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Yesterday there was a young girl holding up the line at the entrance to the airport where the security guards stop you to check your identity. She wished the security guards a Happy Diwali, and then got talking to them about how disappointed she was that this being the festive season and all, no one *here* wished her or responded to her wishes with enthusiasm. Oh, I forgot to mention, we were at the airport in the capital city of Kerala, and she obviously wasn’t from the state.

Both the guards were drawn into a conversation with her, holding up those behind, which at the moment happened to be only me. I was about to intervene and ask the second guard to check my credentials and let me through. If they wanted to have conversations about Diwali, they shouldn’t have been at their posts on duty. And she was also blocking the way standing in the center with her trolley of bags.

Gawd, I dislike people who are oblivious to others and think the world is all about them. Luckily for me, the second guard was conscientious enough to remove himself from the cosy tête-à-tête just about then and wave me over to his side, politely asking Ms Talkative to move aside for me.  She had to be ASKED to move aside. Can you beat that?

Later on, while waiting to collect my things after security check, I heard her whining complaining voice again. Idhar koi wish nahi karta bhaiyya! (No one wishes you here, brother). I rolled my eyes. No, not again, I thought. I had already heard her at the ticketing counter.  In all this was the third time within an hour that evening.

This time around she was talking to the staff doing the security check on hand luggage. Having first wished them loudly, she was soon into her spiel about how *this place* was so devoid of the Diwali spirit, no one had wished her, blah, blah, blah, blah….. The staff who were all mostly from out of state like her (same as the guards at the entrance), smiled politely, agreeing with her.  She even got some of them involved in conversation with her though they were on duty, which meant things slowed down for others (The staff were as much to blame for that!).

I admit I resented the fact that she was keeping people from discharging their duty efficiently and also causing delay to others. But what really amazed me was her ignorance (and Assumptions with a capital A), though in truth, why I should be, I don’t know. What with the advent of internet and social media, it is very much on display, and on a much larger scale, making you lose respect for pillars of society you once admired as also opening your eyes to the bigotry and stupidity among your friends and family.

Her ignorance of India’s diversity is cringe-worthy. India is not made up of just those states which celebrate Diwali on a large scale. There are others, like the tiny state of Kerala down south, where it is not celebrated in the same scale or in the same manner. True, Keralites burst firecrackers, have an oil bath, wear new clothes may be, but that’s about it. Apart from some of those who have resided out of Kerala, and certain sections of the populace whose tradition it is, none else even light lamps for Diwali.

The girl’s assumption that the whole of India celebrates Diwali the same way showcases a larger problem. Of Indians knowing zilch about those living in other states of their own country.  Of some Indians NOT WANTING to know or UNWILLING to accept that anything apart from their ways exist at all. Diwali is so important to them, so it must be, SHOULD be, for every other Indian, is their way of thinking. Never mind that Keralites lights lamps for a different festival called Karthika, or that Onam and Vishu mean more to them than Diwali. 

The truth is, I would have commiserated with her if the girl had said she missed the gaiety of Diwali while down in Kerala (she probably worked in one of those IT companies or was down on business). Everyone misses the way festivals are celebrated at home when they are away somewhere.  But no, she was miffed that Keralites did not display the same level of excitement for a festival that was important to her, not pausing to think maybe, just maybe it wasn’t as important to them?

Sad that in these times of ease of communication, with every kind of knowledge at our fingertips, programs on visual media showcasing the highlights from different regions, not to mention the opportunity to visit different parts of the country, the fact that we are a nation of diverse people is not appreciated in the true sense. Especially by the young. Yes, especially by the young people, who have more access to information and opportunities to travel than the previous generations ever had.

©Shail Mohan 2017

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