Seventy things  that  make  India

The article tells about with seventy things, ranging from conventions to food, which makes India unique from rest of the world.

Published: 19th August 2017 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th August 2017 05:54 PM   |  A+A-

India as we know it today—or as the maps define it—just turned 70. And the Prime Minister is already talking of a “new India”. But are those borders enough definition for the idea of an India that is Bharat? Or, do we need more? Are there a specific number of things that can define our excruciatingly delightful mess? The Sunday Standard tries it with 70 things since the occasion calls for that number. Of course, the list is endless, and the idea ageless. Harish C takes a shot.


That she’s a revered animal in India is not new. 
That she is worshipped to the extent of having gaushalas is also not new. And that she’s ignored in equal measure—left out on roads to get killed or cause fatal accidents; or to loiter at garbage dumps to end up with plastic bags in her stomach—is certainly now new. What’s gaining currency is lynchings in the name of the holy animal. Gau rakshaks (cow protectors) are responsible for giving Hinduism a bad name by murdering anyone transporting cattle or suspected of eating beef. These men are mostly criminal elements driven by the cowardice of their convictions to enter fringe politics, hoping to enter the big league soon. They belong to the same gene pool as that of ‘love jihad’ proponents and ghar wapsi  activists. 

Bhagavad Gita
It is, in the latest form, a weapon in the cultural superiority war. In reality, it is a profound text that carries within it so many lessons that a lifetime won’t be enough to understand it. Was it as war treatise? Is it a book of philosophy? Or the summary of how life is not perfect? Keep trying, and you shall not regret it. Its profundity will also convince you how it must not be used as a weapon of cultural warfare.

India’s greatest export. And, no, not thanks to PM Narendra Modi, no matter how many verbal asanas bhakts perform to make you believe that. Much before meditation made a return as a fashion statement in India, and a ministry governing Ayurveda and other indigenous medicinal practices got prominence, the West had not only tried yoga but even invented its own versions. The point, now, is who’s using whom to get prominence at the world stage?

The Devi paradox
Here’s the thing with women in our country. They are either Devi (goddess), or a sister/daughter/mother/wife/other relative. All others are worth a ‘try’! Don’t you remember a beloved godman, who is now in jail on rape charges, suggesting that Nirbhaya should have called her rapists “brother” to escape the situation? But globally speaking, first Madonna and then Selena Gomez are bindass in Bindis.

Mahatma Gandhi
The moral compass that no one wants to hang around their necks but everyone lays claim to. As if irony hadn’t already died its thousandth death when an actor jailed for keeping weapons generally used in mass murder emerged as the modern-day proponent of Gandhian thought, couched as Gandhigiri. A rose by another name.

Swachh Bharat
Clean India Mission, which follows a time-tested tradition of our morally pristine country—outsource institutional responsibility to individual morality, and then don’t give a shit. 

The Ambassador
Originally based on the Morris Oxford model 
of a UK-based company, it was once the king of India’s potholed roads; the jalopy that represented the slow romance of travel until the spiffy Maruti 800 drove up. It was junked three years ago, but the Ambassador is Made-in-India’s only vintage car. This collector’s item belongs to the nostalgia of fathers and grandfathers, and continues to be a symbol of power and officialdom. There is chatter of a relaunch—brand owner Hindustan Motors has executed an agreement with PSA Group for the sale of the brand Ambassador for `80 crore.

Technically, a devotee. But no, not 
the kind who goes to a religious place. We are not just talking devotion of the godly kind here wherein an ancient king is considered the incarnation of the Almighty and all his actions go unchallenged. This is beyond all that, whereby politics is the new religion and the god is power. TV studios are the new places of worship, and the anchors the new conductors of hawans.

Not only our history, but our present too is full of mythologising. From Bal Narendra comic books that are unintentionally comic to cartoon films that have brought Bheem to yuppies to writings of Amish that seek to retell old myths with new meanings—the politics, the literature, the merchandising industry are all in love with mythology as usual. Amar Chitra Katha gets a 21st Century upgrade.   

