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Why am I an Indian?

I did not have any choice: I was born one. If the good Lord had consulted me on the subject I might have chosen a country more affluent, less crowded, less censorious in matters of food and drink, unconcerned with personal equations and free of religious bigotry.

Am I proud of being an Indian?

I can’t really answer this one. I can scarcely take credit for the achievements of my forefathers. And I have little to be proud of what we are doing today. On balance, I would say, ‘No, I am not proud of being an Indian.’

‘Why don’t you get out and settle in some other country?’

Once again, I have very little choice. All the countries I might like to live in have restricted quotas for emigrants. Most of them are white and have a prejudice against coloured people. In any case I feel more relaxed and at home in India.

I dislike many things in my country, mostly the government. I know the government is not the same things as the country, but it never stops trying to appear in that garb. This is where I belong and this is where I intend to live and die. Of course I like going abroad. Living is easier, the wine and food are better, the women more forthcoming – it’s more fun. However, I soon get tired of all those things and want to get back to my dung-heap and be among my loud-mouthed, sweaty, smelly countrymen.

I am like my kinsmen in Africa and England and elsewhere. My head tells me it’s better to live abroad, my belly tells me it is more fulfilling to be in ‘phoren’, but my heart tells me ‘get back to India’.

Each time I return home, and drive through the stench of bare-bottomed defecators that line the road from Santa Cruz airport to the city, I ask myself:

‘Breathes there the man with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said

This is my own, my native land?

I can scarcely breathe, but I yell, ‘Yeah, this is my native land. I don’t like it, but I love it.’

‘Are you an Indian first and a Punjabi or Sikh second? Or is it the other way around?’

I don’t like the way these questions are framed and if I am denied my Punjabiness or my community tradition, I would refuse to call myself Indian. I am Indian, Punjabi and Sikh. And even so I have a patriotic kinship with one who says ‘I am Indian, Hindu and Haryanvi’or ‘I am Indian, Moplah Muslim and Malayali’. I want to retain my religious and linguistic identity without making them exclusive in any way.

I am unconvinced that our guaranteed diversity is our strength as a nation. As soon as you try to obliterate regional language in favour of one ‘national’ language or religion, in the name of one Indian credo, you will destroy the unity of the country. Twice was our Indianness challenged — in 1962 by the Chinese; in 1965 by the Pakistanis. Then, despite our many differences of language, religion and faith, we rose as one to defend our country. In the ultimate analysis, it is the consciousness of frontiers that makes a nation. We have proved that we are one nation.

What then is this talk about Indianising people who are already Indian? And has anyone any right to arrogate to himself the right to decide who is and who is not a good Indian?’