August 15, 2022 marks 75 years of India’s independence. Celebrating the same, we have with us, Ammu Joseph who is a senior journalist, author, Friend of Prajnya and a part of our Advisory Panel.
Nearly 35 years ago, while at Wolfson College, Cambridge, on a press fellowship, my fellow fellows – from New Zealand and Australia – and I were requested to speak on the topic, “Living in a Multicultural Society.” I really wondered how it would be possible in the limited time available to give the audience some sense of what “multicultural” means in the Indian context. It was such a challenge that the memory of that long-ago talk has remained with me all these years.
I began by saying that while it is fairly well-known that India is home to multiple languages and religions, many other aspects of its multifarious diversity are less well-known. For example, apart from boasting a number of different geographical features (mountains, plains, a plateau, a desert, a long coastline and islands), the country has a population in which almost all the races in the world are represented.
I went on to highlight the fact that while the whole of the Western world has one form or tradition of classical music, India has two: Carnatic and Hindustani, besides multiple forms of semi-classical, folk and popular music. While ballet is the classical dance form of the Western world, India now has nine recognised classical dance forms: Bharatanatyam, Manipuri, Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali, Mohiniattam, Kuchipudi, Sattriya and Chhau, besides numerous forms of semi-classical and folk dances, as well as modern/contemporary dance. And then of course there is theatre in multiple forms and languages, myriad forms of art – traditional, folk and modern/contemporary, a huge variety of indigenous, hand-woven textiles and handicrafts made from a wide range of materials, and so on. Traditional forms of dress also vary across the country, I said, with even the familiar sari draped differently in different parts of India.
And just in case anyone still thought Indian cuisine was represented by “curry” or even chicken tikka masala, the origins of which have since been hotly contested in India and the UK, I thought it was important to highlight the innumerable cuisines that exist across the country, with various regions and sub-regions, castes/sub-castes, communities, communities within communities and, of course, families having evolved fairly unique culinary traditions over the years. I got the feeling that what really caught the imagination of the audience in this context was the fact that even the preferred cooking oil was often different in different parts of the country.
This kind of mind-boggling diversity – among its people, customs and traditions, literature and the arts, food habits and clothes, and almost every other aspect of life – is what I cherish most about India. And my dream is that my country will not only retain but actively preserve, protect, cherish and celebrate its precious, uniquely plural character. It is difficult to be optimistic about that wish at this point in time. But I suppose it is precisely at such times that we have to remind ourselves that we need to live in hope:
“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”
(The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu)
“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.”
(Attributed to Albert Camus online, unverified)
We, the Prajnya Team, would also love to have you send us a small text or art project or voice recording or video, telling us what you cherish about India, what your dream for the country is, and what makes you optimistic about India as we inch closer to celebrating 75 years of India’s independence. You can email or share your contribution with us via Google Drive at <email@example.com> or via Whatsapp at +91 97908 10351. We look forward to hearing from you!