Kumbh Mela
This is the place to go to if you want to find a sibling lost in childhood, or want to witness extreme self-control by sadhus who roam around naked with not a care in the world. One of four main Kumbh melas, the fair is held every 12 years in rotation at Hardwar, Allahabad, Nashik and Ujjain. The one at Hardwar is considered the most important. It is a pious pilgrimage in any Hindu’s life, and a rite of passage if you are a foreign photographer wanting to make a portfolio, or a guaranteed viral Instagram feed.

Amitabh Bachchan 
Four years older than Independent India, the Big B is more than a film star. When he speaks, India listens; his is the most recognisable baritone anywhere. Even at 74, he is the salesman of a hundred brands, from talcum powder to an entire state. Most of his compatriots are either dead or getting plastic surgery, while he is only accused of having fake/transplanted/dyed hair at worst. AB recast Hindi cinema in his own image—his Angry Young Man is an unbeaten prototype. And reinvention is his shtick—brooding romantic, action hero, comic genius and TV personality (‘Lock kiya jaaye’ in Kaun Banega Crorepati is now popular jargon). He has done more than 150 movies in his 50-year career, and earned Rs 215 crore in 2014-15. His net worth is estimated to be in excess of Rs 2,500 crore.


Who came up with the idea of having a three-wheeler shaped like an overgrown housefly to mass-transport people in the most unsafe manner possible? Or, answer this instead: Who came up with the idea of carving out a market for ‘autos’ in Ethiopia, and then set up a plant in Punjab for export? Not the same person. Not even specific persons. But certainly the same spirit—enterprise. And this three-wheeler, lovingly called the ‘auto’, as if it’s so automatic that it doesn’t even need a person to run it, stands out as the symbol of enterprise on Indian roads.

Kabaddi League
Whoever said cricket is the only sport that sells in India has not yet opened eyes to this revolution. Bringing a rural sport to a glitzy arena may seem a defiling act to some. But the way kabaddi has been lapped up, with two leagues sizzling on the popularity charts, shows how its rustic appeal transcends theories.

This is where the global debt crisis, the Iraq war, Rakhi Sawant’s botox, and VVS Laxman’s wrists undergo close scrutiny at the same time in the great Indian tradition of talking a lot. It is also the place where prime ministers grow up, literally. Like Pappu’s tea shop in Varanasi.

It is considered the mother of all languages, and gets a lot of respect across the world. But like most Indian mothers, its children tend to ignore it in practice. So, it is no longer a language of communication. Also, newer studies have underlined how it may not be the oldest language, and not even the mother, but in our pride-filled lungs, there is no space for breathing fresh air. Swaha!  

No, it does not expand to Good and Simple Tax. We are not defined by the acronyms thrown around by our Pradhan Sevak, not yet; though our new Vice-President may want to push for that scenario. For now, it is Goods and Services Tax that is touted as the biggest tax reform in the history of the nation. How many taxes and cases make GST is still being figured out.

Mid-Day Meal
That the education they get is as watery as the dal they get does not get as much attention, though. But it also addresses the hunger of thousands of schoolchildren.

What makes four Indians adjust on a seat for two on a long route bus while also playing cards by turning a bag stuck in their legs into a table? Our legendary capacity to adjust. Trevor Fishlock, a veteran foreign correspondent from the UK, writes specifically in his book India File: “Indians are a tactile people, living thigh by thigh, jostling, holding hands and embracing… They have learned to cram, to take a deep communal breath to admit just one more, to fill every crevice, to hang by their nails, to sit on one buttock, to stretch the seams of their streets, houses and vehicles.”

Don’t call it a patty. Or a stuffed potato pudding. Samosa needs no other definition. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East/West Asia, but is now so intrinsic to our cuisine that a full-scale war over who’d get to eat its conical mound—the best part, according to us—will not come as a shock.

Most reinvented food with exclusive outlets. Although it originated in Persia, it took different routes to arrive in India and settled as an integral part of the country’s culinary art. Some legend has it that Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Emperor Shah Jahan, concocted this dish as a “complete meal” to feed the Mughal army. But the question that must be asked is: Who invented ‘veg’ biryani?

Black money
Demonetisation killed all of it! Okay, maybe not. No one quite knows. India ranks fourth in black money outflows with a whopping $51 billion siphoned out of the country per annum between 2004 and 2013. Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya are the latest and most prominent faces.

