IFate is perhaps just a subtle message from the all-seeing unconscious that escorts the unsuspecting seeker to the fractal of a truth that he otherwise may never have had the audacity to uncover. It usually unfolds itself into grand patterns from a seed incepted so surreptitiously that from whence a thought becomes the experiencer’s reality can never be accurately discerned. However, it sometimes does this so callously, maybe in desperation to be acknowledged at least, if not appreciated; that it can be reduced to something as pedestrian as coincidence.
It could be coincidence then that the call to write on ‘India’s heritage’ hit me smack in the mailbox when I was many miles away from India – eager to explore the hallowed heritage of Europe. Even though I optimistically banished the crippling thought of this deadline to a timeline that has made Mission Impossible seem like a walk in the park, just the exposure to that seemingly innocuous, unabashedly flaunted, terribly underappreciated and rarely truly understood term ‘India’s heritage’, sparked the beginning of a latent chain reaction, where each brush with heritage in those travels birthed a domino.
And this is where they all fall…
On a cold day in Prague…
It began in Prague with tourists flocking and marvelling the Gothic architecture that eerily resembled the facade of Wilson College, my alma mater and a host of other buildings I have grown up knowing as picture postcards of Mumbai. The Christmas markets of Vienna could well have been at the steps of Mount Mary in Bandra (a suburb of Mumbai), and even in Brno, they called it Chai (tea, spelt Caj). Brahma Kumari’s welcoming sign graced a building in the city centre of Bratislava, and the graffiti in Budapest was dominated by the symbol of ‘Om’.
It continued in Istanbul where some European backpackers at the Hagia Sophia all but dragged my wallet to the palace or erstwhile Turkish royalty as they were completely taken in by the idea of a haram (harem) and the lavishness of those quarters. Dominoes birthed more insistently with the instinctive understanding of Turkish words like sabun (soap), dunya (world), kitap (book) and hawa (air) to name a few. These words derived from the Persian, married with those derived from Sanskrit-based languages are part of everyday exchanges in all of North India, and the haram a concept so standard that even a seven-year-old in India wouldn’t give it a second thought or glance. The ‘grand bazaar’ could have been in any city in India, and the shopkeepers breaking into perfectly pronounced renditions of Bollywood songs from the time of Raj Kapoor to Shah Rukh Khan – usually ending in a chorus by when everyone within earshot has joined in with a jig to match – seemed more home than home actually is.
Honestly, all that was missing was aaloo wala samosa (Indian-style spicy potato savoury) and I am pretty certain, it would have been only a few hundred metres away had I keyed it into Google, or perhaps just raised my nose to the wind.
The latent observation of a multi-billion Euro, Dollar and Pound industry spawning out of not dissimilar pockets of national heritages guarded within a few square miles of city centres, and brandished with fervour would finally fission my accumulated dyadic dominoes. They all began falling in the most satisfying of patterns as I walked the endless walk to Indian immigration at Mumbai airport, and joined the Sea of the Demonetised squabbling for pieces of pink paper and pre-paid cabs.
The eureka moment!
As I watched the madding crowd, in a fly on the wall moment, I noticed all skin colours and passport colours collectively invoking all the Gods that be, as they yodelled and jostled in rhythm to the victory dance of democracy. There was more diversity at 6 am that morning at the airport terminal than there ever has been in the General Assembly of the United Nations. And then suddenly, the accumulated pathos of two weeks of constant spontaneous computation, competition and comprehension of the languishing icons of India’s heritage in contrast to its privileged cousins in higher latitude that wore olive wreaths propped up on silver spoon brandishing golden sceptres while their halos grinned hubristically, fell away in an instant of almost nirvanic rapture.
I realised that the email to write about ‘India’s heritage’ was actually a subtle typographical message designed by fate to escort me through fractals disguised as cities to a point that the accumulated pathos inspires within me the audacity to transform my unconscious understanding of the term ‘India’s heritage’ to the conscious reality that, ‘India is heritage’.
Scientists who connect wires to the skull and study colourful lines dancing on screens preach that neurons in the brain fire and connect with each other when we understand things. In that moment, every neuron still limping after over three decades of oxidisation must have been standing on tiptoes while holding their interlocked hands up in triumph.
Clarity was never so clear!
For keeping in her womb the oldest hints of civilisation to sanctifying every aspect of life encountered on the planet within its once geographic and now political boundaries, India is heritage.
For decimating and bringing alive creation with each swing of the double edged sword of logic while greedily and impartially accumulating, incorporating and furthering every abstract notion that human thought and imagination could conjure, India is heritage.
For measuring distances into the infinite that surrounds us while destroying every separation to the infinite within us, India is heritage.
For galloping in the age of silicon science with mythology as its pillion, India is heritage.
For knowing that in a probability theorem life is simply a chemical equation and yet choosing to paint it in verse, India is heritage.
For reconciling Darwin with dasavatar (the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu), and believing in both while accepting that none may be true, India is heritage.
Spontaneous spiralling combustions of such collaborating contradictions spewed instantaneously – beginning and ending in the same moment. With a non-seeing gaze at the milieu in front of me and without a hint of concern at having no staff to make that sea part, I looked at Atif, who had collected blisters while I was chasing dominoes and exclaimed, “Atif, do you know what India’s heritage means?”
Cursing the spirits he thought possessed me while flying high and free, Atif hobbled away to find some caffeine, leaving in his wake a string of vague implications of dire consequences if I were to launch into an inspired lesson in history till we find a cab.
And this was fate’s final play. The fixing of the cork in a bottle being left to age. For in India, heritage is not just history. It is not just our story. It is not just a record of man’s journey. It is in unison, every part and the sum total of every mirage and reality on every plane of human existence.
“What was it about India’s heritage?” asked Atif, as caffeine pulled his eyelids to the awake position in a taxi blaring all horns away in morning rush hour. “Not India’s heritage…India is heritage,” I corrected him.
“Not debating grammar on jet lag”, he declared, and switched the headphones into noise cancellation mode in a hurry. “Give me some time.”
“Give IT some time,” I whispered to myself. “Sometime in the future when a generation better than us finally decodes the many ciphers that guard the enigmas of English grammar, they too will read ‘India’s heritage’ as ‘India is heritage’ and see it as but a simple truth.”
Just give it time.