The multicoloured mosaic of India

India is vast space; space to accommodate the clamour of giant cities, teeming with the seething energy of millions, and the silence of empty solitudes.

Published: 08th December 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th December 2019 08:45 AM   |  A+A-

Recently a friend gifted Bunny and me a CD containing a haunting, goose-pimpling rendition of Jana Gana Mana as arranged and conducted by AR Rahman and featuring Shiv Kumar Sharma, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Amjad Ali Khan, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Pandit Jasraj, Jagjit Singh, Parveen Sultana, Bhupen Hazarika, Balasubrahmanyam, and a galaxy of other stars, from all over the country. 

I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly patriotic person (in its various manifestations, I cordially dislike the India of the sarkar, any sarkar, as distinct from the India of its people) but that music, played against a backdrop ranging from Ladakh to Kanyakumari, moved me as few things have done: it were as though the country of which I am a part, and which is an inextricable part of me, was singing of itself to me. What did I think of when I thought of India? What random impressions conjured my many Indias? 

India is vast space; space to accommodate the clamour of giant cities, teeming with the seething energy of millions, and the silence of empty solitudes. India is space; space to include the pilgrim and the politician, the poet and the revolutionary, the street urchin and the merchant prince, ahimsa and nuclear might, 3,000 years of history and the 21st century. 

India is the express highway thundering with traffic and the slip road beside it with the sign ‘For camels, elephants and bullock carts’. India is mega dams and factories, call centres and shopping malls, and the voices raised in protest against all these and more. India is a colour TV, garlanded with marigolds and a picture of Lakshmi on top, playing MTV while grandmother counts the beads of her mala and her grandchildren dream of US green cards. India is the roar and tumult of democracy and the forgotten face of a forgotten neta on an election poster stuck on the crumbling mud wall of a village deserted by all but the ghost of hunger. 

India is the faceless anonymity of cities where neighbours don’t know the names of neighbours, and it is the ‘Ram, Ram’ of timeless greeting exchanged by strangers who pass each other on a lonely path. 
India is the smell of incense and ancient stone, of parched earth when the first drops of rain fall, of the dust and sweat of rattletrap buses, of the sweet, milky tea served in an earthen bowl by a ‘chai, chaiwala!’ on the whistle-stop railway stations of night. 

India is the crowded bazaar where two dozen languages and half a dozen faiths negotiate the day-to-day transactions of buying and selling, and haggling and cheating, and quarrelling, and, above all, always above all, living together.

India is the cadences of Nehru’s ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech, and India is the minimalist squiggle by the cartoonist Ranga which in a single unbroken line captures the iconic essence of the greatest Indian of modern times, MK Gandhi, and India is Husain’s portrait of the faceless face of a woman draped in a white, blue-bordered sari.

India is ‘Awara hoon!’ playing on a scratchy, wind-up gramophone. Dev Anand in a rakishly tilted Jewel Thief cap, the carthorse’s hooves going clip-clop in rhythm with Dilip Kumar singing in Naya Daur, it is Madhubala, and Nargis, and Waheeda Rehman, and Guru Dutt, and Madhuri Dixit, and Shah Rukh Khan leading the women’s hockey team to victory and the Big B, and the two-storey-high traffic-stopping Bollywood poster in Trafalgar Square, London.India is much more than a million mutinies now; it is a billion-plus narratives of itself, waiting to be told. Not just once upon a time, but once upon a future...


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