Barack Obama is here in India, and I was originally planning to write a post about his visit. However, it is also our 66th Republic Day, and a conversation that I had over dinner lead me to write about something else entirely.
I had gone for dinner to a friend’s home. He shares my family name, and like my parents, his parents come from Undivided India. Which means that they come from the part of India that is now in Pakistan. Punjabis, we are, by the way.
I was mentioning how a friend of mine in Pakistan went to my father’s old village and filmed it. My father’s old home and doorway were still standing. He had not seen it since 1947 when the two countries were split. My friend’s mother was telling us about how, as a 13 year old, she had travelled from her home to India, and how she had to hide in the train, especially at stations, to avoid being spotted and shot.
Then, I went on to speak about how one of my great desires is to travel to Pakistan to see the home of my ancestors, and that I would do so at the opportune moment. To the older generation, and mine, the identification with the home of our ancestors in Pakistan is still very strong. Often, when we meet people who’s ancestry lies on the other side of the border, the bond increases. There is something magical, something nostalgic in this.
This sense of identity with the ancestry in Undivided India will die out with the younger generation of Indians, and the term – Undivided India – will seem quaint and antiquated.
We spoke about Indians who live outside India. Some of them cling to Indian traditions that we don’t practice in India anymore. We find these practices quaint, but then this is their sense of belonging with India. Their bond.
There are others like the US Senator, Bobby Jindal, who ( I believe ) denies all sense of being of Indian origin. He has become a Protestant, I was told.
This is a very individual thing, I would say.
How far back do you trace your roots, your family tree, your family history? How far back do you go to trace your cultural identity and heritage? How far back do you need to go, to trace your cultural identity?
And, what happens when you transplant your roots? How many generations before the transplanted roots forget the old memories, or blend with new ones, to create new cultural identities?