The message of India

What exactly is India? Is it a country? An idea? A geographical area? A feeling? Or is it a message?
For me, the concept and the creation of India is a message- but what exactly is this message? The ‘Message of India’ can be summed up in an axiom which is quite often used in school textbooks and by school kids in their Independence day speeches- ‘Unity in Diversity’.

The ‘Message of India’ speaks about tolerance, mutual respect and understanding, peace, compassion, love and most of all celebrating our uniqueness, yet remaining united as a strong nation. It was this ‘Message’ which was reflected in our freedom struggle, The great Mahatma Gandhi inherently knew that the only way to achieve Independence was to celebrate our diversity and embrace our differences. Post-independence too, our foreign policy beginning with the Non-Alignment Movement during the peak of the Cold War was shaped by this ‘Message’.
A while ago I met a wonderful Jewish Grandmother in the vintage and colorful Jew town in Kochi. I spoke to her and her caretaker, while we chatted away, the ‘azan’ was called from the local mosque and her caretaker wore his skull cap and bid me farewell.
It was at this time that I really understood the ‘Message of India’. Across the world, conflicts between these two communities may have raged on like a wildfire, but in India, our love and acceptance has doused this wildfire of hatred and anger.

I have traveled to only about a dozen or so states in India, I haven’t seen a major part of this mosaic-  like country, but each time I leave home and go to a new state, I am in awe of its unique culture and atmosphere, each of the twenty-nine states( and union territories!) in India can boast of its own diverse, beautiful and lively culture, even the smaller states in the North-East of India each have their own languages, dances, foods and clothing styles. In fact within Indian states too there can be vast lingual and cultural differences. Religion in India has been more of a unifying concept rather than a divider, it is not uncommon to see Hindu families put up Christmas trees or to see Muslim families light up their houses for Diwali! Festivals and celebrations in India can last several days and everyone participates, regardless of the Holy-Book they follow.
Any statement which one can make about one part of our country can be paradoxically true in another part! I have now made it my life’s purpose to travel to each and every state of this country and spread this ‘Message’ across the world. In this troubled, conflicted  and chaotic world, the ‘Message of India’ can be an instrument of peace and tolerance.

Various travellers, rulers, refugees, tribes and cultures have left their undeniable mark on this country, each and every one of them have contributed to our rich and varied heritage, it may sound romantic but the ‘Message of India’ is precisely this, it’s a message of acceptance.When we closely study Indian history, it is interesting to note that apart from a few failed rulers who never understood the idea of India, almost every single Indian ruler has had members from other communities apart from his or her own community  hold high positions in the administration or in the army.
Members from other communities were always present in their courts and palaces and many Indian rulers guaranteed protection and support to all communities within their empire.
An example of this tolerance can be seen in Vatapi or Badami, the erstwhile capital of the Badami Chalukyas, it is now a quaint town in the southern state of Karnataka, the Chalukyan Kings built four marvelous rock- cut temples in the surrounding hills back in the sixth century,the rulers were Hindus and therefore the first three temples were in honour of the Hindu Gods- Shiva and Vishnu, but what is interesting is that the fourth temple is a Jain Temple!
Jainism was another religion which emerged in Ancient India and Vatapi had a small yet vibrant Jain community, our ecstatic tour guide pointed out that the ruler built this temple in honour of ‘universal brotherhood’ and ‘tolerance’, this for me is the ‘Message of India’.
Even today, Indian politics is full of colour and noise, various groups and associations have their own parties and pressure groups, it is through this that the aspirations of a billion people gets fulfilled, the ‘Message of India’ thus is deeply democratic, it is democracy that has allowed for so many different voices to be heard, valued and accepted.Our Constitution is like a mother, she has more than a billion  children and she feeds and nurtures every single one of them.

Many foreign travellers wrote about India- Indica written by Megasthenes, the works of ancient Chinese scholars Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien, Kitab-ul-hind written by Al-Biruni are famous examples,these books talk about varied subjects about India and her people, they were all written with different viewpoints and at different times but the singular theme which they all seem in awe of is India’s all-embracing and all-loving character, the uniqueness of this land which didn’t have one set of unique people, but several sets of diverse people.Travelers, scholars and traders came from all over the world in curiosity of this land, some of them never returned to their homelands,others went back and preached the ‘Message of India’.