Hollow claims and empty promises were always the hallmark of politics in India and everywhere else. But never have they so completely replaced substance as they have now. Is it because we are a nation of depressed people, living in an overpopulated land, beset with problems that should have been tackled long ago? That sounds too depressing. No wonder, a jumla works better. 

Rs 2,000 note

First, it did not fit into the ATM machines after the demonetisation move rendered us helpless with our old `500 and `1,000 notes. Then, it exposed journalists who did special telecasts on its non-existent surveillance qualities. Now, it’s just a headache since no one seems to want it. Do write 
to us if someone has change for `2,000.  

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act that once was touted as the symbol of our great socialist traditions by the party that once was—the Congress—and has been appropriated by the current dispensation. The ones confused are not journalists or observers alone. They are joined by millions of prospective work-getters who wonder where the 100 days of guaranteed work is. On paper—yes, that’s where it is mostly.

The Ganga 
The myth surrounding it will go on long after everything else comes to an end. And if you believe the myth, it started flowing long before anything else did on Earth. On its banks flourishes the civilisation that prides itself as the greatest in human history. In it, sewage mixes with divinity to fetch Nirvana for the believers. No wonder, we have a whole ministry dedicated to it.

Moon mission
This is where things get serious. Using data collected by ISRO’s Chandrayan mission, NASA has detected magmatic water locked under the surface of the Moon. The findings represent the first remote detection of this form of water that originates from deep within the Moon’s interior. A matter of pride indeed, if only we could also get uncontaminated drinking water to all our citizens!

Software engineer
The perfect son. The perfect groom. The perfect export? The perfect bore? Well, we’ve put a question mark on the last two since you never know which one of them may end up becoming so rich as to own the world some day or not in the Trump era. For a long time, the most successful Indian software engineer was a nerd from a top Indian institute working for a top US company. Now, that’s changed to young men wearing Woody Allenesque glasses and using the words ‘startup’ and ‘innovation’ a lot. No one has quite cracked the code as to what they mean, though it’s not impossible to crack one code: Why are there so few women among them?   

Slam poetry 
It doesn’t have its origins here, but it’s the new mushaira and nukkad natak. Young poets are flocking to cafes and even metro stations to have themselves heard. Millions of followers online, and hundreds of poets who challenge norms of form and subject—India’s tradition of poetry in her veins is alive.

A word used, at best, for anything that is UNESCO-protected. Otherwise, we are happy to turn heritage structures into open urinals. So accustomed we are to living among our heritage that we hardly seem to notice it, even as foreigners flock to such places to get misguided tours filled with the latest, made-up-in-the-moment myths. Heritage homes—one of them owned by Shah Rukh Khan—and heritage hotels, such as palaces turned into exotic abodes, remain what they always were: elite haunts.

The Fearless. A convenient moniker given to a gang-rape and murder victim whose case ignited nationwide protests that descended into fund stagnation. Let’s hope someone proves us wrong on this one, someday.  

Kashi aka Varanasi
India’s holiest city is where salvation has no sell-by date. Kasi Viswanath and Narendra Modi are the two deities in this town by the Ganga where the arti is as famous as the Papal Mass and a thousand times more resplendent. A Sunny Deol movie that got into trouble with the censors also wanted to show it in all its marijuana and yoga-fuelled glory that foreigners see. Even the trailer was banned.

It as important when you die as it is when you are alive. Such is the power of this unique identification project of the government that you’d wonder if George Orwell indeed could read the future. It is supposed to link all welfare schemes, give us all unique numbers, keep a database of everything about us—including finger and iris scans—and yet we are not told how it will help make our country better. Does the government not know? Or is it just a matter of a communication gap? Or are the overt rulers—who opposed it when not in power—just enamoured by the tech and jargon while the Deep State is having its way? Whatever it may be, go and get your Aadhaar card made now, or you may never have existed.   

Stand-up comedy
All India Bakchod (AIB) is the brand that sells, but the substance is spread far and wide. The Indian capacity to laugh at oneself may not be legendary after all, but the tradition of bhaands telling jokes is surely alive and kicking. BTW, do you know who Zakir Khan is?

