We did, however, get a feel of the people. Because we rode the rails. Through long nights and longer days, lulled by the rattle of the wheels, we spoke to people. To Indians. A studious Sikh accountant from
The iron horse had more than an economic impact on the process of “nation-building”. Besides opening up the Indian hinterlands to trade, the railways broke down the divisions in society and opened up their minds. An aphorism from 19th century
A railway carriage would also be the best place to face the stereotyping that moulds regional identities. The burly Sikh, bearded and turbanned, ever-ready to break into an energetic bhangra after a meal of tnn-ddoori chik-ken, good-humoured and good-hearted but typecast as the simpleton - India’s version of the Irishman or the Polack. An image that needs re-thinking after the Khalistan movement in the ’80s, or in the light of the achievements of Hargobind Singh Khurana, Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Paramjit Singh Dhaliwal. The fish-eating, emotional, argumentative Bengali, wordy and quick-tempered but a physical coward. The Gujarati money-bags who would sell his family for a profit. The “North-Eastern” student, a catch-all categorisation that ignores the distinctions between the Manipuri Bishnupriya (Vaishnavs) and the Baptist from Mizoram, let alone the differences between the 16 major tribes and 64 sub-tribes of Nagaland. Is this merely an attempt to fit people into categories, or is it symptomatic of the emphasis on sub-regional identities? Shall we see in
My generation was fed the line of “unity in diversity” long before “
Three major wars, a few dozen separatist movements, schisms along the lines of religion and of culture, huge differences between town and country. More importantly, separate
It’s some kind of miracle that this country still holds together after 60 years.
It’s time we realised that there is no such thing as an average Indian.
Because it’s time we stopped dealing in stereotypes.