There is no doubt that the ‘Message of India’ has changed and evolved with time, but it’s central and core values has always remained rigid over the years. Great Indian men and women continue to preach this message of India, recently when the apex court in India proclaimed that same-sex relationships were no longer illegal, it was this all-inclusive and all-loving character of India that was on full display. I’m proud to recognize the fact that several people across the globe have used this message to unify people and to fight injustice, notable examples are Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, both of these great men used the ‘Message of India’ in their respective struggles.

I  am often reminded of a powerful pledge we were made to recite in school, as young kids who grumbled at any type of work, this pledge and the whole ceremonial ‘hand on the heart’  pose always felt like a burden, but the more I explore and learn about my people and their lives, the more this pledge becomes relevant, let me end this with a part of this pledge we recited in school-

India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters.
I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage.
I shall always strive to be worthy of it.
I shall give my parents, teachers and all elders respect and treat everyone with courtesy.
To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion.
In their well-being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness
(This pledge was written in 1962 by Pydimarri Venkata Subba Rao)

Let us all be proud of this nation and the values it has stood up for over the years, let us pledge to respect, protect and spread the ‘Message of India’.
If you haven’t yet visited India, come over, you have a family of a billion waiting for you, come explore this land and its diversity and get touched with the ‘Message of India’. Mahatma Gandhi once said “My life is my message” in a similar sense India’s existence is her ‘Message’

 

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Thank you for reading this post!

WE SHOULD ALL BE ACTIVE CITIZENS.

You see little children being forced to work

Little soft hands

Innocent minds

Yet they carry a load most of us wouldn’t

You see garbage all around the city

No one seems to care

Not even the so-called “educated”

You see ignorance

You see exploitation

You breathe pollution

You see broken roads

You see fused streetlights

You see dirty drains

You see apathy.

You see injustice.

Are you angry yet?

But what can you really do about this?

There’s a lot you can actually and for this, you’ll have to be an active citizen, you will have to speak up and you’ll have to be more aware of what’s going on around you, it’s easy and it’s required.

When you say politics isn’t for me or you aren’t interested  in politics,trust me politics is interested in you. The fact of the matter is that politics is not a hobby, it’s an institution and it affects almost every single aspect of our lives. Most of us choose to view politics as a colourless subject mostly discussed by old men on a Sunday afternoon because they really have nothing else to do. This impression about politics has to change and it needs to change soon. Politics isn’t just limited to elections and political parties fighting it out,  it includes daily activities right from the clothes we wear to the water we drink. Almost all our movements are fundamentally connected to politics alone.

When you make statements such as “I’m not into politics” or “politics is  boring” or “ I don’t pay attention to politics”, You’re becoming a part of the problem we see around us today, ignorant statements like these may sound harmless but believe it or not most of our problems sprout out from statements such as these.

Now that i’ve explained to you why it’s important to be an active citizen,let me tell you how to be one.

I take you through 10 steps which would make you  a more effective citizen.

This isn’t a comprehensive one and there are many other things you could do to change the system but it is a guideline on where you can start.

|KNOW MORE|

Being aware isn’t a bad thing, knowing your local representative or knowing what’s going around in your country isn’t a bad thing

Politics isn’t boring nor is it useless, it’s an easy way to solve problems and its high time we get more involved in it.

Most of our youth don’t want to get involved in political issues  or they refuse to even have a stance on the issues we face. Young people coming into the system is the only way we can solve our problems and what we don’t like about our planet, we can crib all we want but without us really getting our hands dirty nothing will ever change.The future literally rests on your shoulders.

|START VOTING|

I know this may not apply to all of you but if you’re eligible and you aren’t voting you’re only becoming a part of the problem.

