I don’t know why it took this long for me to write this, maybe it’s because I wasn’t sure what to write. Would a generic, devoid of all meaning “Happy Independence Day” suffice, yesterday? Not to me it wouldn’t. India deserves more from me, so I’ve decided to write about what India means to me as a concerned Arab Indophile, and what it means to many non-Indians.
Non-Indians usually gravitate towards the -as they love putting it- “exoticism” of India; its intricate and beautiful clothes, flavorful food, spell-casting dances and of course, yoga.
They love it and I do too. India’s exterior culture is very enticing.
But I question their love because, in my mind, I find it jarring how anyone could love a country when they don’t truly know it, when they only choose to acquaint themselves with the superficial side of it.
I’ve always tried to get to know India on a more penetrating level. I know who Smita Patil is, I know how panchyat courts operate, how Arvind Kerjiwal changed Delhi, the fact that Sikkim is the first state in India to go completely organic and that Ambedkar wrote the Indian constitution ; a document that I find to be one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful pieces of legislation to ever come into effect in any country.
I got emotional staring at the beautiful White Desert of Kutch, Gujurat, went clubbing in Kala Ghoda, tended to an injured donkey in Munnar Kerala and felt the presence of G-d in Harminder Sahib in Amritsar, Punjab. I even chose to become a vegetarian five years ago because of Gandhi’s Ahimsa – nonviolence – principle.
And there was always Bollywood, of course. It was and still is a fantastical world I can escape to when I need to escape. I saw my first film, Chalbaaz, when I was in grade school and from then on, it’s always played a huge part in my life.
India has always provided me with so much and I’m eternally grateful for it.
But I also know a lot of facts about India that maybe aren’t as pleasant as the ones I’ve mentioned but that, because I’m a Firangi (a non-Indian) I’m not allowed to talk about because G-d forbid, if I do, I’m instantly shunned and hated. It doesn’t help matters that I’m also an Arab since relations between Arabs and Indians has always been strained, not least because of the controversial maltreatment of Indian laborers in Arab countries.
Yes, I’m an Indophile, I love everything Indian. And no one should question that. Criticism for me doesn’t necessarily have to stem out of hatred. I personally believe that it stems of out of concern.
People need to understand that loving a country is vastly different from blindingly loving a country. Blind devotion is dangerous. It means putting your blinders up and ignoring pressing issues that affect thousands if not millions of innocent lives.
I’ll never feel that way about India. I’ll never have a delicious Thali for lunch while wearing a Kurta or drink chai while have a spiritual epiphany reading the Bhagavad Gita and not give a shit about India as a country. That’s just not me.
Truth be told, I didn’t do anything wild for Independence Day yesterday, I celebrated it quietly. I listened to some songs Amit Trivedi wrote while looking back emotionally on my transformative experiences times in India and thinking about and loving the beautiful country, deeply.