Sunday, February 21, 2010

When roots die...

I have just returned from a place in Assam which is particularly notorious for its bandhs. The area is tribal and the tribes are forever fidgeting to preserve their language, culture and identity by calling strikes and bandhs and generally shutting normal life down. It seemed to be a big nuisance to us big city people bound by our deadlines and calendars, but preserving their uniqueness is a big ticket issue for the tribals. They are prepared to die for it. If needed, they are prepared to kill for it too.

In the jeep, pass through this bandh prone territory; we discovered a truth that is disturbing. And that is that the real reason why, we dwelling in big cities or something similar, find all this agitation about self identity, so very odd and parochial is that perhaps many of us have no identity left to talk about. People like me, who have largely lived in neutered cities all our lives, can probably with some minor hiccups adjust anywhere and live anywhere, but we don’t really belong anywhere in particular. Like the Bedouin nomad of yester years, we are the vagabonds of today. We can pitch our tent at any place that allows us to do so, that is to say, we can off load our back packs, charge up our lap tops and hook up our data cards and within minutes we are functional. We can live anywhere, sleep anywhere, work anywhere, but many of us just don’t belong anywhere and that is the plain truth. In the old days, when people asked you (as they still do), “where are you from”, they had an answer. Today many of us would be hard pressed to say where we are from because we aren’t from anywhere really.

Is the question about self identity and the isolation that inevitably follows when one becomes aware of it merely a philosophical question or is there more to it. And it is because there is a lot more to it than we care to understand or discern; that we skirt so uneasily around the subject. Choices for example. The choices that I make or I choose not to make are largely shaped by the way I have created my identity ; by the way I have chosen to see myself. If I see myself as an Indian, then all of my world view would be detrmined by that one lens – typically I would do all I can to further the interests of my country through my education, through my career choices, through whether I choose to emigrate to another country and many other such. If I see my identity reflected in my religion that would dictate my choices: religion would be the prism that would determine how I dress, what I eat, how I perceive people of other faiths who are “different”. And the same follows for distinctiveness that is centered around language, tribe, ethnicity or any other shared commonality among peoples.

Identify is important; no matter how deep we try to bury it deep within the layers of our consciousness. Without it we are nothing but dressed up mercenaries ; prepared to ship in and ship out depending on how green the grass is at any given point of time. Identity begets loyalty, commitment and passion. The challenge as always is finding the balance – oscillating between rootless drift and deep rooted intolerance.

1 comment:

Jeremiah Duomai said...

I guess some ethnic groups are just too concerned about their cultural identity. Culture is always evolving and so losing one's cultural element has nothing to be worried about. We Nagas are particular about our culture and some very popular Naga nationalist argue that we should not be part of India as that will dilute our culture. But the truth is that our culture has been diluted even before such people were born. We now use coats and trousers and jeans and ties instead of loin cloth; we smoke cigarette and get into heroin which were alien to traditional Naga culture. We speak English and encourage our children to do that; We speak Nagamese which is borrowed from Assamese and Bengali; We watch Hollywood movies and play footbal which were not there... what all things are there now which were not there before! I guess to kill and be willing to be killed to preserve our culture that shapes our identity is a mistake. There are different ways to shape our identity which is always evolving.