“What is seekh kebab?” I asked while preparing some information on a presentation, completely surrounded by Indians of various backgrounds.
“It is just a meat kebab.”
“I think it is minced meat.”
“What is minced meat?” I asked.
“Umm…it’s like lamb I think. Just look it up on Wikipedia.”
As an outsider, it was unbelievable that there was not a common knowledge surrounding something so cultural as food. Shouldn’t every Indian know what seekh kebab is? (Turns out it is actually native Pakistani food.)
The idea of “common knowledge” turns out to be not so common in a country made up of 28 unique states and 17 languages on their currency notes. People grow up with different food, different movies, and different cultures that make it difficult to find the strands of the ties that bond.
In fact, you can slice India up in many different ways. Economically, linguistically, culinarily, religiously…the opportunities are endless. In fact, you should be skeptical anytime someone says “India is like this” (e.g. India is indirect in their communication). Which India are you talking about, Maratis or Punjabis? Mallus or Bengalis? Hindus or Sikhs? Tambrams or villagers? High net-worth Indians or government workers?
It is not India, but Indias. It is a country of countries. A kingdom of interconnecting kingdoms. A nation of divided and united nations. Nothing could be more complex than trying to speak of any universal truth about India simply because there are so many Indias to speak of.
In reflecting on the diversity in India, Winston Churchill once said that India was no more a single country than the Equator. Sometimes you hear that India is more like the European Union than one country, but even that is not a fair analogy. India has been an amalgamation of cultures for thousands of years and yet always manages to stay together.
In this section, we will look at the many different ways you can divide and slice India up and help you understand how underestimating India’s diversity can be your downfall.
More essays on #IndiasNotIndia
Photo Credit: Reverses on Flickr
Note: This is an updated article from one which appeared in the July 2013 edition of Culturama