The holy grail of the Indian education system. And the standout reason for teen depression. But that may sound too cynical. So, here’s what Wikipedia says: “The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) are autonomous public institutes of higher education… The first IIT was set up in Kharagpur in 1951, and at present we have 23.” The joint entrance examination (JEE) to IIT was considered the toughest until a man named Jack Fraser, a third-year Physics student at the University of Oxford, was tagged on social network Quora and asked to solve the paper. He reportedly solved it “in like one-third of the allotted time and with 100 per cent correct answers”. What did that mean? Well, he received abuse, and JEE still is the toughest of its kind. Please ignore our usage of the past tense in this context previously.

If anyone could get the Prime Minister to model for a cellphone company, it is Mukesh Ambani. The cheapest service provider in India will soon monopolise the airwaves and is already coming up with TV services. It has cannibalised competition and democratised internet access just the way the voting right in the first place made democracy possible. It’s also linked with Aadhaar, by the way, which qualifies it as a national treasure.

Hand-spun textile that is not durable at all fades horribly, but defies all those physical limitations by being the most loving/loved fabric for our skin and nationalistic feelings. From the government-run Khadi Bhandar to the overpriced Fabindia stores, it has made its presence felt across seminars and mushairas for ages now. Fashion stores have again declared it the newest trend, and online stores are now stocking so many designs that its original proponent—Gandhi spinning the charkha—would be wondering what to make of it. Would Bapu not be tempted to try on a few of those new drapes?

After note bandi, this electronic money transfer pioneer became noteworthy with Ratan Tata investing his pocket money and SoftBank playing soft ball. Everyone from luxury boutiques to gas stations accept this Ali Baba’s lamp, which has turned the cellphone into a formidable wealth weapon. It’s even getting its own bank. PayTM karo, economy jio! 

This 2,500-year-old form of desi cricket was being played on India’s back streets and village maidans even before the first Englishman in flannels stepped off an East India Company ship. Sachin Tendulkar, Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and many others wielded a mean stick before donning their national caps. It has slowly lost out to its deemed-fancier versions such as, well, cricket, but we are sure someone, somewhere is already thinking of a GDPL (Gilli Danda Premier League). Will the real Raj Kundra from Ludhiana please stand up?

Arundhati Roy
Which other country can boast that it houses a “mobile republic” within it? Reviled by bhakts and loved by the la la liberals, India’s self-appointed liberal conscience is again in the running for the Booker. A selfie with the goddess of big things is every budding Naxalite’s dream.

The ugliest digital genus to have invaded India’s cyberspace, this abusive pack of Twitter trawlers go after anyone they think is a ‘libtard’ (liberal+retard) or ‘presstitute’ (press+prostitute) with an abuse power that would shame a fishwife on hooch. These self-appointed ambassadors of the right/mostly Right opinion, who specialise in internet lynching, are the pockmarked face of Digital India and give the BJP a bad name.

Make in India
This is a war for the global market, and the rival is China. Beyond Doklam and much before it, PM Modi knew what matters on the world stage, and what he needs to do to create jobs. Some work like space power, though the world is yet to open its pockets. Will individual start-ups make the difference?

Indian railways
Mostly in the news these days for rats and lizards in food packets, but hardly ever given the credit for the being the largest wonder of the world. The very fact that it moves—and has almost shed its tag of being forever late —is an unbelievable fact for the country in love with its lack of punctuality and efficiency. It is the world’s fourth largest rail network and the eighth biggest employer. It is also considered by many as the best gift the British rulers left behind, though you may want to refer to Shashi Tharoor’s latest book on that one. Its competitor—the booming budget airline. Who would’ve thought that?

Netflix vs Nagin serials
This is a paradox that is hard to explain but best underlines the paradox that is India. While a largely younger audience is going online with foreign content or Indian content put in the urban context, there is still a flourishing market for 16th Century mindsets among bored housewives (and guilty-pleasurists).

Non-Performing Assets, or, simply put, non-payable accounts! These, however, are the natural results of constructive economics. Don’t mind them too much. You must also know that these are different from farmers’ pending loans, which are horrible things that need intervention of elections and economists to even consider for a waiver.