Voting ensures you have a say and you ensure those who shouldn’t be in power don’t get to be in power. Voter turnouts  have been dangerously low in urban areas and especially among the youth and it’s  about time we changed this.

When you vote although you may be voting for a candidate, you do it for yourself and for your loved ones, NOT for those who get elected .

Imagine if everyone said their vote doesn’t count and they don’t vote? Would trustworthy people be elected ?

A vote in simple terms is a protest against injustice, ignorance and apathy .

|FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS ARE FUN|

Knowing your rights isn’t a thing you do for yourself, it’s a thing you do for those around you

The example about little children being forced to work? How would you help them out if  you aren’t aware of your rights?

Yes, I agree with you the Fundamental rights may not sound very fun and civics may not be the most exciting,but it’s so important to know and research about them.

Read about what your constitution gives you and helps you out with and educate those around you about these rights.

Remember rights aren’t privileges given to a few of  us, they are necessities guaranteed to every single one of us.

|BE LOUD|

When you feel something doesn’t feel very correct, speak out about it

Remember you are never too young to start taking action. When you see people littering or you see people blatantly break the law, don’t hesitate to speak out

Don’t think your voice is too little, it isn’t and it’s powerful, a citizens job sometimes is too keep their mouths open.

Always remember a politically active society is a nightmare for those who use the system only for their benefit

It’s about time we started making a noise.

|TAKE CHARGE|

You see people throwing thrash? Take charge. Do something about it, you could start by even picking up someone’s trash

Yes this may seem cliche and quite honestly many people may have said this to you but think about it for a minute and self-introspect, do you really want to be citizen who has no regard for the law or for society ? Or do you want to be a changemaker ?

Do you want to take charge? Or do you want to ignore our problems and let someone else deal with it?

|EDUCATE|

People need awareness and those who aren’t very fortunate need it more than we do. Try educating those you see around you about their rights, duties and responsibilities. Encourage them to start voting and help them hold their representatives accountable. As the title of this article suggests- we should all be active citizens not just those who are educated or rich.

This is the most important step in your journey of becoming an active citizen, this would be your legacy.

|RESPECT|

When you become an active citizen, there will be people out there who may not agree with you. Try understanding  their positions and try being respectful about them. Always remember the more opinions we have, the better it is

|MOBILIZE|

Most of the issues we face aren’t faced by us alone, a vast majority of those around us face the same problems

Start mobilizing and talking to them

Start talking collective action and start ensuring  your voice is heard

Don’t be discouraged when you see people being ignorant towards what you’re trying to say. Throughout history the forces of change have always been successful when they have stood up for good causes. Huge changes may take time but they may never happen if you don’t wake up today.

Quite honestly the greatest of all mistakes is to do  nothing simply because you can do very little

|SOLVE|

Complaining about issues and protesting may be a major part about being an effective citizen but giving solutions to problems should be a part of your focus as well

Don’t leave it to the government or to anyone else to solve problems which we face, be a part of the solution and not the problem.

|NOW|

Lastly start now, watch the news or maybe read the newspaper and learn about what’s happening around you

Think about ways in which you can do your bit

It’s never too late nor too early, change starts now.

Think about it – almost every constitution in the world starts with “We the people” and not “I the politician.”

With this I sign off hoping to have inspired you to start being more active. Remember your actions may seem insignificant or small but you’re contributing to your society and your country and there isn’t anything greater than this. I urge you all start being  more active citizens. Don’t leave it anyone else, make this your duty.

In my opinion, most of the issues we face as a society today are mainly because of our ignorance, if we start being changemakers it isn’t a long time before our problems are solved.

Think about any issue we face and go to the root of it, a deadly word called ignorance is always at fault.

I end with the words of Charles de Gaulle who once said –

“Politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians”

Let us all take a vow to reform the way we look at society and to start being more active in civic issues. When people come together to make a difference, no force on earth can stop them!

DO NOT FEAR DIVERSITY.

We live in a very heterogeneous planet, people across this planet don’t look the same, they don’t eat the same type of food nor do they speak the same language, people don’t wear the same type of clothes and they don’t worship the same way, but is this really a bad thing ?

