Sorry to sound like a secessionist — or should I say ultra-sub-nationalist? — but wouldn’t it have been grand if we were a moderately homogenous society? By a homogenous society, I don’t mean a bucolic setting where I could hold hands with former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and exchange harmless gossip about President Pratibha Patil. What I mean by a homogenous society is living in a place where we would have spoken more or less the same language, liked — or disliked — more or less the same set of things, read more or less the same kind of news headlines, and shared more or less the same caché of in-jokes.
Now, I know you’re already convinced that I’m a fascistic nutter who wants everyone to be like me. But let’s face it. There are some very real unfinished flyovers in our multi-cultural, multi-lingual land that leave us stranded in ghetto blotches. For all it’s relative lack of pluralism, Liechtenstein can at least boast of a nation of people cheering on, moaning about — and most importantly — understanding more or less the same things. Even America, that melting pot of milk and honey and home to Apu and Homer Simpson has an American Way of Life. I just know a Bengali and a non-Bengali way of life.
A lot of us may not have ever seen a Rajnikant movie and, quite understandably, that can be a horrifying thought for many of our Southern cousins. This point was driven home to me a few days ago when I noticed that many of us (including myself) Noddy-ed in agreement with faraway Britons when they voted Enid Blyton as their ‘best loved writer’. Try come up with the ‘most loved writers’ of India. Even Indians who had happy childhoods and devoured books will not have heard of the great Shibram Chakrabarty if they’re not Bengali. And I’m sure there are fantastic Jat writers out there whom I’ve not heard of. The result: we end up only putting the Englishwallas in the ‘most loved writers’ list. The same holds true for movies — with the difference that Hindi replaces English as the hegemon.
One way of not living among ‘strangers’, of course, is to stay put in one place forever. But the thought of no cultural ‘otherness’ — especially if one needs to run away from phenomena like Rabindrasangeet — can be crippling. But once again, if I have to go into contortions to explain that a jilipi is not a jalebi to my Bihari friend now in Chennai or to my Jat friend from Uttaranchal, what fun is that? And I’m not even going into the non-possibility of sharing nostalgia-driven cultural discourses like: “Remember Mohammad Rafi singing that god awful ‘Na, na, naa... pakhi-tar bukey tumi teer mero na, okey gai the dao’ (roughly translated to ‘No, no, noo...don’t shoot the bird with your arrow, let it sing)?
For that kind of thing, social internetworking groups like Facebook may have come as a facesaver.
There are those tricky anomalies, of course. According to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I’m supposed to love mishti doi (despite my Bengali-ness, I don’t) and start swooning every time I hear the Grateful Dead (despite my distaste towards Rabindrasangeet, I dislike the Dead with a passion). Don’t get me wrong, I like eating dahi vada, fish tikka and a well-done sirloin. But every time I encounter a bunch of people from a country who share basic common experiences, a deep sense of envy gushes from the well of my otherwise ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom’ being.
Oh, how I long for a cultural common ground. It could have led to the situation in which I would be writing for readers who all more or less share my interests and opinions. But then again, it could have meant me writing only what you, dear readers, would prefer me to write. If at all. Suddenly the mind boggles.