Digital India
With 450 million smartphone users taking selfies and bombarding social media on the handheld’s internet, the flagship scheme aims to become the stairway between the haves and have-nots. The ‘sabka saath’ roadmap will empower every Indian by ensuring ‘sabka vikas’ with several e-initiatives. If the internet waves—which are yet to penetrate the heart of Bharat—keep the surf up, even the poorest of the poor will have the world in their palm, realising the Prime Minister’s “new India” e-dream.

The first homegrown author to get a multicrore advance, this man has transformed Shiva into a modern action hero. Before this, the Lord was either the angry destructor, devotee magnet or the moody mascot of marijuana. We want whatever Amish is smoking!

The Indian shopper has come of age in an organised manner, in the process killing markets that never cared enough for the shopper. Malls have shown how bargain isn’t just about hoarse haggling, and how air-conditioning holds a vital key.

Niti Aayog
One of the biggest symbols of how governments change names and tweak briefs to sell the same old stuff in new packaging. From being a symbol of moving on from the Nehruvian planning era to a more “federal, policy-based” structure, it has now ended up being in the popular imagination as the latest symbol of brain drain after Arvind Panagariya left its reins to rather hold onto a teaching assignment at a US university.   

Fairness creams
Where else is racism put into bottles, tubes, even sachets, and sold by the biggest superstars as something to aspire to, on primetime TV? Such is the normalisation of this practice that it makes news when someone decides not to endorse a cream that promises to successfully fight natural Indian skin tones. Many say it’s just the way Whites get a tan for exotica. Let’s be fair: These ‘many’ need education in history and psychology and how the two intersect in the mind of a nation.

It’s the hot stuff which is forever cool. Not for nothing does the stereotype exist! India contributes 75 per cent of global spice production. The history of spice trade in India dates back to 1498 when Portuguese Vasco da Gama discovered Kozhikode. Last year, India hosted the much sought-after event of the spice industry ‘World Spice Congress 2016’.

Air India
With the kind of baggage it has—a debt running into thousands of crores, a cronyism that makes planes stop for VIPs, and a service level that’s become a butt of jokes—it is hard to believe the government-owned airline is still flying. Even talk of selling it off has become so old that no one quite believes it anymore, until there’s money on the table, and planes handed over. Will the Maharaja don a tux soon?

Ketogenic diet for India
This vegetarian version of the world-famous healthy diet plan was probably invented by a descendent of the same person who came up with veg biryani. An award may be in order, in  fact.

What, yaar? You must know this one, na! The British left our shores but could not take their queen’s tongue back. We not only adopted but adapted and twisted the tongue to come up with our own version that many say is a tribute to the greatness of English. That greatness toh we dunno, but it sure is first-class useful, ji!

He is the most famous Asian actor worldwide after Jackie Chan. While his Indian fans ensure a houseful even at a 4am movie slot, in the US tickets for this south Indian actor’s movie are reportedly sold for up to $40 (`2,800). Rajinikanth has a net worth of $50 million—an amount that top Hollywood stars like Tom Cruise and Matt Damon are paid. And nobody loves him better than politicians right now.

India is a poor country with rich temples. Tirupati Balaji is the world’s richest temple, earning more than `2 crore in a day as in donations. It receives 50,000 visitors daily, including politicians, bureaucrats and business tycoons, besides the ordinary Indian. Tirumalai is also the go-to place to lose your hair, eat the famous laddoos and come away blessed.

The blogger brigade
With million+ followers counted by companies, these are giants on Instagram, Wordpress, Twitter and other social media outlets who are the new thought leaders, engaging crisply, often shallow, but never boring. After all, we live in an age where being boring is the biggest sin, and making the right noises can even put you on top of the pile. Some of them also have a fresh, often humorous take on things, such as Rohan Joshi (@mojorojo on Twitter, 4 mn followers), whose top tweet reads, in all caps: “HI. YOU’VE REACHED THE TWITTER ACCOUNT OF ME. IF YOU’RE FROM A POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS OR SOCIAL GROUP PLEASE LEAVE AN OUTRAGE AFTER THE BEEP.”

Just because we are glorifying gilli-danda does not mean the English game now practically owned and run by India won’t find mention. It is the game that has given us our biggest sports icon in Sachin Tendulkar, and also brought us the most confidence on the world stage, so what if only about 10 countries have batsmen who can hold the bat properly.    

