I have had a cosmopolitan upbringing. My parent’s friend’s circle consisted of people from all over India. My schooling years in Assam has been cosmopolitan. I have travelled extensively since I was three years old all over India. This has resulted in me having the ability to appreciate differences in cultures, eating habits and opinion. Delhi where I shed my childhood years and entered adulthood was no different. The Delhi University buzzed of students from all across India covering the whole of north, south, east and western parts of India. Many years were punctuated with Korean, US, Ethiopian and even Japanese students. I remember having a Korean classmate who ate ‘samosas’ with chopsticks and it was something normal for me. It is her eating habit and that’s that. Nothing more, nothing less.
Sadly, cosmopolitanism is confined to only a few classes of people in India. Cosmopolitan behavior, the ability to appreciate differences or accept it politely is still an incomprehensible aspect to many Indians. I remember an instance in office where a colleague just back from her hometown opened a packet of her regional delicacies that her mom prepared to share with us. Another colleague in the group expressed horror at the aroma that appeared pungent to his nostrils and refused to look at the food and unabashedly walked away. What do people prove with this behaviour? That you are mannerless? That you come from a cultural background that teaches you to be impolite to anything that is different? More so to be intolerant to anything that is different? Me and the other colleagues too did not like the aroma of the food that she brought, but when we tasted the food we realized it is a great delicacy. Not only does it taste good it also has great nutritious benefits. After a while we got used to the aroma. It seemed strong and pungent to us because we were not used to it. How difficult is it to keep a straight face and respect another person’s cultural habits? It is insane to think that making fun of another’s culture or badmouthing their habits makes one culturally superior. It only highlights the negative aspects of one’s cultural upbringing.
Every time I have a conversation about my ethnicity this is how it goes.
‘Oh! You are from Assam, but you look like an Indian.’
My instant reaction is of course, ‘Brush up your geographical and sociological knowledge you dimwit!!’ But I pity their ignorance and so tell them.
‘Assam is in India. India is a land that has three races living in disharmony. The Indo-Aryans, Dravidians and the Mongoloids and all of them are called Indians.’
‘Assam suffers from terrorism’ comes the second (well for a change) correct observation.
‘Yes, it does due to the porous borders which are also a national issue. As an Indian you should be concerned of your fellow states issue and not wash your hands off. I am proud to say that despite terrorism Assam has a great tourism industry and good educational institutes like IIT established and IIM coming up in the land. It is well known for the tea and oil that it gives to the Indian nation. The one horned rhino has put India on the international map of tourism as it is an animal that is found only in Assam. Ohh! by the way Kaziranga and Manas Sanctuary are World Heritage Sites. Look a little closer you will see more things than just the terrorism.’
‘Assam is a backward state and most people come out of the state to earn their wages.’
Of course my first reaction to such comments is contrary to what I express and this is a polite version.
‘Yes, people of Assam tend to go out of their state in search of greener pastures but name a state that has people living in it and never venturing out. I would call that state primitive. We do not limit ourselves to the state or the country but even move abroad to the United States for higher education. Migration has always been a part of the human race and we Assamese people, yes assamese (and not asami) people are no different. Talking about backward, just because there are political issues in a state that has not allowed progressive growth as compared to states that are free from the same do not make a state backward. Yes, struggling state it is, backward never!
A backward state can never give the nation the vice-president of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Padma shri winner Mr.Bhupen Hazarika, Sahitya Academi and Jnanpith award winner Dr.Mamoni Raisom Goswami, former judge of Supreme court Mr.S.N.Phukan, actors like Adil husain of Life of Pi fame, Monikangana Dutta an international supermodel, national level model Dipannita sharma, Bollywood singers like Zubeen garg, Joi barua and Angaraag Mahanta, the list is endless.’
I would not have had to suffer the pangs of pain that these questions inflict on my ethnicity if people tried to look at the brighter side of things and considered the Indian continent as a unity of states and not some mad race to prove the other inferior. It would do a lot of good if people opened their mouth after they have researched on what they have spoken. Belittling states, cultures do not make one a culturally superior person. It only highlights what your culture has failed to teach you.