In my opinion, it’s this beautiful diversity which makes our civilization so unique and wonderful.

Take a moment and imagine a world where everyone looked like you,spoke only your language and celebrated only your festival. Wouldn’t this make mankind a little too boring ?

Growing up, I was always very jealous when my neighbours would celebrate a festival which we didn’t celebrate, they would have new clothes, eat good food and spend time laughing, while I sulked not having a festival to celebrate!

My solution? I started celebrating with them, each time they had a celebration and stared learning so much more about diffrent people . I embraced different cultures and traditions along the way.

This way, almost every month, I had a festival to look forward too! I went along to Temples, to Churches, to Mosques, I ate things I never thought I would and made friends with great people along the way!

I do agree it’s quite hard to embrace new cultures,many people see diversity as a threat rather than a beauty, but I don’t seem to see why it’s wrong for people to be different yet be accepted. India, for example has grown and has become one of the largest economies in the world and has stood strong for over 70 years now, we have made rapid progress in various fields and have been a beacon of peace and compassion for several years.This is my opinion has largely happen due to our diversity.Our diversity has become our strength and in many ways our soft power too. In India the concept of diversity has stood the test of time, almost every single state in our country has her own language,culture and tradition but this mosaic like nature of our country has never been our weakness, it has always helped us unite and become stronger.

I’m very fortunate  to have grown up and to live in such a country, simply because this diversity has made me more open minded and in many ways has shaped who I am today.

Don’t be afraid of this pluralism and diversity we see around us-

The next time you see your friend bring a dish which you may have never seen in your life, try tasting it instead of complaining about how weird it looks,try speaking a new language, try celebrating a new festival, try becoming more aware of other cultures and traditions, embrace our differences and diversities. Trust me, its way more fun this way. Don’t mock or tarnish another person’s culture or practice, Don’t have a negative mindset that your culture is supreme (Do note, dictators like Adolf Hitler always felt their culture was supreme!) Try being more open to other communities and try using this diversity to your advantage.

The exact moment when two very different cultures and communities meet and then embrace their differences, at this very moment, society evolves, we progress and we become better people than we are.

Progress isn’t just  huge buildings and wide roads, progress becomes complete only when you are no longer scared of people who aren’t like you. It’s when an Russian learns to speak Hindi, it’s when a Jew becomes friends with an Arab, it’s when stereotypes are broken and then proved wrong, it’s when Indians realize that the North-East of India belongs to India and the people there are as Indian as the rest of us, it’s when we we stop calling them abusive terms and start treating them with dignity. It’s when we realize how beautiful our planet is.

So this is my message to you- Open up not just your minds but your hearts as well, Let us celebrate Christmas, Eid, Navroz, Baisakhi, Diwali, Holi, Pongal, Bihu and the ten- thousand other festivals, let us eat good food and make merry. Let us forget all  our differences and let us become better people, Let’s not be Ignorant or snobbish, let’s celebrate this planet.

Let’s open our homes to other communities and people. Invite others for our festivals and try bridging gaps which one may think will never fill.

But most of all – Let us not be afraid of diversity.

Side note- I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and i’m super happy many people have liked it too

If you liked this post, do leave a comment below and share this on social media too, I would be very grateful 🙂

I’m privileged.

There’s a man who is my brother, I just don’t know his name.
But I know his home and family because I know we feel the same.
And it hurts me when he’s hungry and when his children cry.
I too am a father, and that little one is mine.
It’s about time we begin it, to turn the world around.
It’s about time we start to make it, the dream we’ve always known.
It’s about time we start to live it, the family of man.
It’s about time, it’s about changes and it’s about time.
It’s about peace and it’s about plenty and it’s about time

John Denver

Let’s do a small activity  before we start off this blog. Add a point for everything you have or for every activity you’re able to do.

