Updated: Sep 10
“We don't have it in our culture!”
“This is not our way!”
Yeah! Sounds familiar, right? We keep hearing these at every gathering of elderly people. From discussing modern views about the society to pointing out the dressing habits of the new generation, these statements are the first to pop up before rational and logical reasoning kick in. Once the logical and rational part comes into the conversation, we can debate all we want until we come to a decision of whether or not “modern fashion is all about a state of undress.” That is totally up to the debating skills of your opponent and you, and I am not going to discuss that here. Honestly, I don't have any intentions of giving out a written document of any statement that could lead to a social movement against me tomorrow.
On the contrary, what I am going to talk about is a bit firmer in its historical grounds. When people say, “This is not our culture”, what do they mean by 'our culture'? With a really high probability, you are a cricket fan. Is cricket in our culture? Maybe, you are not so much into cricket. Maybe, you love football. Is that in our culture? The earliest record of cricket can be traced back to England, and that of football can be traced back to China. These games only came to India because the Portuguese and the British did. Still think burning crackers like a fanatic during the victory of the Indian Cricket Team is our culture?
We say that architectural achievements like the Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Howrah Bridge are part of our cultural heritage. Are they? They are British constructions that just happened to be standing after they left. In over seventy years of our independence, we have hardly created another beautiful and majestic structure like these two, and yet we proudly showcase their legacy as our heritage!
By now, you must be thinking “Fine! Let's just ignore all of British legacies. We still have a lot more to showcase.” If, you are not thinking so and you are actually against this statement, then please stick to the end; I'm going to agree with you. If you can ignore British legacies, how about the legacies of the Mughals? The Taj Mahal? We showcase her as our cultural heritage, right? The Agra Fort? The Red fort? Humayun's Tomb? Shalimar Gardens? We owe the Mughals for a lot of the stuff that we call heritage! But, the Mughals were also a bunch of foreign invaders whom 'heroes' like Chhatrapati Shivaji and Guru Govind Singh tried fighting off. Mughal emperors like Aurangzeb have killed the Indian masses by the thousands only to intimidate another few thousands into accepting Islam. A love-drunk and sorrow-drenched Shah Jahan is recorded to have done no significant contribution to the society ever since he decided to build the Taj Mahal. They say that the masses suffered because the emperor ignored them in his grave sorrow. Still want to proudly call the Taj Mahal a part of our culture? But, wait a second before answering to that last question. You have to realize that as soon as you choose not to call the Mughal legacies as Indian heritages, you inherently are calling a lot of Muslims (except the ones who converted under the emperors' lash) as foreigners.
I can already imagine a lot of readers pulling the zip tight over their lips right now. Some radicals will, however, agree to it. Sure! But, you know the next obvious step. Once you call the Muslims who stayed back as foreigners, I'll say most of the rest are foreigners too. The Aryans were never of Indian origin. They were invaders from Central Asia. The entire foundation of our 'culture' is of foreign origin. Only tribal clans and the Harappan Civilization were truly Indian. Their myths got modified and remixed so that the Aryans could thrive over this fertile land. The descendants of those 'true Indians' only got be called Sudras in the Aryan-made caste system. In time, the races mixed with one other. Today, there are no 'true Indians' because of rare but enough inter-caste marriages throughout several centuries. Everyone in this land has Aryan genes in them. Not only the people, but their Gods are also not 'true Indians', today. The Harappan 'Pashupati' (literally, Lord of the Animals) is hypothesized to be the one who morphed into the Aryan 'Vishveshwara' (literally, Lord of the Universe). The goddesses from several different tribes with several different personalities merged into the one single Shakti, with different forms and incarnations.
I'm not disrespecting the myths of any of the Gods. Also, I'm not saying that we are foreigners in our own land. All I'm trying to say here, is cultures are built up over centuries of conquests, political turmoil, rise and fall of empires, and the resulting social impacts. Our enemy clans from centuries ago, are our brothers today. Nothing in 'our culture' has been so since the dawn of humanity. Humanity has changed the cultures to suit them time and again. For example, in India, the dress code for men used to be only a stretch of cloth (Dhoti) to cover the lower body, and occasionally another piece to wrap across the upper body (Angvastram), until the Muslims invaders came along and introduced the Kurta. Today, jeans and t-shirts are the common attire, which we owe to the western influence and globalization. To say that a particular practice is foreign culture and a particular practice is our culture, is really impossible. It all changes, always!
So, maybe what we see today as foreign culture might tomorrow be knitted into our own. Live-in relationships and LGBTQA+ identities might actually be a part of our cultural heritage, someday. So please, can we not call something “against our culture” in order to disapprove to that. Let us try counting the pros and cons of the new practice, or let's just run a logical debate to decide what to do. Just because something is new to our sensibilities, it is not necessarily the cause of the decline of 'our culture'; it might as well be building up to something that will someday be 'our culture'!
Written by Aninda K. Nanda
Photography and Editing: Aninda K. Nanda