From the land of snake charmers to the intellectual capital of the world, from cultivating land to stirring the e-revolution, from bullock carts and camels to satellite launch vehicles, India has come a long way. However, as Indians embrace the modern world and make rapid strides in their fields of interest, there is a section of their very own society which accuses them of having lost their identity to the influence of the West.
"Namaste" is responded to with "Hi baby"; your Maruti car gets replaced by an SUV; saris make way for figure-hugging jeans and dal-chawal gets upstaged by pasta ... so reads a Times of India article, on the eve of Indian Independence Day. There are similar stories making the rounds. All of them seem to question the Indian quotient, in the wake of liberalization and multi-nationalization.
But is Indian-ness just about food, fashion and lingo? Or is it a sentiment that delves deep in the heart of every Indian? As an Indian living here in Mountain View, I am inspired to get a perspective from local residents of Indian descent. Let's find out what Indian-ness means to them.
First, let me introduce my husband, Anurag Singla. He's a software engineer from India. Indian-ness, to him, "means more than carrying forth the Indian traditions. Indian-ness to me is to work towards the development of India, and lead it to new grounds of advancement."
This may already be happening: A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology, Anurag says he has always received praise and appreciation from his American peers for the quality of engineers produced by the IITs.
To Ashish Garg, a resident of Mountain View with a Ph.D. in computer science who works for a network security start-up, the spirit of India is embodied in its "culture, tradition, values, family and respect for elders."
Over on Castro Street, Chitra Sharma holds forth on the subject. Chitra, who holds a master's degree in electronics, feels that "India-ness is not about saari, ghagra or dhoti-kurta; it's about unity in diversity, spirituality and values, and being aware." She fondly recalls how she amazed a Catholic American lady with her splendid recitation of Sanskrit shlokas.
Every Indian that I spoke with in Mountain View seems to echo some version of this sentiment, which runs deeper than an American accent, flashy cars and sexy jeans. Ashish is "motivated to learn the very best," from his American peers, he said. Anurag likes Americans for their "professionalism, excellent education system and research facilities."
Adopting best practices from the West does not make these people any less Indian. It only means they're open to new vistas, and interested in excelling at whatever they do.