Usually, when I decide to write on a particular subject, it is because of an incident or occurrence in my personal life. This blog is no different :-) I refuse to call my city Mumbai. To me, it will always be BOMBAY uttered the innocent, well-meaning Indian Coconut. Now in case you’re wondering and don’t know what a Talking Human Indian Coconut is, let me explain it to you. The definition of the Talking Indian Human Coconut is:
” An Indian Coconut is a person aspiring and trying very hard to be white but he/she/it is trapped in a brown body. FYI they don’t know about it. In fact, if pointed out, many of them simply refuse to acknowledge it. ”
Before I go ahead with my analysis, let me make some things very clear. Once upon a time during those days of my mental colonisation I was a talking human coconut myself (I feel I still have a long way to go. Decoconutisation is a constant process). I had a certain way of looking at my surroundings. I used to have a distinctively Anglicized/Western/Euro-Centric lense. My worldview was shaped by certain norms (which now I call myths) where I would derive certain conclusions based on certain views which I thought were universal. The epistemological categories that I used to apply in the past when it came to defining something as basic as my disbelief in certain religious claims of Hinduism was also based on Euro-Centric epistemological categories.
Now back to the main moot point. So this is what a friend/fellow human being/coconut no.1 used as a retort when I pointed out to him in a completely non-violent way about the usage of the word BOMBAY ” I think this approach to citing historic occurrence to justify present action is the reason why India is still plagued with caste, regional and religious divide. Who cares what was called what. For me, it’s Bombay for you Mumbai and for someone else bumbai. ”
Look at the line of thinking or in my view the complete lack of it. Because we refuse to call a city BOMBAY or because we want to call it Mumbai and object to the former we become a society plagued with caste, regional and religious divide. According to the Indian Coconut, the Ethnic Indian Identity is the source of all the conflict in India. The person then follows it up with the standard ” who cares what was called what ” jibe. You do care what it is called. Because you directly associated the calling of a city Mumbai to a whole plethora of social problems. As if when the same city was called BOMBAY these problems did not exist. When Mumbai was BOMBAY, everything was hunky dory. We were all living together holding our hands together singing Bryan Adams Songs. It is why and how a city gets called something that matters the most. It is the methodology and the thinking behind coming up with a name that matters.
That is why what we call ourselves matters a lot in my view. How we define ourselves as a society should matter to each and every Indian. Now onto to Coconut No. 2. This one says ” Bombay represents culture, a strong sense of inherited enterprise, the pivot of the freedom movement, liberal-mindedness, women’s security, business approach and an ability to deliver come what may, let’s not be monocultural now. ”
So only if the city is called BOMBAY does it represent all those things that the coconut no.2 mentioned???? How could a lowly Marathified Mumbai represent lofty values like culture, a strong sense of inherited enterprise, the pivot of the freedom movement, liberal mindedness, women’s security, business approach and an ability to deliver come what may. How dare I the lowlife desi associate these values with Indianness. After all like Coconut No.1 had mentioned all of India’s problems are because of its Indian identity. And what can one say about the allegation of hey dudeeeeeee let’s not be monocultural now. Obviously, Indians are not allowed to have their grand narrative. So what if the entire West has its grand narrative. So what if Britain just had Brexit which was based largely on cultural issues. They can have that privilege, but how dare these low life third world coolies even think of having such privileges. Don’t they know their place?
And this is where the crux of the problem with the Indian Coconut lies. The Indian coconut associates modernisation with westernisation. For the Indian Coconut, the Indian ethnic identity is something that needs to be eliminated. This is coupled with the Indian fair-skin complex which associates progress with the colour white. Otherwise which country on planet earth would sell a fairness cream? In the words of Rajiv Malhotra, I think it is time someone wrote a book on ” How the Desis are becoming White “. And “whiteness” is not just the colour of your skin. Whiteness is not just a racial connotation. Whiteness represents a set of values and world views. Once you start following those set of values is when you enter the cosy club of whiteness. It is like a power structure. And many Indians in the West and India have moulded themselves into a certain way to enter this club. These are the social climbers. The Indian Coconut suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. They sound like that battered wife who says so what he beat me, man; he gave me amazing food to eat with yummy dal. And do you know, the dal had tadka too. (I would like to clarify here that I have nothing against the current crop of Britishers or the Western world at large. I don’t hold any grudge against them for the behaviour of their ancestors towards my people. Also, my wife is a westerner.)
Karl Marx had once said, ” England has to fulfil a double mission in India; one destructive, the other regenerating – the annihilation of the Asiatic society, and the laying of the material foundations of Western Society in Asia.” So if we look at the Indian Coconut can we safely assume that England was successful? There are some very important questions that need to be answered. Can there be a universal model of ” modernity ” without slipping into moral and cultural relativism? Can we have a homogeneous concept where what is considered ” modern ” can be defined for all races?
The origins of Modernity in the West stem from a critical analysis of their society which had inherently Judeo-Christian values. Can a model like that be copy-pasted on a Dharmic Indian society? We need to ask these questions to ourselves. Today in contemporary Indian society what is conceived to be modern or liberal and what is conceived to be conservative is being decoded on certain principles which have deep Western Judeo-Christian roots.
At a metaphysical level, a Dharmic society is very different from a Judeo-Christian society. In such a scenario don’t we need to redefine the categories of what constitutes to be modern or liberal? In fact, I would go one step further. Can we classify a Dharmic society into categories such as ” modern ” ” liberal “and ” conservative “? Another classic example is applying Freudian psychoanalytical tools on a Dharmic society. Are our intellectuals that lazy that we won’t even try to find categories which fit our socio cultural understanding?
Are classifications such as ” right wing ” & ” left wing ” or ” atheist ” & ” theist ” meaningful in a Dharmic society? We need to ask ourselves that if a Dharmic society is Karma centric why are classifications like ” atheist ” and ” theist ” even relevant? I am not trying to imply that we need to go back to the old Vedic times. What I am trying to say is we need to have more intellectual rigour and try to find our terminologies. Intellectual lethargy makes a society stagnant. I find it deeply disturbing when I see Indian youth being mentally conditioned in a way where they are convinced that Western values are universal, and they are the be all and end all of this world. The question is not whether Western values are good or bad. The question is that are we that lazy that we won’t even critically analyse something before we map it onto our socio-cultural ethos.