Baba Ramdev
This is one man who always knew the potential of our hundreds of years of yoga and ayurveda heritage, which has now been converted into hundreds of crores. The man behind it is also extremely patriotic, which is why he wants to decapitate anti-nationals. Otherwise, he is fond of non-violence. The Patanjali empire is into education and healthcare with an expand turnover of `10,561 crore. This rustic alternative to Sri Sri wields immense political clout going by leaders who arrive at his ashram to pay homage.

Priyanka Chopra
This ‘desi girl’ represents India in its true, inclusive, bold and beautiful avatar everywhere she goes. From her days in Bollywood’s romcom assembly line to international fame and admiration, this former Miss World—now Miss World from India—seems unstoppable.

Have you come across Pita-G? No? Shame on you. He is the epitome of our great tradition of coming up with men/women who claim to have every divine power that exists. He possesses talents such as passing off a cat-screech-like voice as a singing genius, or using rape cases as a rite of passage to emerge as a champion of women’s rights. In the process, he is also a movie star. Google the words ‘MSG: The Messenger’ to know what we are talking about. He is the Virat Kohli of the godman business. BTW, that’s a compliment to Kohli, whom Pita-G claims to have tutored in cricket.

Subway art
There are no Banksies running around making grand political statements here. At best, a ‘Dilli Chalo’ pronouncement. Non-politically speaking, the ‘So and So love Who and Who’ kind of slogans dominate our subway art. Even our public bathrooms and trees have these. 
O dear, suppressed emotions! 

Indian Soldier
Living and dying for his country is no longer a Sunny Deol cause for the men in uniform who guard our borders. They are the new ambassadors of patriotism, re-affirmed by surgical strikes, standing up to the Chinese and fighting terrorists in Kashmir. Jai Jawan is now cool, though Jai Kisan is another matter with farmers’ suicides still in spate.

The Himalayas
From being a natural boundary that guards India, to a favourite of charas junkies all the way from our foe-turned-frenemy-turned friend Israel, to being a biker’s paradise, to housing the tallest challenge of all, the greatest mountains of the world house a variety of experiences that a lifetime is not enough to explore.

Art attack & lit fests
Kochi Biennale, Delhi Art Fair, Kala Ghoda in Mumbai, and the Jaipur Lit Fest is where cultural incest gets legitimised, of the intellectual variety, of course. In a country where textbooks aren’t yet reaching students, it’s fascinating to know that a small-big town such as Chandigarh has two lit fests every year. The Jaipur Literary Fest, which completed a decade last year, brought Indian writing and ideas as a creative and commercial force into focus. Bhutan Lit fest ironically—funded by the Rajasthan government—is on every writer’s and publisher’s travel advisory.

Our answer to Hollywood. Ok, sorry, we will not be stuck with colonial hangover. This is our true version of how an epic must be scaled and a movie be made, crossing linguistic boundaries to become a nationwide hit. And, thank God, they revealed in the sequel why Katappa killed Baahubali. Along with it Anand Neelkantan became mythological fiction action hero.

A pair of clothing—long shirt, loose pants—that is at once the designated night-suit of millions and also the symbol of those who rule them. It must be the most versatile form of clothing in how it straddles all classes, yet comes out all spick-and-span. While nylon pajamas with Batman motifs have successfully annihilated it as night-suit for many among the subjects, the rulers still find it hard to shed this second skin. A prime example is Rahul Gandhi, who carefully cultivates his I-was-so-busy-in-public-welfare-that-I-couldn’t-wear-clothes-my-size look by wearing sleeves that look like large, deflated balloons.

Nehru jacket
Many have started calling it the Modi jacket. You could use the word preposterous for such a twist of terms. But then, we also live in times when entire speeches are made about the freedom movement without mentioning our first prime minister. The jacket can be worn in many ways, just as its more basic sibling, the kurta-pyjama – a fancy pocket square can elevate any Nehru jacket into sartorial versatility at its charming best.

National Anthem
Tagore’s tribute to freedom is no longer a song for the record. With a revival in national pride growing by leaps and bounds, even the courts have deemed it the voice of the nation in school assemblies, official functions and cinema halls. Stand up and be counted. Though Indian politicians like playing Bharat Vidhatas by getting pay hikes passed without a single dissenting vote.


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