It is time to regain our Indianess

The dish known as Bombay Duck, which actually has nothing to do with fowls.

The dish known as Bombay Duck, which actually has nothing to do with fowls.

Published Jan 4, 2018


Opinion -The seed for this column germinated while I was buying some Bombay Duck in Chennai last week.

Bombay Duck, which is actually lizardfish, is available only on the Mumbai coast.

It earned its name during colonial rule in India when the fish was transported in trains from Bombay that carried mail, which in Hindi is called “daak”.

Bombay Daak - as the fish was referred to by the locals - was bastardised to “duck” by the white rulers, and the name has since stuck as Bombay Duck.

While waiting in the long queue at a Spar outlet - yes, the major South African chain has opened hypermarkets in major Indian cities - I thought about how Indians in South Africa had largely given up eating Bombay Duck. 

Dried-and-salted Bombay Duck, when fried and eaten with rice and dhal, used to be a popular poor man’s meal. 

While the dried fish has an acquired taste, it has a very strong smell, which might not go down too well with people not accustomed to it. 

However, decades ago, many homes, rich and poor, frequently featured Bombay Duck on the menu.

It is now a rare culinary delight. Together with mealie rice and sheep’s head, trotters and tripe, it has been tossed out from everyday life.

So too the ubiquitous sari which was once the common dress for Indian women and is now only seen on religious social occasions; marigold garlands at the door, other than on religious occasions; and almost compulsory vernacular education. 

It may be argued that preparing some traditional foods involves processes that are elaborate and today’s busy households, where time is at a premium for both working spouses, has made quick food the norm.

Feeble reasons may also be offered for so many other discarded Indian traditions and customs.

It may be said that unlike Western garments, the sari takes too long to drape, that Westernised baby names are being given because Indian baby names can be difficult to pronounce even if they have a rich, cultural meaning. 

That wearing the thali or mangalsutra will make you a victim of chain snatchers. 

Never mind that the dot some Hindu married women wear on their foreheads is so tiny that you need a magnifying glass to see it.

The point I am trying to make is that Indians are fast shedding their Indianness. Why?

Why is the Indian so easily succumbing to social and political influences instead of transmitting his/her own culture and heritage to descendants to preserve and to pass on to ensuing generations?

In the passage of time everything decays by the laws of nature, but roots of origin of human beings are not abolished totally due to the preservation and transformation process.

It is an inherent quality or habit of human beings.

Grandparents play an important role to pass their hereditary culture and history of roots to grandchildren.

The Zulu gogo or grandmother plays a pivotal role even to this day in inculcating respect for tradition and culture among the youth.

Not so Indian grandparents, who are guilty of dereliction of duty by not passing on their culture and heritage to their descendants.

They are instead too busy feeding their additions to Facebook and WhatsApp.

Society is changing rapidly due to technological development, globalisation and liberalisation, and the impact of these forces has altered the role of grandparents.

It is time for some serious introspection as a community. 

One week into the new year, the Indian diaspora in South Africa, like their brethren throughout the world, should consider resolving to preserve at least some major Indian ethno-cultural characteristics and beliefs.

It is important that culture and heritage is preserved through generations. 

Cultural heritage, including language, oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events and the knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts, requires an active effort to safeguard it.

It is important to preserve our cultural heritage, because it keeps our integrity as a people.

The importance of cultural heritage is not just the cultural manifestation itself, for example, through song and dance, but rather the wealth of knowledge and skills transmitted from one generation to the next.

The social and economic value of this transmission of knowledge is relevant for minority groups to command respect based on the equity of the community’s cultural assets.

There is no need to make political excuses for dumping Indian traditional values. 

Down through the ages, humans have never stuck to the same cultures, ethics and traditions.

If we had done so, then the whole world would have become a homogeneous society.

During evolution, humans created cultures, ethics and traditions and the best of them were preserved and gifted by our ancestors. 

We should take it as our responsibility to pass the best of them to the next generation and also contribute to it.

Cultures, ethics and traditions help us to reach the top. If we do not preserve them, we will not be able to progress in our own life, forget about society.

There was a time when Indians in South Africa were known for their hard work. 

They were respected for their industriousness and the strong emphasis they placed on education. 

They were also highly regarded for their strong family systems.

It is time to again imbibe the values that emanated from Indian culture and heritage.

Parents must resolve to make their children more aware of Indian culture. 

They must celebrate festivals such as Deepavali, Ramadaan, Pongal and Navarathri with greater vigour by following Indian culture, Indian tradition and Indian rituals. 

This will bring them closer to rich Indian culture.

* Yogin Devan is a media consultant and social commentator. E-mail: [email protected]


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