All I have is my robust and noisy laughter to keep me sane at moments of immense shock at human foolishness. For it is nothing short of foolish to demand that theatre groups sign an agreement before every performance at a government-owned theatre in Rajasthan, promising that their play will be void of cigarette smoking, lewd double entendre jokes and any criticism of the government.
It is shocking that the government believes it is its duty to punish a television channel by taking it off air for a day for its supposed ‘anti-national’ reportage. It is shocking that the head of our nation is invited as chief guest to a function celebrating freedom of speech, whilst during this same government’s tenure we have faced the greatest crackdown of our fourth estate. I am shocked that the chief minister felicitates the police for their cold-blooded murder of jail escapees. I am shocked that an inquiry into the jailbreak does not take centre stage in the response to a bizarre incident. I am shocked at the celebration of this new-formed system of justice. I am shocked at the personal attacks on individuals and their families on social media by the newly-entitled custodians of nationalism. I am shocked that opinion is considered fact in our day and age. I am shocked that debate and discussion have become passé. I am shocked that we have become a fearful nation. I am shocked that I have become a fearful citizen of this nation. I am shocked that we have forgotten that our greatest strength is our cultural diversity and plurality.
I have a tummy ache from all this robust laughter, a laughter that leaves an icy cold sadness and bitter hollowness in the pit of my stomach. And yet I belong here, in India. A country that seems to be desperately trying to reinvent itself to fit into a global image. I am not sure who this image is being defined by. And against what parameters. All I know is that I feel an urgent need to engage in this definition of what my India is. I believe we all need to.
I want to celebrate an India that holds creativity close to its core. An India that told stories and found meaning and beauty in everything, from one’s own name, to the weave of the clothes one is wearing, to our grandmother’s lullabies, to the colour on a kathakali performers face, to the agriculture of a region and its impact on the drama, dance, music and craft of the people, to the myriad interpretations of our epics, to a culture that not only celebrates but welcomes other perspectives. This is my India. An India that is confident and fearless, yet curious and willing to engage with the strange and unfamiliar. Yet feeling rooted in where one belongs. And yet with this great sense of rootedness and confidence also comes the wonderful fragility of doubt. Of being open to seeking and being taught from unexpected avenues. An India that is introspective and self-aware.
We keep boasting of the fact that we have such talent in India. We should also take a look at what this really means: are we truly as creative as we need to be world players today? Take a look at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and the percentage of Indians that study there is commendable. But how many are PhD students? We are afraid of taking risks, of truly being creative, perhaps even of failure. All essential ingredients to be truly creative. And surely that is primary if we are to move towards a successfully vibrant ‘Made in India’ state of being.
A recent scientific study in the US about creativity states that an essential part of igniting creativity is to enable “daydreaming, ruminating, or otherwise letting our minds wander”. Does our society really value this? It is strange that we have come from a society that had aesthetic value to almost every utilitarian object. But today this aesthetic has all but vanished. Likewise when we look at ‘Make in India’ we only see the immediate utilitarian nature of products, not the hugely valuable need to nurture creativity and its invaluable impact on our overall lives.
This, I believe, is the need of the hour as it will push us towards being a more inclusive, self-aware, truly confident and fearless India.