How I attempted to turn 100% desi… and failed

How many foreigners must I fight to claim that I am a pure desi?

Written by P K Basant | Published:April 7, 2016 4:17 pm
Are you ready to give up your cup of daily chai and be a true desh bhakt? File/Express Photo/Ravi Kanojia. Are you ready to give up your cup of daily chai and be a true desh bhakt? File/Express Photo/Ravi Kanojia.

This morning, I vowed to adopt a pure desi lifestyle… become 100 per cent Indian. It began when I bent down to pick up my wife’s silk sari which had flown off the clothes’ line. Why, I thought, good old cotton is not so flimsy and would have stayed in place. “You shall not wear silk any longer”, I said in a suitably authoritative tone to my wife as she approached me with my early morning cup of tea, “Silk was invented by the Chinese, one of our worst enemies”, I added. She paused mid-step and turned around. “Oh, so is tea!” she pronounced, and in front of my scandalised eyes, poured the steaming cupful into the kitchen sink.

A winter morning without tea? But desh-bhakti is more important than a mere cup of tea, thought I, and proceeded to the loo for the customary meditation-undeniably a pure Indian obsession! As the offerings from the bowels took forever to materialise without the stimulus of tea, I had plenty of time to plan a day full of desh-bhakti. But alas! It dawned on me that the pot in the toilet was also Chinese. These Chinese are the pits! They invented the porcelain of even the potty, not to speak of teacups-but no, no tea anymore, only pure milk!

As I picked up my tooth-brush and paste, she gleefully informed me that these had been brought by the English. I grimaced. The English left us addicted to a dirty habit of brushing our teeth with the same twig for months. But where in this large city of lonely crowds will I find neem trees to supply me with fresh branches to brush my teeth every morn? As I opened the tap to wash up, she piped up again, “Are you sure you wish to use piped water?” I remembered: this piped water was a typical British conspiracy. A pipeline that passes through the colonies of Dalits, Muslims and Christians surely brings pollution to our homes. No wonder when the English tried to install such pipelines we Indians protested vigorously demanding that the pipelines should only pass through the colonies of the ‘pure’. But those were bad times when the British ruled. We were helpless against the conspiracy of the imperial forces.

But by the time I started to shave, I had the sinking sensation that the razor is an American invention. I was beginning to feel a little depressed – how do I protect myself from the ‘foreign hand’? In the shower, I remembered that soap is a French invention. My distress was mounting. How many foreigners must I fight to claim that I am a pure desi?

While I was performing my daily ritual of reciting the Gayatri mantra, my wife suddenly thrust a book into my hands. This book with the impressive title, ‘The Arctic Home in the Vedas’, and written by the great scholar and freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, says that the Aryans originally lived in the icy wastes of Russia. Does this means that the Gayatri mantra that I recite in intense religious ecstasy was a Russian mantra? How can I question the views of such a great scholar and a patriot to the boot?

My wife was idling conspicuously.
“Are not you giving me breakfast?”
“Our kitchen has been invaded by foreigners. Do something about it.”
“We do not consume Maggi. We do not drink Coke or Tropicana. How can any impure foreign stuff sneak into our kitchen?”
“I am simply talking about the Roti and Bhujia stuff.”
“What nonsense is this? What is foreign about it?”
“Wheat was first cultivated by the people of Iraq and potatoes came from the Americas and the art of making Roti was introduced by the Turks.”
“In that case, I will have some apples and a tumbler of hot milk.” I said in a patriotic reverie.
“Apples, my dear, came from Kazakhstan and milking of cattle began in Iran and Iraq.”
My wife had that wicked smile of the victor who had pole-axed me.
“Enough! Give me something to eat. Anything. I am getting late for work.” I said in a weak voice.

That is the problem with deviating from Indianness-the Shastras insist that women must be married before they reach puberty, not allowed to stuff their heads with book learning. They should unquestioningly obey their husbands. Just consider the problems I have been having all because my wife is highly educated. Would I be suffering if our people still followed Manu? Anyway…

As I gobbled my breakfast, my wife piously intoned that mirrors were invented in Lebanon, coinage came from Turkey and shoes were Egyptian inventions. ‘No wonder Lord Ram wore wooden kharaon’, I snapped irritably. I wore dhoti – kurta and stepped out of the house.

In the bus, people were enthusiastically listening to a cricket commentary. Demonstrating leadership qualities (enhanced by desh bhakti naturally), I announced loudly, “We should not only not allow Pakistanis to come and play cricket. We should stop all Indians from playing cricket, football, hockey or badminton. These games are the conspiracies of British imperialism. No good can come of it. We should play Kabaddi and practice wrestling. Otherwise our youth are doomed. They will grow weak in body and mind. It will destroy our country.”

The passengers looked at me as if I had come from Mars. Realising that discretion is the better part of valour, I decided to disappear behind a newspaper. But there was no getting away from foreign influence. Paper, I couldn’t help remembering, was a Chinese invention, and the printing press German. I began humming the old Bollywood number, ‘mera juta hai japani/ yeh patloon inglistani/ sar pe lal topi roosi/ phir bhi dil hai Hindustani’. But at the word ‘dil’, my voice, and indeed, my heart, cracked. ‘Dil’ is a Persian word. At least there should be a decent desi word for the heart. I have changed the last line to ‘phir bhi hridaya hai bharatiya‘. It sounds a little out of tune but I am a ‘cent percent’ Indian.

PK Basant teaches history at the Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Views expressed by the author are personal.

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