A friend and I sat chatting over coffee on Sunday, reveling in the aroma of steaming cappuccino and digging into grilled chicken tikka sandwiches. Out of the blue, my friend decided to ask what had apparently been on his mind for quite some time. "Why do you love India, Surbhi? What according to you makes her so cherished that, given a chance, you'd lay down your life for your country?"
That was the beginning of a conversation that, apart from being a virtual but true 'Bharat-darshan', lost the café a fair number of customers. I took a bite of my sandwich, catching a stray piece of chicken tikka before it fell, and sipped my coffee. Suddenly, the answer was there in front of me, on the table I sat at, inside that cozy café and its various patrons who chitchatted and laughed. I realised why I love India.
By all sense of 'rational' and 'realistic' reasoning, I should hate India. She is noisy, chaotic, overwhelming, smelly, mildly distressing in parts, and mostly beyond any sort of rational analysis. She is all the things one may seek to keep out of their life. But everyday, I watch Indians going about their life, and yet everyday, I never fail to be gripped by the drama that appears to be constantly unfolding before me - one of which I can make almost no sense at all. I love India for precisely that reason - we live simple and boring routine lives, yet the air around us is electrified with the spirit of those very mundane lives we live. There is chaos in the calm, and serenity in the rush all around, but we all fit in effortlessly and seamlessly.
I love India because we Indians are so strikingly different yet so strikingly similar. We all dream the Great Indian Dream and laugh the Great Indian Laugh. There are ordinary folk living in narrow lanes and driving Chetaks or Maruti 800s, awaiting en-massé the elusive bijli and paani. There are also the fashionistas who step out of their Mercs and Audis impeccably dressed in their Louis Vittons and Giorgio Armanis. There are the uppity urbans and semi-urbans who frequent shopping malls and weekly roadside bazaars with equal gusto, often shopping for what they don't really need yet love to possess. Then there are those who consider the footpaths as their bed and the skies as their roof, snoring under their tattered rags without a care for the world. We may belong to any or none of these categories, yet we are all the same people - the people of India.
I love India for her great and fat and insanely lavish weddings - each of which can consist of no fewer than 500 guests, and I only talk of the actual ceremony and not the rituals that precede or succeed the d-day! I love India because every person on the street is related to us in some inane (and sometimes utterly ridiculous) manner; she could be maasi’s devrani’s phupha’s bahu, and would still love us as her own! I love India because we receive at least twelve STD calls in a six-hour journey from our home in Delhi to our nani's place in Amritsar, each call asking the same question - "Kahan pahunche?". I love India because we carry food just enough for ourselves during a long journey, yet end up sharing it with the whole train. I love India because we spend hours at the door chatting with departing guests, long after they said their goodbyes. I love India because we sport Levi's denims with FabIndia kurtis only to complete the look with chunky tribal jewellery and a classy Hidesign handbag. I love India because we shop at the very upmarket Shopper's Stop in a glitzy mall, but bargain just as we would at shani/mangalbazaar. I love India because I enjoy Ramlila or Diwali melas as much as I enjoy film festivals or rock concerts. I love India because I'm equally at home in a BEST bus as I am in a CNG autorickshaw, or even a cycle-rickshaw. I love India because I can wear a Mango sundress with Dolce & Gabbana shades and accessorise the look with jootis from Ludhiana or chunky earrings from Dharamshala or kitschy bangles from Jaipur. I love India because a meal here starts with spring rolls and paneertikka or galauti kebab, moves to sizzlers and mushroom croissants with cold chicken salad, travels through daalmakhani and pineapple raita with butter naan and biryani, is accompanied with masaladosa and dhokla, and ends at chocolate gateau served with tille-waalikesar-pistakulfi.
In India, love is that truly great and almost indescribable emotion that challenges people to become poets or paupers or just puppets. More poems and songs have probably been created on and for love than even on/for God. The divine madness that love creates and sometimes even sustains is the stuff that legend and lore is made up of. And all this is given depth (and height) by that eternal ode to Indian love - our Taj Mahal. Add to that Bollywood, and you know what I mean.
India sails along the lush shores and azure backwaters of Kerala to smile at the cashew trees swaying in Karnataka's misty and fragrant breeze. She sprints through the land of the brave Marathas to the heart of enterprising Gujarat, on to the thousand vibrant colours of Rajasthan. Northwards, she steadily ascends the cold heights of the Himalayas and into the lap of wide valleys and dense forests. The wind takes her to the Gangetic plains and the fertile bosom of rangeela Punjab and zindadil Uttar Pradesh. As she flies eastwards to the land of the bhadralok Bengalis, the salty air carries the smell of fish and the mighty roar of a hidden tiger. Onwards she goes to meet the seven beautiful sisters who flash their dazzling smiles as they revel in the tunes of Odissi and Kuchipudi. At the heart of Madhya Pradesh, she listens to the lore of bravery and valour, while journeying towards the rivers of milk flowing in Haryana. India finally reaches her heart, her hearth, her home - dilwaalon ki Dilli.
I love India because she makes my heart go mmm... It beats when our brave soldiers lay down their lives for us and when commandos relentlessly battle terrorists to emerge victorious. It beats when bombs and guns play havoc in the North, when the earth quakes or floods over in the West, when the rivers unleash their fury in the East, when the sea waves tower over the South. It beats when Dhoni holds the T20 World Cup, when Sachin is on 99, when we need six runs in one ball to win against Pakistan. It beats when the Chandrayaan takes off, when Ustad Zakir Hussain is conferred a Grammy, when Himesh Reshammiya sings at the Wembley Stadium. It beats when Hrithik comes on the screen and when Gehna challenges the archaic Daadisa. It beats when Abhinav Bindra wears a gold medal and when Rahman walks up the red carpet to receive his Oscar. It beats when a billion people go out to vote or celebrate or protest against injustice. These are people I have never met, yet our hearts have met long before we were even born. Indian hearts, all rooted in a common destiny, associated with the same thousand-year-old civilisation.
"Not all is well with India, Surbhi. You have painted a rosy picture with unseeing eyes, but reality seems to be a tad different and a few paces away," said my smiling and slightly exasperated friend. But I smiled back at him and reminded him that I still love India, however flawed she may be. I love her, not for our culture or heritage or values or history, not even for the sense of belonging we experience cradled in her bosom. I love India simply because she is mine - my country, my home, my haven. And I'd rather be here than any other place in the world, with or without my sparkling ruby-red shoes.
Like Roshan says to Baig Uncle, "India works. The people make it work." Touché!