As Deepavali firecrackers shoot off around me, I am struck by the strangest homesickness. For a Gujarati in Delhi, Deepavali brings the same sense of nostalgia as I used to feel in Washington D.C. Few doorways in Delhi are decorated by Rangoli, and tomorrow while all of Gujarat will be celebrating New Year, it will be just another day in Delhi; the new year will come in March or April.
Indian mosaic shows the strongest contrasts when it comes to festivals and foods. Just as cuisine vary from state to state and even district-to-district, festival celebrations carry their unique flavors across the country. I wonder if India will someday be the same kind of melting pot we see in the United States. Sometimes one sees hints of it. When I went to Gujarati dandiya dance in Delhi, plenty of North Indians were enjoying it with gusto. But these boundary crossings remain rare and even a metropolitan city like Delhi retains its essential north Indian character.
What accounts for these social distinctions? I think a real melting pot requires high levels of family migration and absence of residential segregation.
As the attached graph shows, not only is inter-state migration low in India, when it does occur, frequently it is highly dominated by single men migrating in search of work, leaving their families behind. Even when families migrate, their ties to the native place remain strong with everyone going back home for festivals. IHDS team is probably the greatest example. Our three stalwarts of data collection, Mr. O.P. Sharma, Dr. Dinesh Tiwari and Dr. Ajay Gharami all have tenuous ties to Delhi. All of them have wives, children, parents, homes and farms in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. So a couple of days before Diwali they started back home.
Residential, and school, segregation also remains deeply entrenched. The Bengali locality of Chittranjan Park in Delhi is the center of Bengali culture. My mother-in-law’s apartment building in Mumbai contains only Gujaratis, although Gujaratis in Mumbai are a minority.
However, these regional and linguistic boundaries are under unexpected threat from a global culture dominated by English. My once proudly and aggressively Gujarati medium school has now given up the ghost of linguistic chauvinism and now teaches only in English. Gujarati garba has declined, not because we now learn Marathi folkdance but because disco has invaded and disco dandiya tunes dominated ras-garba. Perhaps dominance of a global culture will provide the melting pot Independence failed to provide, but I suspect I will always feel nostalgic at holidays.