Sunday, December 19, 2010

The homogenous Indian

Why does it say, on a carton of jamun juice, "Indian berry"? As an Indian you don't need to be told what a jamun looks or tastes like; in fact, it would make more sense to describe a berry as a jamun-like fruit. But that's what happens when you live among cartons and tetrapaks and toilet paper rolls. You lose your bearings. You forget that you live in India. India needs to be explained to you. 

To be an urban Indian today is to feel a bit lost, a bit unsure about who you really are. Pinpointing your identity is quite a task. Actually, you may have to sift through multiple identities to choose the ones that best represent you. I meant that metaphorically but taken at a very literal level, just look at the hazaar pieces of laminated plastic that urban citizens accumulate. There's the driver's licence, passport, credit card, ATM card, PAN card, voter's ID and, depending on your situation, student ID or employee ID slung about the neck like a dog collar. Then there are the various club membership cards — of professional associations, film societies and weekend resorts. Bookshops, supermarkets and clothing stores give out loyalty cards to encourage regular patronage. Hell, even the sweeper and the servant maid have to flash their photo IDs at the apartment gate before the watchman lets them in.

And to think that, not long ago, the only proof of your identity was a ration card! I eat, therefore I am. Very basic.

Read: The multi-layered Indian

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