Human beings have this incessant need to be categorized ; to allow themselves to fit into compact boxes, each defined by a collection of characteristics that serve to separate more than anything else. From a young age, we are taught about where we belong – which community, which culture, which religion, which ethnicity. Every day of our lives, our parents, teachers, relatives, neighbours, make great efforts to reinforce these labels . Society is constructed around these definitions – without which it would most likely crumble. At times, it feels like there is little value to human existence in the absence of these labels. How would we go about the all-important task of differentiating and dividing the human race, if people are not clearly categorized?!
I’ve often questioned the passion with which some people pursue these culturally defined identities. Why does it seem like such an impossible task to find meaning in life, without constantly trying to characterize your cultural identity and stick to it, even if it leaves you feeling isolated and alone? A while ago , I came across an article where the author fervently described his/her displeasure with the way the nation was being dominated by certain cultural and religious traditions, and how this cultural domination is a result of “the expansion of an external ideology wedded to power.” The author also went as far as to suggest that there are cultures and identities “under siege” in this country. The article’s premise rests on the notion that Diwali is taking over Indian religious identity and less commonly known, Kali pujo, is being neglected and practically overthrown. What amazed me most about this incorrigible rant was the way the author managed to remain fixated within an opinion, throughout the article – every sentence and discussion point focused on the unfairness of the attention awarded to Diwali (by government, society, ad agencies, brands, marketing campaigns- everyone really!) as opposed to more indigenous religious celebrations.
The author did not risk identifying with any other opinion for even a second. There’s one paragraph I found particularly intriguing “While Kali Pujo has a non-vegetarian overtone, Diwali signifies quite the opposite. Around Kali Pujo time, why are there no “Diwali Dhamaka” deals for a wholesome biryani in the non-vegetarian land of Bengal, something that’s common during Durga Pujo?”
The only fluidity in the article lies in its range of criticism, moving from a philosophical standpoint, about the unfairness of ignoring an age-old religious tradition, in exchange for a highly commercialized culture of the festival of lights, to talking about biryani. What it makes you wonder is – how do people find this enormous dedication to their culturally constructed labels? To be so incensed by how much significance is given to one festival, over another, within the same community, seems immature – it’s like a parent fighting with school teachers because they didn’t award their child enough attention.
A few questions that came to mind were; does your religious experience and the sanctity of it, come from the amount of validation it receives socially? Is your spiritual or religious experience somehow diminished by a lack of recognition, whether from the Government or Ad agencies? Do you really need there to be a discount biryani to feel like your religious tradition matters?
This brings me back to my original point, about labels, and society – how we’re all hell-bent on belonging to one community or another. How the fabric of our existence is maligned when we find that people are affording us too much importance, or not enough! Ask yourself, who are you outside of these labels? Who are you – without the religion, the community, culture or societal characterizations….do you exist?