A few, from a billion definitions.

Let me start with a Disclaimer:

Billion is a pompous figure. We associate it with India and Indians. Billion gives a good rhyme and purpose and is quantitatively close to correctness. But, the truth is that it is fallacious in more ways than one. A majority of this billion people lives under below subsistence levels and does not enjoy the luxury of being cognitive about ‘What India Is’. Almost all the articles, columns, speeches and other such views that we read, see and listen to about India come from the bourgeois – the middle class – and the mighty Indian middle class, in spite of being a minority, is the face and the voice of India. So, have for yourself a disinterested attitude while you read anything about India. Let us keep this in mind whenever we hear phrases like ‘Blue billion’/’Billion hearts’/’Billion heroes’ /’Billion blah blahs’/more billions and many more blahs.

Let’s Discuss

Now it’s such an ‘uncool’ topic that I am broaching (and coining) here: Indianism.

Not just does it sound boring, it is vague too and if you could hold yourself through this article, you will appreciate how ambiguous it can be. Adding further salt to the wound is the fact that it is not in our blood to discuss anything that is of nationalistic relevance. So as I dive into this, I am, indeed, trying to take a few strokes against the tide.

Yes, we do discuss a lot, and quite passionately at times, but most of our discussions hover over the topics of movies, cricket (not even sports) and the new chic/dude of the locality. This is unlike what is expected of the world’s most dynamic democracy. But, in spite of this fundamental aberration, we do take pride in our democratic system (isn’t that ironic?). We know that our constitution (and the democratic system at large) is so vast, a bit cryptic and it’s not for a regular person with peripheral knowledge, like you and me, to comprehend or decode completely. But, that shouldn’t be the pretext to cultivate neither apathy nor complacency towards it.

The least that we can do – as individuals, as the educated minorities of this country, which has its cognitive ability intact – is to engage in constructive debates and arguments and that would consequentially strengthen our understanding, our awareness and the system at large that we belong to.

So, hereby I am not trying to define anything, but I am just trying to set a platform whereby I am hoping you would be ushered in to define India (and Indianism), in ways you perceive it.

Diversity – A hackneyed term and a sorry truth

It is very difficult to identify one chord that connects the whole of India and Indians. So, an attempt to coin a term Indianism, which could comprehensively define India, is futile. This is, of course, because of the sheer degree of diversity that we are left with to bear.

Contemporary Indian media have tried hard and failed in its efforts and now find its solace in calling Hindi films, Cricket and a few such sources of entertainments as media that connect India. The truth is that they are not. And a still more bitter truth, which they are yet to come in terms with, is that there is no such apparent medium of the sort. Not everyone in our country watches Hindi movies (there are a lot of them who watch only regional language movies), not everyone in the country is crazy about cricket (in fact, most of them do not have a television in their home or electricity in their village).

So where is the universal chord? The efforts employed in bringing about IPL to the fore have done enough to exacerbate these gaps, instead of narrowing it. Now someone from one state does not have to look for excuses to cuss someone from another. Nevertheless, yes, Cricket and Movies are probably the chords that connect the ‘Great Indian Middle Class’, but connecting Indian middle-class is far from connecting India.

So this unbridgeable diversity – which contravenes with any effort to bring about a single definition for ‘Indianism’ – is the ultimate truth and that lies at the crux of Indianism.

Left, Right & Centre – The Indian Extremism

As diverse our geography & history so is our psychology.

Take any incident, any person, any organization or anything that comes under the (Indian) sky, you will find people who eulogize it, who censure it and who are quite indifferent to it. The responses are not only diverse but also extremes. These extremities are quite disquieting, at times. While I personally find this extremism as cacophonous disturbances that hinder our progress as a nation (as a single entity), a dear friend of mine feels that such frictions and clashes of ideas and ideologies help us in the betterment of ourselves. It brings about debates, he says, about all the issues and through debates we end up with  better solutions.

You will always find three kinds of responses in India towards a new person or a phenomenon that has just emerged out, they are:

1. A set of people will eulogize him, sing odes of him, worship him and stand by him. They might do it rationally or irrationally but, they will always have a reason of their own for doing it and never try to dissuade them from this zealotry, it won’t help.

2. Another set of people will hate him (or the new idea). They could be extremely critical of the new entity and, at times, quite adamant at it. But, a bit of an incisive analysis into this scenario will make the hidden hypocrisy all too apparent.

