During my engineering days at Bangalore I used to go to the nearby Hare Krishna Hare Rama temple of ISKCON. An engineer Swami (yes most of the sanyasins there have a professional background) held a class on ‘Gita’ one fine Sunday. We were around 20 in this spiritual classroom. All with diverse backgrounds, religion (there were Hindus, Jain, Christians, two Sikhs and a Muslim, too), caste, profession and background.
Swamiji then started the lecture by asking one simple question to each of us, “Who are you?”. The question looked pretty simple. The guy sitting next to me immediately replied, “I am Mrugesh Dravid”. Then pointing to the girl sitting behind me, Swamiji politely asked, “And you?”. “My name is Pooja, Pooja Tanwar”. This followed with a few more guys replied their names identifying who they are.
A dude sitting on the first bench then had some unique thoughts, he wanted to differentiate himself from others. All others identified themselves in a similar pattern which is very obvious. If somebody asks me who am I, I would certainly pop-out my name because that’s who I am! Now, this dude replied, “I am a Maharashtrian!”. And he immediately got attention from everybody. He was different, he tried to distinct himself from others by identifying himself as a member of one region/state – Maharashtra. He tried to unite himself with where he belongs to. He wanted himself to be identified as the one who speaks Marathi. A few south Indians out there (obvious as it was Bangalore) then stood up and said they are Kannadas! It followed by a couple others declaring themselves as Tamils.
This did sound interesting to a few others and in no time a couple of other guys out there cried out saying they are Sikhs! Now, this was something new. Being a Maharashtrian, Kannada, Telugu or Tamil is different from being a Sikh. Maharashtrian is like being a Marathi speaking person – language specific, region specific. Ditto for Tamils, Telugus and Kannadas and the likewise. These Sardarjis could have said that they are Punjabis as majority of Sikhs reside in Punjab. But, then in Punjab, Hindus are also there. How can Sikhs classify themselves to something unique – something original? ‘Sikh’ is the word then. They said they are Sikhs – the message was clear.
Parag Mehta, a friend of mine, who is a Jain understood the message. He described himself as a Jain. Naushar Khan, the only Muslim present in this spiritual classroom raised his hand and said, ‘Well, I am a Muslim – a Mohammedan’!
What? He is saying that he is a Muslim? The rest of the bunch, who had not spoken so far and had not identified themselves yet stood up and roared, ‘We are Hindus!’ and sat back with a magical pride on their faces. They thought they got the right message here. We all are Hindus, forget about being a Marathi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Mallu, Gujju, Sardar and all – we all are Hindus!
It was then when Swamiji had to interfere as the war of words has been diversified from Marathi v/s Kannada or North Indian to Hindu v/s Muslim! Swamiji said, “OK. Now how would I describe myself? All of you tried to identify yourselves and tried to distinguish yourselves from others by associating with a caste, region, language and religion. How do I distinguish myself from all of you now?”
I stood up and raised a question, “Well, Swamiji, but I don’t think we are trying to differentiate ourselves from each other. You asked who you are and everybody is replying with their obvious answers.”
“If you all are not trying to depart from each other, should I say that I am an Indian instead? Will that serve the cause of identifying myself and of answering to who I am?”
“Yes” was a comprehensible answer from all.
“So it is clear that I am an Indian.” Swamiji continued, “But what about one of our friends sitting in front of me who is basically an Australian? How will he describe his being?”
“Well, it ain’t any crikey. I am an Australian – it’s that simple.”
“How would you have identified yourself if all of us sitting here would have been Australian?” Swamiji asked the Australian (I forgot his name). “Well, as I reside in New South Wales, I would have said so.”, replied the Aussie geek. “What if everybody here were from New South Wales?” Swamiji continued. It is a fact that we the Indians have so many classifications in our society that we find easy answers to all such questions. That Australian might must have got confused by now as he may not be having such classifications of society there – castes, regions, religions, languages and what not. “Swamiji, what is the point here?” Australian was wondering.
“The point is very local.” was the reply from the humble Swami. “I asked you a simple question – Who you are – and all have different answers. One obvious answer I can expect is your name because that’s who you ‘think’ you are. All other answers are ‘manipulated’ and by saying that you are a Marathi or Tamil or Sikh or Muslim you are just trying to divide and extinct yourself from others – trying to look different.” All of us were listening gracefully. “You tell me that you are Kunal Pandya, you think you are right, others think that’s who you are. But even that’s not who you actually are!”
We were surprised. ‘Who the hell am I then’ would have been the sound of the heart of everybody sitting there, I am sure. Swamiji then spoke, “If I point at my hand, I say it’s ‘my hand’. I point at my eyes and say ‘my eyes’ and it goes on – my hands, my legs, my heart, my nose, my lips, my face, my body! You think you are the body?” Nobody had any answer as this was something which nobody heard before. Ever since birth, we have been taught that we are Kshatriya, we are Punjabi, we are from Delhi, we are Hindu – similarly pointing at myself I would say I am a Brahman, I am a Gujarati, I am from Mumbai and I am a Hindu. Swamiji said that’s not who I am. “YOU ARE THE SOUL!” was his reply which got all of us thinking of something which was universal. “If everything in your body is YOURS then who you are? You are the soul who is wearing this body!”
The class was over. But, I still keep asking myself, who am I. Swamiji was right, but do you think we are that universal at this moment that we will go on accepting and uniting ourselves with all the people of the world? It’s true that I am the soul, you are the soul, but that’s the very spiritual part of it. What about the material world? The world is not matured enough to accept a universal name for all us humans – for the entire mankind. NO! Not now at least.
But when I study our history books, I realize that tomorrow, if not today, we will call ourselves as ‘Humans’. 500 years ago, India was not the India we see today. There were Mughals who ruled North India, there are Khalsas who ruled Punjab, there were smaller dynasties in Gujarat and Rajasthan like Gaekwad and Mewars (Mewads). There were Marathas, there were Pandyans (of Pandya dynasty – I don’t know if all Pandyas including me today have roots to them), there were Cholas of the South India and then there were some Islamic rulers and their dynasties along with the British rule as well. Though the British never got accepted here, all others did. Majority of them were original sons of the soil except Muslims. But, The Great Akbar of the Mughals realized that if they wanted to rule this part of the world, they would need to get associated with the locals. It is then when we started calling ourselves as Hindus. Because before the inhabitance of the Muslims, everybody was a Hindu – so no point in calling ourselves Hindus, right? If we face an opposition, we will unite, otherwise we are already fighting amongst ourselves – Marathas are fighting against Cholas of south India. Khalsas of Punjab are fighting against Mewads of Rajasthan and so on. It is due to the Muslims and other foreign (read – NOT sons-of-the-soil) public rushing into our land, we started uniting and declared that HOLD – WE ARE HINDUS!
500 years passed since then, my friend. India is free today. We are independent Indians stepping into the 21st century. Now is the time of ‘COUNTRIES’. It’s the time we call ourselves INDIANS! And, let’s just forget about our smaller origins such as caste, state, language and religion. It will only divide us further, won’t do any good – it won’t.
I am sure that if we encounter some life on some other planet such as Mars of Venus or whatever, we will again have a revolution and will start identifying ourselves as HUMANS – The People of the Planet Earth! But, till then, my friends, let us stick to the being INDIAN philosophy.