The importance of appreciating your roots- of a modernizing India

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There has been quite some speculation about how many new feminists in India are unable to enjoy family gatherings and their own communities making themselves only fit to live in the west. This especially came up when Madhu Purnima Kishwar tweeted the same about my college. Quoting her- “Our elite institutions are producing Indians fit only to live in the west, likely to end up as misfits in their own families and communities”

When I read this, I couldn’t stop thinking about all the times I’ve been grumpy at family gatherings because of some of their sexist, racist or in any way conservative remarks. I had the hardest time adjusting to the country where I’ve lived my whole life after a brilliant one month long trip to the U.S, a feeling I didn’t particularly enjoy.

This made me feel bad because one of my rules in life is to enjoy every single moment of it, and spending time with my friends and family had always been joyous prior to this U.S trip. After the trip, I started viewing them from a lens of political correctness. Their beautiful personalities and qualities were now forgotten, and identities reduced to labels like static, traditional, backward, regressive etc.

But recently, I realized the following.

Even if I become really “high flying”- go to colleges abroad, settle abroad, etc, I still can’t “escape” these friends and family. I will still have to meet them sometime- at some wedding, gathering, occasion or when I’m visiting. They will always be a part of my life. And, that’s not or shouldn’t be a bad thing either! They are my kith and kin, loved ones who deeply love and care about me.

In fact, I know many Indian Americans who have a very troubled love-hate relationship with their Indian identity, with how they perceive their “past life” in India. They’ll probably attend every Havan and Kirtan in their western neighborhoods, but feel uncomfortable and negative while talking about their past in the country.

I know I don’t want to end up like that. I want to be comfortable wherever I am in my life, regardless of my environment, and enjoy the culture of that place.

Its very anti-zen to not be humble or accept people as they are. Looking down upon them/their beliefs is absolutely colonial- the very anti thesis of being a pro choice liberal. Respecting tradition is in fact an adaptation mechanism, because if you don’t respect your own roots, you’re being extremely arrogant. You grow into hating everyone, blaming culture and society for everything and feeling uncomfortable about your own identity. Also, not everyone has the same amount of exposure, luxury  and/or time  to think “differently”, rebel against conventions (as has become fancy in our neo-modern culture) especially at their ages. That doesn’t mean its wrong to explore new things, but if someone chooses not to, its their choice.

Also, I am missing out on a lot with this rigid attitude. There are so many fun things about my own culture- our music, dancing, jokes, language. It has its own distinct features that are worthy of gratitude and appreciation. What’s the point of staying grumpy when you can just do some bhangra?

So what if my family sometimes refers to my gay friend as “chakka”? So what if some of my friends still think that virginity is something to be kept till marriage or littering is not that wrong? Those are their beliefs, reflecting their conditioning, values, choice and its up to me to laugh with them about it, let them live how they deem fit and then go on to live the way I want to live, doing my own karma and reaching my destiny.

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