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'The story of India is an incredible story'

Last updated on: September 04, 2013 17:29 IST

Image: Ram Pratap Verma, an aspiring Bollywood actor, poses in front of a mural of Superstar Amitabh Bachchan.
Photographs: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

'I can’t survive a week without speaking in Hindi. I start feeling claustrophobic. I start feeling that I need air…

'The story about India is an imagination-grabbing story… Our common historical past -- a freedom that was so hard won, so fought over -- is a glue for us,’ says author and advertising professional Anuja Chauhan, in a special series where well-known Indians tell why they love India.

Eventually India is about its people. That seems to be our biggest strength. I think that’s why I live in this country.

My entire family lives abroad -- my parents, all my siblings, all live in the US or in Australia. There was a point in my life where (I had to decide): Should I stay there or stay here.

I can’t survive a week without speaking in Hindi. I start feeling claustrophobic. I start feeling that I need air. I need oxygen. So for one: It is the language. I just cannot live in a place where I can’t speak in Hindi.

I have a creative job so it is very important to get across. I feel terribly homesick when I am overseas. So for me language is (a big thing). I don’t know very good Hindi, or any other Indian languages, but I really enjoy them. I love that flavour on the street.

I was born here. My dad was in the army; but he just decided, about 30 years ago, to move abroad. I didn’t.

At that point it wasn’t something that I chose to do. It was something that I just could not do.

It was like there wasn’t a choice involved. That was when I was 19, I think. For me it was one of the most major decisions that you (could possibly) take.

That’s one of the reasons why I cannot live outside the country. It is okay to go for holidays and stuff. For me it is a very critical thing -- this “love for country.”

I am optimistic about the way we express ourselves.

I am extremely fond of Indian food -- for me that is very important, again.

I am fond of the streets in India. Village streets. City streets...

…Indian smells, though, these are sometimes extremely horrible. But there is something very vivid – like, you know, if you eat onions abroad, they don’t have the same flavour. It isn’t like a desi onion. Desi onions are much more pungent.

Or desi gulab. Desi gulab is the stuff that we always use for rangolis. Desi gulab has an incredible scent, which you do not get in other places, (where you find) more plastic varieties of roses.

So those smells and sounds are very important for me.

Of course, I can talk like this, and make it all sound very romantic and glamorous because I get to live in a house where there is air-conditioning and where I can retreat from the smells and sounds whenever I like.

It can sound very rosy -- (in a posh accent she mimics) “Oh, I love the smells and sounds of India.” I am glad to not have to live in the thick of them constantly; it becomes too overpowering.

So, I think, it is like a cultural thing you carry around with you.

If you tell a child the story of India, it is an incredible story. It is an imagination-grabbing story. So when you are talking patriotism to a child, if he follows that story, the one we always heard in school, about The Golden Bird (the tale of the Sone Ki Chidiya – about the land and its people that were admired for prosperity, intellect and culture) and you (follow) it to Independence -- I think that is an incredible history and an incredible past that we all have together.

I think that’s a very huge thing that ties everybody together -- the fact that we have a past that we all have access to.

The whole struggle of the Independence movement, that we can go back to -- your roots, your patriotism, your sense of fighting for freedom and getting it, and all sections and all religions and everybody working together to get that. I feel that common historical past is a glue – a freedom that was so hard won, so fought over. 

We all buy into and we should all buy into it. It is a very glorious concept -- the whole unity in diversity, which is not something many countries in the world can boast of. We have that, and one way or the other, we have managed to hang together.

Now we have 30 states -- we started off with 13 -- but there is still that concept of unity in diversity which makes us very special and unique. I think children today enjoy that. Celebrate that.

You are seeing a lot more of it in movies now. Even if you see a movie like Vicky Donor which is about this whole Punjabi (thing) and marriage. Even Chennai Express, for whatever it is worth, which again celebrates diversity. That I think is very important -- it gives you a nice, strong national identity, in a country which has so much.

You always remember stuff you are taught in school. Even when horrible things happen in the newspapers that make you become very cynical, about exactly all these things… people saying things like: “Oh, Biharis, stay in Bihar and don’t come to Bombay”… In spite of all that, that (our common past and unity and diversity) is what you cling back to.

Anuja ChauhanAnuja Chauhan is the author of The Zoya Factor and Those Pricey Thakur Girls – both novels set in modern, urban India. She is an advertising professional who has worked on India-centric campaigns for top brands.

She spoke to Vaihayasi Pande Daniel.

Complete series: Why I love India