Every Indian is both Insider and Outsider, says author Jonathan Gill Harris

Every Indian is both Insider and Outsider, says author Jonathan Gill Harris

India is a complex nation consisting of a melee of diverse cultures, languages, habits and customs. The pressing question is who can qualify as ‘Indians’? Every person residing in this nation is both an insider and an outsider in one way or the other. A number of people have migrated to India several years ago, making India their abode, embracing the habits, rituals, customs and languages of the locals, sharing their space. These people, over time, became the citizens of India or rather a part of Hindustan.

Pofessor of English, formerly at George Washington University, now at Ashoka University Jonathan Gil Harris shared during a session titled, ‘Fitting in: The Outsider as Insider’. During the Tata Literature Live festival. He should know. The New Zealander is the author of ‘The First Firangis: Remarkable Stories of heroes, Healers, Charlatans, Courtesans and Other Foreigners Who Became Indian’, as well as Masala Shakespeare, the story of his own journey to acceptance in India.

According to Harris, India consists of many ‘, hence there cannot be a single definition of the country as a nation. In India the environment is constantly changing. Its languages, climate, food and customs are varying in every part of the nation which affects a person and his identity. Our identity is not something that is fixed, but is fluid.

A bit fancifully, Harris exclaimed, “I did not migrate into India, India migrated into me. To a certain extent, I am an Indian”. He meant he has adopted certain habits, customs and languages of India but his colour and roots will always mark him as distinct from other Indians.

 Other panellists in the session included, Dr. Nader Fekri,  a visiting professor of Politics in the university of Mumbai who is currently researching a book tentatively named, “India in the Western imagination – The Self and the Other” and Elizabeth Flock, an investigative journalist and the author of ‘Love and Marriage in Mumbai’.

Referring to Mumbai Dr. Fekri observed, “The city is a microcosm of the whole country. ”This diversity is clearly visible in the very development of Bandra, which has four churches, two mosques and a temple close to each other. It is a striking evidence of the different religions existing in India with each other harmoniously. As a child in India, Dr. Nader felt different due to his colour but now he feels quite blended in with the people, for he is now usually asked whether he is a Parsi.

Elizabeth Flock threw light on her experience with Indian couples, remarking that the westerners have a certain opinion about Indian marriages. “There is a stigma attached to it.” Spending 10 years researching married couples in India, Flock’s perception on Indian marriages, initially drawn from Bollywood, changed.

Written by journalism students Nitya Narasimhan and  Ananya Endow

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