t mean that culture is lost, it means that the culture has travelled, it has undertaken a new journey, it has evolved.
Culture is like DNA, unique for all. Each individual evolves differently and so does his/her culture. This holds even more significance today when every other person is tagged among the diaspora. Some of the diasporas are looking to form their own community within the larger cross-cultural community, to protect their identity, to protect their culture; the cultural affinity arising from a common place of belonging. It seems the more probable and accepted way to go. It gives immense comfort, but it would be more comforting to wear your own culture, your own identity like that sacred black thread and be an integral part in the cross-communion, where all cultures, all peoples evolve together. The nature of culture is to evolve, just like people. Our motherland has truly embraced all cultures equally, it is high-time we did too.
And that girl who doesn’t know which culture to call her own, which place to call her own, she could just say, “Hi, I am Deepika, I am an Indian.”
This article has also been published on the writer’s personal blog.