Is there something called root connection? I often ask myself whether, as human beings, we get trapped in the past and must somehow adopt the land where we have spent our life – our ancestors’ home – to make it our own.
I suffer from no identity crisis. Being born in a foreign country and of Indian roots (my grandparents hail from Uttar Pradesh), I call myself an Indian by choice and not by birth. Trust me; this emotion is strongly embedded in my body and nerves. I came face-to-face with my roots when I crossed the ocean to study at Pune and Mumbai. Both places offered me the chance to look within and discover my potential as a human being. Since then, there has been no looking back. It brought me close to who I am; I not only discovered my roots but also came face-to-face with my ‘Indian-ness’. It’s been a journey of self-discovery since then, and I am still exploring myself as an Indian.
Being an Indian doesn’t make me jingoistic, contrary to what many NRIs or People of Indian Origin are led to believe. There is a thin line between being a patriotic Indian and sinking on the verge of insanity by taking offense at every small thing said or done. My India is tolerant – one that believes in respect for all religions – and I outright reject this notion of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ spearheaded by bigots.
As an Indian, it makes me revel in pride when the national cricket team stages a win against Pakistan or even Australia, for that matter. I celebrate with a peg of whisky. It brings tears to my eyes when Amitabh Bachchan recites the ‘Jana Gana Mana’ with passion and emotions.
I owe a lot to the country which has given me education, and it is with pride that I say that India has made me who I am. Yes, I am an Indian by choice but not birth. It saddens me when sexual assaults and rapes bring a bad name to the country. India is not a ‘rape country’ nor is Delhi the ‘rape capital’. Like any other country in the world, India is saddled with issues – be it corruption, crimes against women, education or gender bias. That shouldn’t stop us from striving and aiming to be the next super power. Each and every Indian worth his or her salt knows that every citizen can contribute to the country’s well-being. We can start where we live by pledging to keep our area safe and clean.
I am often quizzed about my loyalty to India. “Why do you say you are Indian when you weren’t born here?” My reasoning is simple: It’s a matter of the heart and where it lies. My emotions lie with India – a country with a bundle of contradictions and diversity. After all, ‘Once an Indian always an Indian’.
I plan to be back to India soon for it taught me so much about life. I feel this is where I belong. No! I am not a cash-rich NRI but an average, middle-class person who has hopes and aspirations, like most others. India gives me a sense of comfort and belonging. It’s something that comes from within.
Am I critical of this land? Of course, I am. Does that make me a bad Indian or a confused Desi? No, it doesn’t, for I want the country to prosper in its diversity – to build respect for all religions and to break the gender gap and patriarchal mindset. There is more to India than just Hindi films or cricket. Those who scorn our obsession with cricket and films – I humbly ask such critics to come and stay in this country as an Indian to understand our emotions and everything else that makes us one as a nation.
The writer is a freelance journalist living on an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean.