Is India a Thali, Dairy, or Khichdi?

There are as many ideas of India as there are Indians out there — and they are in plenty. But, as the legend has it, through constant churning of a vast ocean of ideas, we get two key perspectives which often stand against each other. The same happens when we discuss the idea of India.

India is a Thali

This idea, first articulated by Shashi Tharoor, has been at the heart of India’s liberal politics. As Tharoor puts it:

India is a thali, a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast.

Shashi Tharoor

We learn the following things from this perspective.

  • that different cultures come together to form India.
  • these cultures may or may not intermingle.
  • on the whole, they complement each other well to form a united India.

India is a Dairy

The dairy term for India, coined by yours truly, seems apt because the underlying idea comes from the conservative intelligentsia (and you know how much they love and respect cows!), especially in recent times.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat made the following remark in 2021:

For over 40,000 years, the DNA of all people in India has been the same… For several decades, our ancestors fought to preserve our culture that holds India together today.

Mohan Bhagwat

Now let’s focus on what this idea leads us to believe.

  • Indians are the same people despite diversity in language, culture, form of worship, etc.
  • in other words, we should remember that all the products in this dairy come from the same milk.
  • the milk, in this case, is a traditional Indian system with certain characteristics of Hinduism dissolved in it.

Consequences of these ideas

At first, there doesn’t seem to be much of a clash between the two. But, when you trace their trajectory and what consequences do they lead to, you see the challenge. Let me explain.

The Thali idea acknowledges the differences that exist within India, while the Dairy idea focuses on the unity. So far, so good? The problem comes, when you see their sensitivities. Thali sensitivities — for liberals — kick in when you start talking about some kind of uniformity measures, such as uniform civil code, one language, etc. Similarly, the Dairy sensitivities catch conservatives when someone points at the differences and talks about reservations, freedom to proselytise, etc.

An alternative idea

Let me propose an alternative: India as Khichdi. No, it’s not like the American melting pot where the participating elements lose their identity and just become American. In khichdi, you can still recognise the ingredients, once the recipe is ready. You know the rice, the pulses, even vegetables or chicken if you want to toss some in (at least I do that). And there is no strictness around the ingredients either, you can easily replace one with the other. In other words, the Khichdi Model gives you the best of both worlds. To summarise,

  • different elements come forward and preserve their identity.
  • these elements remain together and go well with each other.
  • one can talk about unity while appreciating diversity.

Khichdi is what unites India across its geography, castes, cultures, religions, language and what not, and it’s only fitting that we use the term metaphorically as well to find some sense of unity.

Published by Deepak Rana

A writer, a wanderer. Keeps dreaming and aspires to make them true.

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