Subtract a point for every activity you can’t do or for everything you don’t have-

  1. You have a house
  2. You can sleep on a warm bed at the end of the day
  3. You have clean drinking water
  4. You eat two or more times a day
  5. You have more than 3 sets of clean clothes
  6. You have a television set
  7. You have a fast Wifi connection
  8. You have a fancy smartphone
  9. You can afford a vacation
  10. Your family owns a car/cycle/van
  11. You have electricity at all times
  12. You can go to a doctor when you get sick
  13. You can afford to shop at an expensive supermarket
  14. You can go watch a movie and buy ridiculously expensive popcorn
  15. You have gone/ still go to school/college

I’m going to assume most of you have a score of 12 or more. It’s quite awesome you have so much actually, it’s more than what most of the other humans on this planet have.

Let’s be quite honest here, most of us live in cozy, extremely privileged bubble which may never burst. I’m writing this to make you aware  of the world beyond the bubble most of us live in. This isn’t to make you feel guilty of the privileges you have. Most of you work hard and you can afford a healthy and comfortable lifestyle and this is simply because you had an opportunity to do so. You went to a good school because your parents could afford to send you to one and you had good schools around you to choose from, but what happens when you don’t have this opportunity? Think about those children in extreme conditions of poverty where even going to a free school isn’t a choice as they would have to work to make ends meet instead of learning about alphabets and numbers

Think about those who don’t have clothes simply because in the choice between a shirt and a loaf of bread, a loaf of bread seems much more important.

It’s quite easy for us to comment on the poor and tell them to work harder while we sit on our leather couches with super fast internet and cool drinks to beat the heat, but unless we really understand the notion of privilege, we really can’t understand the sufferings of those who fall under the category of have-nots.

So what exactly is privilege? In simple terms it is defined as-a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

Let me give an example, a teacher chooses where her students would sit in class-

She makes 5 sit in the first row and 5 in the second row and so on until there are 5 in the last row of the class. She now starts doing a math sum on the blackboard but those at the back really can’t see what’s written, they call her out but she can’t hear them, those on the front however can see the sum very clearly and are quite happy that they are able to understand everything.

In the example, those in the back didn’t want to sit there and struggle but they simply had no other choice, they were pushed to the back by the teacher and may never understand the concept. On the other hand those in the front too didn’t choose their seats but were quite happy with the seat they got and didn’t pay heed to those at the back.

This special advantage those in the front got is the notion of privilege, Seems a little unfair ? Of course it is, in this way millions of people are denied access to food, water and other basic necessities which are required for human survival, Let us see a few hard hitting facts about this-

800 million people go to bed hungry each night.
That’s 1 in 9 people on a world population estimate of 7.6 billion today, About every 10 seconds a child dies from hunger- Let that sink in for a moment, every 10 seconds a child who should have been playing and enjoying life is instead dying of hunger.

The facts when it comes to access to clean drinking water is  even worse- Approximately 1.1 Billion People (1 in 7) Lack Access To Safe Water. The next time you decide to spend an hour in the shower, think about this.

All those times you had a fever and your parents rushed you to the hospital? It felt quite normal didn’t it? Well for 400 million other fellow humans, access to health care is only imaginary, think about it, a child running a high fever but absolutely no one around them to help

This is unfortunately the sad reality of the world we live in today.

But the good part about this is that we can change this, let’s go back into the example I gave you, the students in the front can always make some space for those in the rows behind them can’t they?

By being grateful for the things we have and being more cautious when we use our resources, we can ensure they are  available to more people. We should try thinking from the view of the oppressed and the low income groups of our society, this helps us understand how privileged we are to lead such comfortable lives.

The next time you pass through a slum, don’t cover you nose and raise your car windows, instead think about ways you could help them, it could be something as simple as donating a few blankets to them during winter or distributing some food or even talking to them about sanitation and cleanliness.

Remember to always be grateful for all the privileges you have in your life and take care to ensure you don’t exploit what’s been given to you.

Remember if you belong to group of people who can afford to lead a comfortable lifestyle, it’s your duty to give back to society in any way you think you should

Privilege in this sense can be a good thing too, it can be used to create change and help those who may need our attention. Try using your privilege for the betterment of mankind and not just to lead happy lives.