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Short Story: Who are Indians?



By Sonal Butley

The weather in Firozabad appears to be changing rapidly. Amidst the mild sunshine, breeze showers started. The duo, Ashok and his granddaughter, Surekha looked at the sky. The luminously tinkling bangles in the eight-year-old Sureka’s wrists clinked like a kaleidoscopic image at the same time. It seemed to create an echo in the half-built shack they sat in.

A look of sudden remembrance dawned on the little girl’s face. She then turned to her grandfather and asked, “Dadaji, who is an Indian?”

Ashok paused and then blinked. What should I tell her? He thought for a while. Many possible answers sprang up in his mind to that simple and innocent question.

“Why do you ask?” he finally answered. Surekha looked out into the grey oblivion and said, “Well, everyone speaks different languages, people wear different attires and we all eat different cuisines. But what makes us all Indian?”

Rather abruptly, Ashok realised that he can’t give her a quick answer. How do you sum up a nation of more than a billion people for an inquisitive little child?

Ashok understood that her curiosity must be nurtured. Her sense of wonder and openness ought to be preserved and so, he must think of an answer.

He began by telling her of the many people that have shaped India’s landscape; of the rise and fall of emperors and empresses; the religions that have waxed and waned and of the laws that have been proclaimed.

He described the influence of the British and how their control over India made us feel robbed of our freedom and basic rights. He told her about ‘Bapu’ who taught them that strength and violence were not the same thing. He further mentioned how Bhagat Singh, Sarojini Naidu, Sardar Patel, and Chandra Shekhar Azad devoted themselves to shape this nation that is present day ‘Bharat.’

As Ashok delved further and deeper into the influences of being an Indian, he found himself sharing his own reminiscences of the events that shaped Indian history.

He recalled the oppression and exploitation felt under British rule, followed by the overwhelming relief, ecstasy and the excruciating pain of Partition during the Independence. Then, it was Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who verbalised those feelings, declaring India free on the eve of August 14, 1947.

He recalled the whirlpool of emotions, as he witnessed a major historic movement. Together, how they swept away the British and ushered in the birth of an eternal and sovereign India.

But this anecdote is infamous for its lurches between hope and dark despair. As India and Pakistan were pulled asunder, the forging of their identities became stained with blood. Ashok’s eyes moisten at the memory and the horrific stories of the Partition came rushing back.

Suddenly, he stopped short of telling those to Surekha. He couldn’t let his pain and endurable nostalgia taint her naivety. Ashok’s answer to her query should be that an Indian is a Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Bihari, and Tamil, he is also Hindu, Muslim, Zoroastrian, Christian, and Buddhist. They are all Indian, and together they are India.

If the hope and despair of 1947 taught Ashok anything, it was this Indian identity that is all-encompassing. He educated his granddaughter further on how our differences should not become prejudices or walls that divide us.

After all this talking, he asked her, gently, “Now, beti what do you think an Indian is?”

The sun sheds its rays with a pleasant warmth almost camouflaging the cool breeze and attempting to assert its dominance.

Surekha rearranged her bangles and then clinked them together, showing the colours of orange, white, and green. Beaming at the tricoloured chunks of the furnace glass, she answered, “It is us, Dadaji. Us and everyone else.”