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Thursday, February 29, 2024

THE DIVERSITY, THAT IS INDIA’S STRENGTH

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Have you noticed how from coast to coast, everything from malls to clothes, to food, is all the same in a vast country like the US, so that if you have seen one state, you practically don’thave to see another? 

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India turned 75 recently, and we should be justifiably proud of this fact, that despite the doomsday prophets who predicted that the country’s diversity ( its languages and religions) would tear it apart, we continue to thrive. Being a pluralistic, multi-religious, multi lingual, multi-cultural society has been at our very core. But today, 75 years later instead of many voices and views that we need to hear to keep a healthy democracy flourishing, we are being encouraged to hold a single point of view.
To realize how multicultural India was in the past, we need to only look closer home, at Hyderabad. Today’s generation may not be aware, but Hyderabad was a liberal society where Parsis, Hindus and Muslims went in and out of each other’s homes without any distinction. Every festival, whether that of the Hindu or Muslim was celebrated with equal gusto. A Musalman would participate in the Holi celebrations of the Hindus in the city, and there are any number of stories of the sixth Nizam Mahboob Ali Pasha playing Holi with his Hindu noblemen. Interestingly, some festivals were observed by both the Hindus and the Muslims. Muraharram, for instance that is observed by Shia Muslims, is also observed by Hindus in Telangana districts as Peerla Panduga where they too would visit dargahs for the rituals. And there are several such dargahs, including the famous Moulali dargah where Hindus went.

The food in Hyderabad was especially rich and varied, drawn as it was from different regions. The Hyderabadi cuisine was influenced by the Maharashtrian (the bajra and jowar rotis and puran polis), the Telugu influence with its tamarind and chillies, and the Turkish, was its delectable muttons and spices. The Iranian influence included the proliferation of bakeries in the city with
their puffs, samosas and Irani chai. Incidentally, the ubiquitous biryani and Haleem originated because the large contingents of armies stationed here needed a kind of healthy one-pot meal which these were. Sadly, that richness of our cuisine today is mostly summed up as Hyderabadi biryani that is not even authentic (the asli biryani even today can only be had in homes of old Hyderabadis). Instead of the diverse tastes that form the foods here from pattar ka gosht to khatti dal and bagare baingan, or the double ka meetha or qubani ka meetha, we now have the Punjabification of foods in Hyderabad to kheema mutton and chhole bhatura. Even in a remote place like Cuddapah (where I once had to visit) all that was available was palak paneer, that too not
very good.

Even in our clothes the variety and diversity of what people wore earlier has all but vanished. From Kerala to Guwahati, and  everywhere in between, the mekhla chadors and the mundus, the nine-yard nawari or Madisari, the Phanek Enaphee (Manipur) Nivi (Bengal) have been discarded in favor of the monotonous salwar kameez. Or jeans and the kurti. In old Hyderabad, especially the educated, Westernized women wore saris, that too chiffon saris; and both Hindu and Muslim women wore the kada dupatta for festive occasions. There was no concept of the burqa or the hijab in the Hyderabad of the 50’s and 60’s, even up until the 70’s. There was the purdah for both Hindu and Muslim women, but then this was prevalent across the country, even in places like Rajasthan. Hyderabadi women I know speak of the purdah rickshaws and cars in which they went to schools had, and one of earliest
doctors in Hyderabad even told me how he had to examine women patients from behind a purdah!

Even language has lost its variety, so that we all speak one language, English, to the detriment of our mother tongues. According to a census there are at least 19,500 spoken languages that are mother tongues in India, but many of them are fast dying out as few now speak them; at least 197 are endangered languages and India may already have lost over 200 languages according to Prof GN Devy, who works on languages among other things. 

Sometime soon, this vast nation, where no two regions are alike, where even within a region there is so much diversity whether in language or food or dress, will become monotonous in its uniformity. Have you noticed how from coast to coast, everything from malls to clothes, to food, is all the same in a vast country like the US, so that if you have seen one state, you practically don’t
have to see another? 

Surely the diversity of the country which many thought was our weakness during Independence is our strength. It is this plurality of faiths and views, almost a cacophony, that makes Indian culture so rich. 

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