Maybe it’s the cognitive distortion that happens with time, but I remember growing up in a different India . One that is almost quaint by today’s standards, safer, cleaner, with tree lined roads, idyllic villages and honest hardworking people. Sure there were selfish and corrupt people around but they were a minority. The closest thing to my memories is the India captured in the documentary by French Director Louis Malle. If you have not seen these I would strongly recommend them.
Born into a Hindu family, my exposure to religion consisted of visits to temples maybe once or twice a year – usually on a festival. I recall my parents, both religious in a personal way, never imposing their views on us. They were both devout vegetarians but never stopped us from eating eggs or meat if we wanted to. I often ate meat, including beef with my non-Hindu friends and my parents never made me feel like I was doing anything wrong. I was often told – there are many paths to god and each person needs to find his own. I grew up hearing that all gods and religions are the same each a different spiritual way to achieve the same thing.
My parents sent me to the best schools they could, which in those times were missionary schools. Here for the first time I was exposed to Christian prostelyzation, often disguised as “Moral Science.” Hindu and non western traditions were denigrated and looked down upon and I can imagine that some of my class mates internalized this as self-hatred. My group of friends were mostly amused by these activities and the sordid stories that occasionally leaked out about the “Brothers” and “Sisters” who taught us.
I grew up proud of the tolerant tradition of Hinduism and India and totally oblivious of the history of my country and my people. We were taught a watered down version of the British school curricula, with a focus on European and world history from an English perspective. The NCERT curriculum was not taught in the schools I attended. Later I learned how India was subjugated by small numbers of invaders who used Indian against Indian to achieve their victories. I also learned that of all the countries that Islam swept through India was the only one that didn’t convert en masse.
As I grew older, India changed too – its population kept growing, the migrations to cities changed once green tree lined urban spaces to crowded cities with adjoining slums. Corruption grew to the point were there was nothing you could do without paying a bribe and nothing that couldn’t be done if you had the money. Honest people became a curiosity to be ridiculed as simpletons and India slowly lost its moral standing in the world as a leader of the non-aligned movement that spoke for the poor and the marginalized.
I started this blog as I noticed that there are among us still people who strive to lead good honest lives as well as those who will sell their mothers to make a buck. It’s up to us to learn who is who without hate and rancor and without giving up our won humanity and tolerance.