Far from the Maddening Crowd: A Perspective on Kashmiri(ness) in Delhi

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Nature versus nurture is an old debate. It, among other things pertains to personality development and traits that either accrues from “nature”-pre-determined “genetically” developed traits, self-orientation and approach (worldview)-or a “habitus” or structuring environment determined self and personality.  I would like to think that personality does not accrue from nature but is largely a function of “nurture”. Humans respond to external stimuli and develop a collective and individual personality from this. This does mean that personality can be uniform; there are idiosyncrasies and other differences that mark us but “nurture’ leaves its imprimatur on us. I am neither articulating an original insight nor something new; what I am doing is attempting to bear a perspective on myself in a rather different milieu I am in these days: Delhi.

I have lived in four continents- Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. My personality reflects components of each “lived experience” but the predominant trait is that of “Kashmiri-ness”. I may be fluent in many languages, at home in the West or the East, so to speak, have a preference for Western attire(jeans and T- Shirts etc), my world view and consciousness may be an admixture of Kashmiri- Western- sub continental  components but the core of my self is Kashmiri. This was underscored to me by a few interactions in Delhi and a “glocal” interaction over the Internet with an American academic. 

My Kashmiriness stands out in Delhi- a locale defined by a “commodified or commoditized” life where the main draw for people is capital. People’s attachment to Delhi is fleeting, ephemeral or even non-existent. Most are here to make money and then either dream of making it big in their respective towns, states or villages or shuttling in between.  Bonding then is fleeting or superficial too. How does my Kashmiri-ness enter the picture in Delhi? And what does Kashmiri-ness mean?

I am not going into the political dimension of identity here even though all identities are political.

I will dwell on the cultural and social side. 

A guest or the random visitor- plumber, electrician, TV operator- who arrives at our accommodation in Delhi- is treated very well by my folks. They are offered tea and even some hospitality despite being strangers and despite that , in all likelihood, we will never see them again. A connection is sought even with the anonymous and the strangers.  The moment we arrived in Delhi, my Dad sought out a Taxi driver who drove him around four years ago. The Taxi driver, Yadav Ji, was glad to see my Dad too but , on the first day, as he dropped us at our destination, my Dad asked Yadav Ji,” Hum Chalein Yadav Ji? ( Shall we leave?). Yadav Ji looked at my Dad in bewilderment and said: “ Of course. You are here for work. Please do that. I will see you later”. My Dad sounded a bit hurt but soon realized the cultural difference and chuckled.

Similarly, my Mum , when she sees an acquaintance( Delhi wallahs who live in the enclave we are living) greets them warmly, enquires about children, grand children, and other assorted details in a warm and caring way.

I strike up conversations with Uber and Ola cab drivers-immigrants on the lover rung of the ladder in Delhi-, connect with them and well, even tip them generously. Each one, till now, has looked at me intently after dropping me off.

Despite years of living in the West, the sediments of my psycho-social Kashmiri aspects of personality remain. One interaction I recall is that of an interaction with an American academic a couple of days ago. I read her book in a couple of days and then wrote a review. I emailed the review to her . She responded and said, “ how could they( she and her co –author) be not delighted at such a review?” Whilst I was pleased from a professional perspective and standpoint, my Kashmiri self did not permit me to stick to the professional level. I shot off an email and asked her, if she would like anything from Kashmir. I am sure the academic must have felt a tad intimidated and perhaps even put off  by my approach and offer. I hardly knew her and here was I, sitting thousands of miles away on my laptop and offering a gift!

The purpose of delineating these themes of the Kashmiri perspective is to highlight a point about Kashmiris: we are a fine people. I, too used to, be put off and found our social and cultural sensibilities over whelming but I kind of like these. These merely reflect that we are a humane, kind and nice people. But , alas, the discourse and narrative that each Kashmiri within Kashmir trots out about himself/herself and our collective self is negative. Perhaps this accrues from the small, isolated nature of Kashmir , its homogeneity which  does not permit us to put ourselves into perspective and the uncertainty that defines Kashmir. A trip to Delhi helped me illustrate the Kashmiri self and my self for me but I need a more refined, sophisticated and a detached perspective on my self. An overseas visit may be the best and effective antidote to my self flagellating Kashmiri self and a nuanced perspective. I may do it and I hope most if not all Kashmiris also attempt to gain a detached handled on their selves. The result will be cathartic and revealing. Yes: we have multifarious problems and there’s great scope for improvement in our individual and collective selves but all in all, at the end of the day, we are not a bad people!

 

 

 

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