Food for thought on cultural cleansing

But let’s pause for a moment and ponder how far back we should go to rectify past wrongs.
Food for thought on cultural cleansing

The Italians must be ecstatic to hear that the divine combination of pineapples and pizzas might not grace the glorious land of Goa anymore. It’s a miracle that could be brought forth by the banishment of not just pineapples, but an array of fruits and vegetables that the Portuguese brought to India. Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant, with a degree in Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery, has taken it upon himself to amputate all traces of Portuguese influence from Goa, blaming them for temple destruction. We must applaud 
his dedication to erasing history in the name of cultural purity.

But let’s pause for a moment and ponder how far back we should go to rectify past wrongs. Should the Buddhists rise up in Prayagraj and demand that temples be transformed back into monasteries? After all kings like Pushyamitra Sunga, Mihirkula and Jalaluka demolished stupas and viharas for reasons as trivial as disturbed sleep. Perhaps it’s time for some reverse engineering of sacred spaces?

It’s a slippery slope when we start pitting ‘ours’ against ‘theirs’. The truth is, everything that has ever happened, everywhere, has already happened. Nothing belongs to anyone anymore. So, if Sawant is determined to rid Goa of Portuguese influence, he better start by bidding farewell to brinjals, cashew nuts, papayas, guavas, lychees, potatoes, pumpkins and tomatoes. Oh, and heaven forbid he has any coriander leaves on his sabzi because even those were brought by them. And why stop at Portuguese alone? Let’s eliminate everything foreign and reclaim our pristine culture.

Say goodbye to peanuts with beer. The peanuts are Portuguese, and the beer was a gift from the British. No more relishing rajma (courtesy, Mexico) or flying kites (originating from China). Let’s bid farewell to gulab jamun (a sweet treat from Turkey), jalebi (it’s from West Asia), and samosa (with roots in Africa and the Middle East). Let’s discard the harmonium (gifted by the French), tea (brought to us by China), and even those Bata chappals (originating from Switzerland). Should we also send a global message, commanding the rest not to indulge in mangoes, our national fruit, or stop appropriating suryanamaskars because yoga is ‘ours’?

The irony is that we’re simply replaying history. The Portuguese and Mughals destroyed temples, and now Hindus will reclaim them. But in a hundred years or so, someone will gaze at a wall and claim it was once a church, mosque or gurdwara, igniting yet another wave of communal tensions.

The whims of cultural preservation lead us down a treacherous path, fuelled by a blend of nostalgia and bigotry. Perhaps it’s time we learned to appreciate the beautiful tapestry of influences that make up our diverse world, rather than erasing and attacking the past in the hope for building a future. For the past becomes the present, and the present becomes the past in the blink of an eye. Just a thought.

Anirban Bhattacharyya

Author, actor and standup comic

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