Saturday, 5 October 2013


English Reader

abhyasika.com6.2 At Home in India

There are many among us who, given the opportunity to leave India, are only too happy to go. But whenever I have had the chance to go away, I have held back. Or something has held me back. What is it that has such a hold on me, leaves others feel to go where they will, sometimes never to come back? A few years ago I was offered a well-paid job on a magazine in Hong Kong. I thought about it for weeks, worried myself to distraction, and finally, with great sigh of relief, turned it down. My friends thought I was crazy. They still do. Most of them would have jumped at a comparable offer, even if it had meant spending the rest of their lives far from the palm-fringed coasts or pine-clad mountains of this land. Many friends have indeed gone away, never to return, except perhaps to get married, very quickly, before they are off again! Don't they feel homesick, I wonder. I am almost paranoid at the thought of going away and then being unable to come back. This almost happened to me when, as a boy, I went to England, longed to return India, and did not have the money for the passage. For two years I worked and slaved like a miser (something I have never done since) until I had enough to bring me home. And ‘home’ wasn’t parents and brother and sisters. They were no longer here. Home, for me, was India. So what is it that keeps me here? My birth? I take too closely after a Nordic grandparent to pass for a typical son of the soil. Hotel receptionists often ask me for my passport. ‘Must I carry a passport to travel in my own country?’ I ask. ‘But you don’t look like an Indian,’ they protest. ‘I’m Red Indian,’ I say. India is where I was born and went to school and grew to manhood. India was where my father was born and went to school and worked and died. India is where my grandfather lived and died. Surely that entitles me to a place in the Indian sun? If it doesn’t, I can revert to my mother’s family and go back to the time of Timur the Lame. How far back does one have to go in order to establish one’s Indianness? It must be the land itself that holds me. But so many of my fellow Indians have been born (and reborn) here, and yet they think nothing of leaving the land. They will leave the mountains for the plains; the villages for the cities; their country for another country, and if other countries were a little more willing to open their doors, we would have no population problem-mass emigration would have solved it. But it’s more than the land that holds me. For Indian is more than a land. In diais an atmosphere. Over thousands of years, the races and religions of the world have mingled here and produced that unique, indefinable phenomenon, the Indian : so terrifying in a crowd, so beautiful in himself. And oddly enough, I’m one too. I know that I’m as Indian as the postman or the paanwala or your favourite MP. Race did not make me an Indian. Religion did not make me an Indian. But history did. And in the long run, its history that counts.
Ruskin Bond

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