I am a gujarat bred, maharastra settled, marathi, hindu, brahman. There. Thats how many people expect me to define myself. Actually thats not accurate, since I have no clue how others expect me to define myself. I never asked them. But looking at many other’s behaviour, I do have suspicions they may choose to define themselves along similar lines. So be it. At least that was my take. But no more. Because such classifications eventually end up isolating, not defining me. I am an Indian. Looking at history of nation states, India is but a recent entrant. For long it was a continuously fickle set of shifting boundaries, changing dynasties and deeply distinct cultures (or subcultures if you will). The british exploited it. Big time. They rode the fissures. They ruled us. And they plundered us. They left. And it seems they took the learnings of that era with them as well. Because I don’t see those learnings around me. 1947 was an experiment. It was an experiment where someone decided to actually form a country called India. They started an experiment to forge a national identity that never existed in the thousands of years of a continuously thriving culture and economy. Thus was born a nation state without any corresponding consistent cultural identity, and a history that documented far more internecine wars than external conflict. A state where the neighbouring household could sometimes be perceived as a far bigger threat than a massive army across the border. A state which basically was given no reason to really survive save one - democracy. 62 years later, this state is starting to move just a little faster. And it is starting to get noticed. But it is like a vehicle from a post apocalypse movie - a torn down vehicle which is powerful but is struggling to move since the friction of its own parts substantially exceeds the friction it really needs to conquer - the one with the road. And its manned by a group of continuously bickering and bitching, rag tag motley crowd, who are paying more attention to who is able to sit more comfortably in the vehicle rather than where and how fast the vehicle is moving. This is the generation I see today. Around me. The midnight’s grandchildren. More than a billion of them. Who basically have been spectacularly unsuccessful at overcoming the same prejudices their parents, grandparents and all other forefathers suffered from. All while cynically attempting to protect the sacred heritage their forefathers left them. Cynically since they disregarded that heritage wherever and whenever necessary - and yet never giving up on the issue when it came to livingroom debates. Back to the nation. We attempted to define a common identity was a strong message from the pulpit. But the subidentities forged from centuries (nay millenia) of continuous history were simply too strong to be messed around with. The stories I’ve heard of the post 47 era were much worse. People wouldn’t sit in the vehicle of someone who belonged to another religion. And they wouldn’t eat the food prepared by someone of a different caste. Some of these have changed for the better. Some haven’t. And some things have gotten worse. The last name of a person is still eagerly requested as a pathway to understand his linguistic, religious and casteist identity. Religious representations in companies are disproportionately high or low compared to the population. The political system is just so full of casteist computations. And both government and private sector are rife with allegations of some particular linguistic group dominating another or hiring more of self. Some localities end up serving as the area where a people of particular language or religion are to be found in far more proportion than local populations. And affirmative action seems to be restricted to a set of historically identified and perpetuated set of people and their offspring - as if diversity management was supposed to be restricted only to those constitutionally identified as economically challenged. And the state doesn’t fall behind. Lack of diversity in the police forces has at times become the bone of contention. We have fissures. Deep fissures. Fissures that splinter us. These fissures are the arcs that are just so easy to exploit. But allow me to be explicit. We are idiots. Idiots for treating these very fissures as walls. Walls that somehow protect us from those beyond. But one thing I must give ourselves credit for. We are not dumb idiots. We are actually smart idiots. We are smart enough to understand that there is a whole ecosystem of vultures out to exploit these fissures. We know these vultures are upto no good. We are smart enough to understand that the only way to defeat these challenges is by overcoming the prejudices, breaking down the inner walls and treating each other as friends. The only thing that makes us idiots is that we believe these behaviour need to be adopted by “everyone else”. I imagine my language, my religion, my caste, my subcaste, my region is under threat by vile, evil, beyond the wall participants. So the assessments I make are convictions and the same by others are prejudices. So the actions I take in forming tighter groups or specifically promoting or supporting people of my ilk is a defensive action while everyone else across the wall who does the same is offensive. We’ve paid some costs for these fissures. We’ve had to deal with severe caste strains in post independence India. We see massive agitations grounding states to a halt for segments of the population to be listed for special constitutionally accorded benefits for the economically deprived. We’ve had to deal with the army marching into strongly fortified sacred religious sites. We’ve seen a communal backlash post a prime minister getting assassinated, the assassination itself being the end result of a long journey that started off with politicians attempting to exploit these very fissures I referred to. We’ve had another prime minister getting assassinated - again as a eventual culmination of a process of attempting to further fan linguistic divisions in foreign lands. We’ve seen a train getting burnt followed by a government abdicating as a state burnt. We’ve seen strong agitations against the inflow of migrants from a neighbouring country. We now see protests against intra India migration, violent incidents to redraw linguistic demographics, and even state legislature members attacking each other for the choice of language used. Notwithstanding the fact that there certainly were some aggrieved parties in each such episode or in the history leading to each such episode - the fact is people on all sides of the table actually believe they were the aggrieved party. A fissure. And common to all these is the cynical exploitation of these fissures. Exploitation which undermines the very principles of equal rights within and across the nation. Exploitation that takes away the very protection from discrimination thats the essence of a vibrant society. Exploitation by those who are supposed to represent us. Those who we call leaders. Those who come to seek our votes. Those who preach holier than thou from the podium. Those very people we shudder to even consider to lead our household. The very ones who we instead elect to our legislatures. They tell us the other castes need to be shown their place. They tell us our religion not the country defines our brotherhood. They tell us our language is under threat. They tell us our state would be so much better but for all the others making it such a bad place. They tell us that to extract our vote. We listen. We see the craftiness. But we are blinded by it. The trap appeals to the emotion even as it dulls the rationality. We actually come under the influence even as we believe others are getting waylaid. We vote. The machiavellian victory is complete. Our loss, invisible behind a smoke and mirrors act. At least for a while. There’s only one way to beat this. There’s only one way to resurrect ourselves. Use the yardstick - India first. For this the most important ingredient is to believe that our identity as Indians dominates and overrides our identities defined by caste, creed, language, religion, region etc. Sure we have a debt to pay to our gods. But I suspect thats an activity thats best left to doing when in heaven. While on earth pay the debt to humanity first in order to get to heaven. Sure we need to protect our language. But do that through supporting its literature, theatre and most importantly using that language at home within the family. Sure our region needs to be supported. So work hard to make the region that much more economically prosperous and pay your taxes diligently. There are ways to support and strengthen all such affiliations without being derisive or divisive. When you form social, professional, or organisational affiliations - encourage diversity and try to find the best Indians you can affiliate with. When you go out to vote - make sure you think of whats right for India. And we will run into those who place their linguistic, religious, regional or casteist affiliations above that of the one with India. Grant and respect the freedom of expression accorded to them, hear them out if unavoidable. But do make sure you exercise your freedom of expression as well, as you greet them - a slight smile even as you politely say - Fuck You.