Living in the United States, Americans generally feel like ours is a pretty diverse country. It is true that we have a history largely defined by immigrants, and that is apparent in any of our biggest cities. For the most part, though, diversity in the U.S. is centered around the concept of racial diversity. In India, many forms of diversity – and division – are readily recognizable. These include ethnic, linguistic, religious, socioeconomic, just regional, etc., and they underlie probably every country’s whole identity.
It is not that I was oblivious to diversity and division existing in these terms. However, being new to a place and culture lends the opportunity to consider social circumstances anew. I am not an expert on the nuances of any society, especially not one I have encountered only in the last month. Still, my classes do already shed some light on social dynamics within India.
One of the more obvious differences is that as defined by state or region. The broadest and most commonly discussed division is between north and south India, whether by political history or food. “Sociocultural Understandings of Food and Nutrition in India” this week touched upon the factors that have shaped food cultures in India’s northern, eastern, southern, western, and northeastern regions. “Medical Anthropology” introduced the diversity of medical systems as influenced by different social systems. Some special attention is naturally paid to the topics within the context of Indian society, but the connection between geography and culture is not exclusive.
Regional diversity is easy to catch on campus. Peers kindly share about their hometowns in West Bengal, or Kerala, or right in Telangana if we ask. I particularly like hearing about what meanings language holds. Partly because Hyderabad is urban, Indians I have met are multilingual. Most know a first language from home, as well as either or both of the most widely spoken languages – English and Hindi. All the time, Indian friends will say that they do not understand the languages being spoken right next to us.
We spent the last two weeks learning the Hindi writing system. Now we only know the very basic introduction phrases and Telugu (not Hindi) is the official language in Telangana. I somehow think Hindi class is pretty rewarding nonetheless. India is linguistically diverse, and language is a big component of identity. English is originally my second language, so the ways that others regard their own identity in languages appeal to me and are maybe relatable. I will probably talk about language again because I do have interest in it.
I will have been in India for a month on Tuesday. That will make 20% of my first trip to the country. This is not my first time expressing this, but it feels like there is too much to the place and the culture for me to grasp. I am not saying this in a negative light, though. For all of the attention that some in our study abroad group draw for looking so obviously non-Indian, India is so wildly not homogeneous by almost any term.
A favorite realization, and one that I am stricken by over and over throughout the past few years, is that peoples are bound in a similarity framed by their diversity. Individual people are similar at the core, too, for all of the differences among us. I think anyone can recognize that simple binding thread with enough search. Although it is not at all a novel thought, I appreciate and believe in the warmth of this sentiment.