Rather than flinching from something that is even remotely different why not enjoy the difference? You don’t lose anything but gain a different dimension of existence. If I eat Alu paratha I do not become a Punjabi, or if I take up Kathakali I do not become a Malyali.If I visit a monastery I do not become a Buddhist and if I drink Assam tea I do not become ‘only’ an Assamese. I just become more Indian in my experiences.
I believe that as a human race we are one. I believe in Lord Krishna’s ‘Vasudeyava Kutumbakam’ philosophy which means – ‘The whole world is my family’. But no matter how much I try to practice what I preach I seem to keep dashing back to my roots. Sadly, for safety.
A little flashback about me. I have grown up in the Tea Estates of Assam. My father was the Chief Medical Officer. The Tea Estates in Assam attract people from all over India for lucrative job offers as an executive. As the company my father worked in was British, we had Europeans too in our social circle. I, therefore have grown up in a very cosmopolitan culture.
My father being the traveller that he was took us every year to a different state for our winter vacation. So before I passed out of school, I have had visited North, West and South India. The fact that every state in India is very different from the other with a different culture and language was a fact for me. It was neither bad nor good for my young mind. It just was.
I never considered myself anything but a human. I did my graduation in philosophy from Miranda House and then went on to do my master’s in Sociology from Delhi School of Economics. These subjects further proved to me that my belief that ‘I am a human only’ was accurate. But somehow, practically I was many things. It was when I first moved out of Assam that I realised that before being an Indian or human I am an Assamese. Then before I can be an Assamese I am a Brahmin. I had to introduce myself all over as an Assamese Brahmin. No longer was I the plain human being I grew up thinking myself to be. True, my education and upbringing all pointed towards me being just a human being living in a country on the planet called Earth. But practically I was an Assamese, then a Brahmin, then an Indian and then if there was space, a human being.
I would tell you how this happened. I can summarise the whole situation in the questions that I keep getting asked because of my ethnicity.
1. You are from Assam but you do not look like one.
How do you define an Assamese? An Assamese looks like just any other homo sapien in the planet. The school syllabus of civics has clearly included in its course the four races that the homo-sapiens of the world are made up of. Aryans, Caucasoid, Dravidians and Mongoloids. Assam is inhabited both by Indo-Aryans and the Mongoloids. We cannot call one race less Assamese than the other. And both are races of the same species Homo-Sapiens.
2. You are a Brahmin but you eat non-vegetarian food!!
A Brahmin in the literal and practical sense of the term is someone who has got extensive training and knowledge of Vedas and Upanishads. To be qualified as a Brahmin one has to undergo extensive training in an ashram /gurukool under the special care of the sages. A student studying in an ashram naturally abstained from rajasic and tamasic food, while following the diet in an ashram. This was mostly because having sattvic food kept one feeling light, alert and healthy. This practice made the young people in the ashrams vegetarian.
Secondly, not every Brahmin in India is a vegetarian. The Brahmins from Kashmir, Kolkata, Assam, Orissa and many states practice non-vegetarianism. First, I don’t qualify as a Brahmin though I was born in a Brahmin family because I lack the skills that qualify me as one. Secondly, I am non-vegetarian because of choice and not because of my cultural or caste background. Casteism I studied in school died, long before my parents were even born.
3. People from Assam go out to work in other states. Hence all Assamese people are labourers.
Migration of humans have existed as a natural tendency ever since humans appeared on earth. The plantation labourers in Assam, the house-help in Assam, the construction workers in Assam come from many states in India. I feel good that my state can provide employment to those who need it. I never assumed that all the people of the particular states who came for employment were labourers. Every state has a labour class who migrate for greener pastures in their own country. This does not make the state giving employment superior or the state seeking employment inferior.
Assamese people have the intellectuals, the entertainers, the servicemen, the government officials, the singers, the international level models, doctors, engineers, labourers everyone! And none of these professions belong to the state. These are professions that the modern homo sapiens have adopted in this age.
4. What do Assamese people eat?
If you look at the state from an agricultural point of view, apart from tea we grow many things. No, Momo is not our staple diet! We eat Dal and chawal. Geographically we grow rice so we eat rice. Our soil gives us good mustard yield and so we use mustard oil in our food. If you are curious about what people in each state eat as a staple diet, do look at their geographic location and see what it naturally produces in the land. Whatever the state can grow, it has as its staple diet.
The second thing is weather. The eating habits of each state differs according to the weather.
India is a beautiful country. Nowhere have I seen such color, such diversity and so many festivals. India has the potential to be what no other country can ever be! Diversity is divinity. It is neither good nor bad. It just is.
We like diversity in everything in our lives. Fashion, cars, food, movies, entertainment, experiences. We enjoy the diversity in nature and in other species. The whole world is beautiful and full of life because of the differences! Why then, when we Indians have diversity in our very existence not celebrate the beauty of it? It is a special feature that only our country has been blessed with. Talk about religion, talk about culture, talk about race, we have a slice of each in our country. Then why not celebrate the differences and accept it?