I don’t remember the exact time in my childhood when I started feeling the differences I had with people from different states and cultures. My parents never told me about such differences. In fact, my parents used to take me to pirs, gurudwaras, churches and temples – and I was always told that all the Gods teach us the same lessons. I was never told that people from different cultures who follow different traditional values are different from me.
Moreover, till I was in class 12, I never had a long interaction with anyone outside my cultural boundary. We used to go on holidays – but since my parents were always with me, I never had to think about sharing a bond with other people.
Yet, I was confident that these people were quite different from us. I believe I imbibed these through society, television and my surroundings.
The time came when I had to go to Punjab for my graduation. I must say that I was really scared of meeting new kinds of people. I still remember what I was thinking that day – that they had some different mechanism in their body for working and thinking.
I was assigned a hostel room with two girls – one was from my state, the other from Punjab. I was relieved that there was at least someone from my state in my room. However, little did I know that after nine years of staying in the hostel, I would be spending the rest of my life with the girl from Punjab. She still follows traditions different from the ones I follow – yet, she understands me more than any other person.
My faith in ‘unity in diversity’ was strengthened after an incident in which my brother was involved. My brother had always lived in Haryana – and when he got admitted to a reputed college in Mumbai, we were happy as well as scared for him. After all, he was the most introvert among us and could not talk to strangers easily.
But, to our surprise, he gelled up with people over there in no time. In fact, he became quite gregarious. Nowadays, he generally comes home after his exams, when the vacations are more than 10 days long. Otherwise, during all the major festivals that we celebrate at home, he stays in Mumbai.
In the first year of college, he was upset about not being able to celebrate Diwali and Holi the way we used to at home. However, in the second year, he was so happy when he and his friends were invited by people to take part in Ganesh Visarjan, which is celebrated with much love and passion in Mumbai. The boys were given the whole responsibility to make arrangements, do the visarjan and were made to feel at home.
This was the time when my brother fell in love with the city. Since then, he has started considering Mumbai as his home. Now, my brother and his friends also celebrate Diwali, Holi, and Eid with the locals. He has found great harmony in celebrating different cultures. And did I forget to mention that there are two Hindus, one Sikh, and one Christian in my brother’s group of friends?
I do not think that there are too many families which teach their kids to stay away from people belonging to different traditions and cultures. Still, these perceptions and differences get deeply etched in our minds – and as we cross over to a different state, we seem to be foreigners to each other.
For instance, if a person from north Indian has to go to a state in south Indian for a job perspective, the person’s family is likely to get all tensed about how the person will adapt to the people there. A similar situation may arise when a person from north-east India travels to Delhi for better opportunities. On the other hand, while it’s true that we have different religions, talk differently and have different beliefs, does that entitle us to build walls of hatred or fear?
It’s very easy for us to stereotype people from different cultures, religions, and states. Many jokes and stereotypes are made on the people from Bihar portraying them either as IAS types or as laborers. But, I had an amazing friend from Bihar who was very cheerful and was pursuing MBA. Similarly, Punjabis are commonly portrayed or stereotyped as very loud and ready-to-fight people. Yet, my best Punjabi friends have never fought ‘with or against’ me but always ‘for’ me. Also, while people from Kerala are represented as the nerdy type, I have Malayali friends who are extremely fun-loving. People from Haryana are considered to be rude and verbally abusive – yet, I have met some extremely loving and caring people during my stay there.
Having seen all these people, the stereotypes I had since childhood have been completely shattered. I have come to terms with the fact that you can find ‘your kind’ of people in any culture, any religion and any state.
To celebrate ‘unity in diversity’, SisSaheli is organising a picture contest where you can send pictures showing bonding and love between different cultures, states or religions. There are prizes worth ₹10,000 to win and each winning entry will receive a prize worth ₹1,000. So, let’s scroll through your camera and find the pictures that you cherish and show much unity in diversity. You can send your entries to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check our FB page for more information.
Featured image for representative purposes only.