A month ago, right after we moved from Wardha to Chennai, a friend of mine asked me to describe India to her. It was a tricky question especially since we witnessed a drastic change moving from a simple rural area in Maharashtra to a big city like Chennai. It was one of those questions that, by then, I wouldn’t have simply used a word or two like “it is amazing” or “it is mysterious” to describe it. My reply was as follows: India is a mixture of everything: poverty and luxury, rurality and modernity, chaos and tidiness, dirtiness and cleanliness, simplicity and complexity, illiteracy and innovation, spiciness and regularity, shortage and infinite hospitality, and the list goes on! But there was actually a word that could have summarized all of these lines. That word would be Diversity, a contrasting and paradoxical one!
I was first exposed to the Indian diversity when we were in Warhda. We were living in a peaceful Ashram where many people with different backgrounds, religions and beliefs used to visit. That cultural harmony and coexistence was very delightful and impressive. People who lived in Wardha spoke different languages too. The two main spoken languages were Marathi and Hindi. I remember also when we were invited to attend the women collaborative celebration of the International Women’s Day, when we entered the tent I noticed that each woman was wearing a beautiful dress or sari with distinct color from the one sitting next to her. The view of these leaders sitting next each other in a harmonic way was really fabulous and reflective on Indian’s diversity. Apart from that, the trees were different and varied, the buildings were heterogeneous and painted with different paints and even animals of the same species didn’t look alike.
Exploring Chennai was different from exploring Wardha. Back in Wardha everything was distant from each another, we had to travel in cars for miles and cross many fields to reach a certain village or place. In Chennai things are close, more congested and more superimposed. At first we tried to discover the city through walking. It turned out that it wasn’t a wise decision because this city, like the city of Doha, is not a pedestrian friendly one. So we ended up taking taxis or rickshaws for our small trips. And I have to admit it, having a ride on a rickshaw is so far the best part of my stay in this place. Through those rides I enjoyed a taste of adventure and at the same time was able to look closely into the city through the open spaces on each side of the vehicle.
I saw people hanging out in fancy cafes and eating in fancy restaurants while others were collecting leftover food from the trash and sleeping on the floor side by side with the dogs. I saw people entering the malls and spending their money on unnecessary stuffs while others were lining up in front of a hospital or a temple with wide-open hands ahead of their bodies begging for ten or five rupees. I saw drivers cruising with their air-conditioned SUVs with confidence as if they were the kings of the road honking on any obstacle on their way while the rickshaw, the motorbike and the bicycle drivers were racing and zigzagging through the empty spots to fill in the blanks. I saw the minarets of the mosques and heard the calling for the prayers and I saw the temples with their fascinating architecture and designs and heard the Buddhist and Hindus chants, and I saw adherents walking in to worship in both places.
I came into the realization that diversity is certainly one of the aspects that make the modern India. We find it everywhere in this country: in states, religion, language, food, clothes, colors, and ethnicities. It is also the gap that separates the wealthy from the poor. Diversity is meant to enrich and empower nations and communities and for this concept to be fully absorbed, along with diversity there should be unity, unity against corruption, against violence, against poverty and against injustice.