India turned 60 a couple of days back, a youthful sixty as most do not forget pointing out. I love the comparison there with a Chyawanprash ad of my growing up days, 'saath saal ke boodhe ya saath saal ke jawaan' (60 years old, or 60 years young?). And I pay my own tribute to six factors (one for each decade) that is quintessential India.
Identity: A much abused term, but the number of layers each one of us have is mind-boggling. So in the path-breaking Deewar, Shashi Kapoor was a police inspector first, then a son, and finally a brother. Needless to say, he defeated his elder brother who took his fratricidal responsibilities more seriously than being the bad guy from underworld.
The other variations can be regional (Southie), communal (bhaiya), provincial (gujju), linguistic (French, even Bengali-speaking), religious, educational (IITian), professional (filmwallah), club (AISEC, Rotary), and what not. But the best was when an over-speeding driver in the middle of the night was arguing with a cop that he knows an ex-Delhi CM, who apparently was related to him on the lines of his mami's (aunt) elder brother-in-law's cousin. Made him connected, an identity to negate all else. (As a thumb-rule, each person in authority supports at least 40 others of kith, kin, and clan.)
Adjustment: There was a Lux underwear ad which captured it much better than any written word ever can. I consider the Chinese very versatile, who, while retaining their identity, go and gel into any country anywhere (wonder why almost all big cities worldwide have a Chinatown). Indians are different, we tend to absorb influences more easily, and then Indianise them. So we garnish our pastas with dhania, use washing-machines to make lassi, and eat an absolutely unique Ludhanwi brand of Chinese food.
The most interesting case is of the Manchurian, which the rest of the world identifies mainly as a region from China, or maybe with the Denzel Washington & Meryl Streep-starrer 'The Manchurian Candidate'. In India, a radically different item of the same name was invented by Nelson Wang, and it quickly became a rage at wedding parties (especially in Bihar), when any fried ball with some chicken/cabbage stuffing, dipped in a dark sauce, passed off as the 'piece de resistance' of the spread, the Chicken/Veg Manchurian.
Timeliness: Hindi is a unique language which has the same term for both yesterday and tomorrow. As one of my international colleagues pointed out, India is a great place for holiday, but for work? At the relatively lower-but-essential level, people say they will land up in an hour (to fix my notebook for instance) and then conveniently come just a day later. If you go for a party on time, you are supposed to be the idiot who followed the schedule. And the best comes to public works, the second Howrah Bridge (Vidyasagar Setu) got delayed by a small matter of twenty years only.
Armchair: In one's own head, it is difficult to find a person more intelligent than oneself. And it is almost impossible to find one who knows, or more importantly, does better. CNN-IBN got it dead right when they started off with 'Public ka Kaptan' on their cricketing show, when one is supposed to think for Rahul Dravid. After all, everybody can think for the Indian captain, even if most cannot play for their colony teams too.
Similarly, a Buddhdeb can pursue industrialization and liberalization with gusto at Bengal, but it becomes offensive the same is done at the centre for Prakash Karat. Or Vajpayee can seriously entertain the thoughts of invading Iraq with the USA, but when Manmohan signs a nuclear deal with the Yankees, it is selling off the country's interests. Horses-for-courses after all!
Technology: The leading IT nation of the world worships any industrial and information age technology. Even Mr. Amitabh Bachchan used to call the computer, 'computer ji'. While most put their cell-phones and TV remote-controls in plastic to guard it for the next generation, I have a friend who drives his two year old Wagon-R with the original packing on the seats still intact, to protect it from the terrible Indian dust.
Value-for-Money: The billionaire club might be expanding, but getting the best out a deal is an inherent virtue never to be forgotten. A decade back, a friend of mine used to buy Tommy Hilfiger (before its formal launch in the country), and his biggest worry was that how will people realise he has bought the genuine stuff, not the fake which abound in Janpath. A great example was shown in the film Chameli ki Shaadi, when an empty-pocketed Anil Kapoor had got caught in taking his girl-friend out to an expensive restaurant. So the poor fellow had to order tea and baingan ka bhaja (egg-plant) for themselves.
Here's looking forward to the Middle-Ages!