Language, food, culture – all these define a people. I live in an area where there’s a 24×7 radio channel belting out Bollywood songs. Some years back I remember a renowned Hindi film actress, who was Bengali and who had converted from Hinduism to Islam, lamenting that Hindi film scripts used to be written in Urdu earlier and are no longer so.
Not so the songs that I hear. I hang out with a number of Pakistani people whose Urdu I understand perfectly. It’s just like the Hindi spoken in northern India. But Bollywood songs have so many Persian words in them that I can barely understand them.
I decided to conduct an exercise to gauge how much Persian has become infused into Hindi. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, was giving a speech. I listened to him carefully. And sure enough, I recognized every fourth or fifth word of his as one that I had heard in Hindi as we speak it in India. So, willy-nilly, we have accepted the language of the “other”.
What about food? My father was an Indian army officer and we ate meat. My elder brother was very fond of Mughlai food. One day I asked my mother where this Mughlai food originated from. She said that the Mughals had brought the cuisine to India and blended it with Indian spices and recipes to create this delicious concoction. So even in food, we have taken a lot from the “other”.
Our dress sense is common. Our marriage ceremonies have a lot in common. Our looks are more or less the same. Even our religion has something in common. The “other’s” religion promotes a formless form of God. Our religion too has an interpretation of God that is formless. And how often do our songs sing odes to the “other’s” God.
So why then the hatred? It is ascribed to historical animosity. To the misdeeds that one side has done to the other over centuries. Consider France and England. These are white people, but of quite different stock. Their language is vastly different. Their cuisine has nothing in common. Even the religious sects that they follow are different. The English are Protestant; the French are Catholic. There has been huge animus between the Protestants and the Catholics over the last five hundred years.
The French are still miffed by the treatment that the English handed out to their beloved Joan of Arc and to Napoleon. Yet, the French and the English fought and won two world wars together and have wrapped themselves up in numerous alliances (UN Security Council permanency, NATO, G7) that it seems implausible they will ever go to war. Both the English and the French have strong armies but they are not directed at each other.
Both countries have remote outposts that they need to protect. The British famously fought the Falklands War in 1982 to protect the Falklands Islands from Argentina. Other than remote threats, France and England have no obvious foes. But they maintain strong armies to maintain white hegemony over the world.
What if their boss, the United States, gets involved in a clash with China and summons them to help out in the conflict? They will have to go. India and Pakistan, who share much more in common than England and France do, instead have their triggers ready at each other. Both countries are mired in poverty yet spend billions in arms every year to outdo one another.
Just like the French have accepted that the memory of Joan of Arc and Napoleon has faded away with time, so too Indians (and Pakistanis) must accept that the ghost of Aurangzeb (and sundry other marauders) has evaporated with time. These guys are not coming back. Why keep invoking their memory?
So many Indians who subscribe to rightwing philosophy love Bollywood songs and Mughlai food. If they hate the “other” so much, why don’t they drop their love for the other’s culture? The most celebrated actor in Bollywood once remarked in Pakistan that Urdu had become an orphan in India. He was wrong. Urdu is alive and kicking more in India than in Pakistan.
Because of their strong Urdu content, if I didn’t know beforehand that I was listening to Bollywood songs, I could have easily mistaken them to be songs emanating from Pakistan. And with the orthodox Urdu that Bollywood songs are laden with, sometimes I wonder if the target audience for these songs is not Indian but Pakistani. So no, Urdu is not dying anytime soon in India.
The Hindu right-wing tries to deny the positive influence of the “other” in our history and culture. There is no point in denying the undeniable. We have been hugely influenced by the “other’s” culture. And in turn we have influenced it greatly. What has emerged is a fusion of cultures. Nobody in our country seems ready to let go of their love for Bollywood and Mughlai cuisine. So why cling on to hate?
The writer is an expert on energy and contributes regularly to publications in India and overseas.