One hidden reason for the same is the concern that any new phenomenon will eventually eat into the popularity of the existing one, which will slowly cease to get the acceptance that it once got. This freaks out those people who are fanatically attached to the old phenomenon. Complicated? Quite Indian, I would say.

To sum this up, we hate change, though we know it’s the need of the hour. Hypocrisy is a harsh word. But, I am unable to find any euphemism for the same.

3. Third set of people are those who are indifferent to this new person or phenomenon. They just don’t care. It’s either not in their area of interest or they are caught up in such a dire mesh that they have graver things to worry about. I wouldn’t complain about such people as their ‘other concerns’ might be quite genuine and serious as well. But, it will do no good to our country if such kinds of callousness constitute the majority. And equally detrimental will be the extremism stated in points 1 and 2. Tolerance is the only way for us to transcend and not extremism.

However, the gist of this hypothesis that i have tried to state here is that we always go to the extremes.

To quote a cliché from a Hindi movie “Hum Hindustani deewanom ki tarah pyar aur nafarath karthe hain”, we Indians love and hate like crazy.

How many times have we seen Brad Pitt being compared to Tom Cruise or to any other actor for that matter? Never, I would dare say. But, in India not a single day passes by without comparing X to Y, bashing X by fans of Y, cursing Y by zealots of X and thus goes, the Indianism or the Indian extremism.

We just cannot accept someone who is better than that another someone who we think is the best. We are not accustomed to taking moderate stands on issues. We either do not care or take the extreme ends. We are always at loggerheads.

Extremism is Indian. But, it’s not the way. Tolerance is.

The bulwark that we call Indian Culture

Every one of us has an iconoclastic tendency to reproach, at times at least, the fundamentals of our cultural setup (Because being a rebel is cool!). But, a bit of introspection will help us in realizing that the very stability of our society, that keeps us together, and stops us from falling apart, is the cultural ruggedness that we are lucky to have inherited. I remember reading an article a long time back, during the peak days of 2008 recession, where a friend of mine had very well depicted how the family system that prevails in our society had saved us from the ‘Global financial turmoil’. Later I also came across one article which was sharing similar views about our cultural setup (

However, when every Indian looks west (ironically when the whole world looks east) we still keep one strong foot on ground, on India, in the safety net of Indian culture. As yet another cliché that goes this way – “You can take an Indian out of India, but not India out of an Indian”.

This passion towards the ‘Indian’ identity is the fuel of Indianism, probably the mystical force that runs the engine of India.

Run by a mystical force

I owe it to a friend of mine who had explained it to me how India manages to run, by making an allusion to the crowded street of T.Nagar, Chennai. I am trying to loosely construe the same in my own words here:

“As I got out of the Mambalam station, to the very famous T. Nagar of Chennai, I was overwhelmed by the legions of human figures inundating in and out of the station. As you step out of the station into the street you can sense that you are no longer an individual and that you are part of a wave and the motion of which is not in your hands to control. You just flow with it. You look around and you find a lot of faces, a lot of businesses, and a lot of self-interests looming around you and quite mystically flourishing. In the narrow lanes, that are thickly crammed, you will find every law in the book flouted, every inch of the land encroached, and every business transgressing but it sustains itself, quite mystically again. In the midst of these confusions it’s unbelievable that not a single incident of accident has been reported from this area. Seeing this mayhem, you can very well draw your conjectures that the motor of this motion is not controlled by a few hands or minds but, by something quite uncanny and let us call that mystical force the Indian Spirit.”

In spite of all the disturbances, a slew of grisly concerns, worries and sorrows and a lot of aberrations, diversity in everything A-Z, we still manage to thrive, throttle and most importantly survive.

Among every major incidents of corporate frauds we find some bellwethers to reassure us the sanctity of Indian corporate scene, among all corrupt elites there emerges faces of sincerity and honesty in politics that we look up to, among every mediocrity we get overwhelmed by sheer brilliance and mastery, among all the insanity we find peace and sanity and that’s the Indianism, the spirit that drives us.

Among a billion aberrations, a million mutinies (as V.S. Naipaul has famously told) there still lies a spine called Indianism to which every one of us clings on to.

To this list of mine, a short one apparently, whereby I have tried to list down the factors that adds on to the Indianism, each of you are welcome to make your own additions, a lot more crazy axioms that defines India and Indians. The list will surely be a never ending one.

For, these are my opinions, and you don’t have to buy it. There are a billion other opinions about India.

“India is not just a country. It’s a collection of Ideas” – Sashi Tharoor

Jai Hind.

Rajeev A