Ever since the abrogation of article 370, I have come across a full spectrum of opinion on the matter of Kashmir. I knew that my opinion on the subject will not bring anything new on the plate, also it’s not a plate anymore but has becomes as big as an Indian Thali. However, the urge to write something on the matter couldn’t be easily dealt with, not even by writing a poem, yet another poem that is. So, stuck in the famous Bangalore traffic, I started thinking on what to write. Like most non-fiction, the writer doesn’t come up with something novel in terms of facts and figures, the novelty lies in the interpretations, assumptions and conclusions. A rambling mind is not well suited to write such structured material, so I end up wondering about the essence of India, is there a definitive story, a categorical history, or say is India still famous for what it was fifty years back, or say five years back. The political picture has definitely changed, with leftist and centrist parties turning out damp squibs in the elections. The economical picture has also undergone changes, albeit not as dramatic as the political version. The social picture is the one which has most of the inertia, but everyone wishes it changes to more coherency and cooperation. But we won’t discuss these, instead we will go over, yet again, on what is India famous for.
Some might say, given the topic is hot, it is Kashmir; and they wont be wrong. But for me, as I grew up, Kashmir was just in the movies and the Led Zep song. Academically it was always Jammu and Kashmir. The fact that a large part of it was occupied by Pakistan and another by China was a revelation in the school years, a sad one too because without these parts the map of India looks like a bald man. It is not an internal matter or a bilateral matter as we have been reading in the Media. With the involvement of China, partly due its own endeavors and partly because of Pakistan handing over a piece, it becomes a trilateral issue, and therefore even more interesting. But Kashmir is a dreamy place even for most of India’s citizens, it’s more of a matter of geopolitics, a matter of nationalism, and India is big, it has other things that it is famous for.
Taj Mahal, for instance has been the top of the top 10 lists for everyone. It is worth a visit too, especially for that moment when you enter and the raw beauty of the monument hits you. Even for the most unromantic, it stirs those alien feelings that can only be admitted in confidence. At least that’s what I thought of the top ten nature of the beautiful Taj Mahal before I searched for the top ten lists, and came across another revelation. Beauty has apparently given way to the raw, abject and disturbing reality of the Dharavi slums. It is easy and comes to us naturally to relate with the rich art and structure and romanticism of Taj Mahal but the slums are a revelation, and anything that disturbs us attracts us viscerally. Surprisingly, slum tourism is not just enjoyed by the foreign tourists but also by Indians, many of whom have never been in, or seen a slum. These people were born in what were once small towns, studied engineering or medical for that is what they were allowed to study, and given that engineering was easier, most have become the engineers that throng India’s IT and BPO industry. Being one of them, and not that I have been on one of the slum tours, and not that I am not interested in one, I can gauge why it’s sought after. For the aftertaste that it must leave, you can’t help feeling thankful for everything you have when you witnesses misery of others.
But is India famous for its IT engineers. There is global recognition of the talent for sure, especially when the corporates do the maths of ROI. Indian engineers are the least expensive in terms of compensation when compared with their American, European, Chinese or Israeli counterparts. They are also good at English, a skill that comes in handy when communication has become important with teams scattered all over the globe. So the jobs have kept pouring in and the middle class has risen. These are the white money making, tax paying and therefore the new moderately rich class with a clean conscience. The rise however comes at a cost of stress, the sedentary lifestyles leads to diseases, and not just the physiological ones. As a result, many of neo middle class seek guidance and gurus, mysticism is now a domestic industry and not just consumed by the foreigners.
Gurus have been defining the image of India for as far as you can see back in the past. They have created an image that is full of wisdom, contentment and minimalism. But they have not spoken anything that one didn’t know, especially one with the minimum amount of sense and sensibility that defines a human being. The reason why the gurus are popular, is as simple as the reason why common sense when extolled and delivered as an epiphany by a smiling and seemingly content orator, seems like a divine disclosure. It is the same divinity that Indians are now searching for, probably more than the foreigners these days. But it was not Gyan that attracted the foreigners in the old days to India, it was ganja.
With most of the rich west suffering from drug abuse and issues, the governments banned all narcotic drugs as early as the 40s. Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report, completed in 1894 however; established that recreational and regulated use of cannabis was beneficial. India, happily, went on with that report till 1961 when the UN treaty was forced upon them, which clubbed cannabis production and trade along with heavier drugs. However, the treaty applied to the flowering and the fruiting tops of the plant, also, it gave India 25 years to implement the ban. For 25 years, it was the ganja that ruled till a law was passed in 1985. But there was a caveat, as long as it is the leaves and the seeds that was consumed it was still legal to smoke, or drink bhang. Malana cream from the village of the same name is still considered the best hash available in the world, with its price skyrocketing in the Amsterdam cafes. Given that the US was the biggest mouth in the 1961 treaty, and India its stern opposer, it comes as a surprise now to Indians that many states in the US are now allowing the recreational use of marijuana. Laws made by governments however never made sense, and lie at the opposite end of the rules propounded by the gurus which make so much sense that they seem redundant.
The alcohol laws in India for instance seem to have been written under the influence of the subject matter. First and foremost, alcohol is one of the few laws that don’t have a federal uniformity. The laws vary between state to state, with some banning it completely to others where only the state is allowed to sell. The legal age to drink alcohol has its own stories ranging from 18 to 25 years. So, in some states 18 year olds are considered mature enough to vote and choose the government but not mature to hold their drinks. Maharashtra outshines other states with different legal ages for different drinks. Wine can be consumed by anyone, beer if you are 21 or above and all other liquor only if you are 25. Maharashtra produces the best wine in the country, Sula, so yeah it makes sense that everyone in the state gets to have a taste. But is India known for its alcohol? Probably not, unless if you have been fortunate to have come across Old Monk. It is losing its popularity over time though. However, it was the iconic molasses rum produced in India that served as the fuel to cash crunched students, leftists, revolutionaries and government employees. It fueled revolutionary ideas and determination but didn’t leave a hangover, either of the alcohol or the ideas, and the next morning you went on to your classes or jobs with renewed vigor.
Now that I read this long post, I feel I got carried away with the intoxicating love for my country. What makes India famous might actually be something as simple and as obvious as the huge population it carries on its shoulder, with the diversity of problems, opinions, food, customs, religions and beliefs, and the choice of the favorite intoxicant among these that keeps them going.