Namaskar Y'all - 2017


The Great North-South Divide

By Shyama Parui

The total eclipse this August captivated our attention. As a country, we were united in our fascination, whether our area fell within the path of totality or not. Based on news reports, there were no violent or aggressive activities, even with huge crowds. A remarkable feat considering the country has been facing a political rift that seems to grow wider by the day. The eclipse, seemed to make us humbler and we surrendered our needs to focus on a spectacular celestial show. My optimism for humans quickly dwindled as I saw posts in social media that attempted to divide us once again. Some individuals declared that the country was split into two groups. The lucky ones, who had the pleasure of viewing the total eclipse, and the unlucky ones, who had viewed the eclipse partially or not at all.

One can surmise that uniting for common good is instinctive for human survival and should come naturally. Yet, that is not always the case and we seek partitions. History bears witness to the fact that separation is not always a mistake. If India and the United States did not seek to separate themselves from British domination, independence would not have been achieved.

We see schisms in nature, too. An obvious example is the Northern and the Southern hemisphere. Two halves of the same planet that are neither mirror images nor do they have the same weather patterns. The two Americas were separated over time by the earth's and, perhaps, the universe's forces. Man-made divisions can be deeply influenced by geographical differences as well as historical events.

India's seemingly arbitrary division as North and South is loosely demarcated by the Tropic of Cancer. The regions lie in different climatic zones and their terrains vary. Nevertheless, the tendency to oversimplify and view the country as either North India or South India is unfair to the rich cultural diversity within each of these parts. And, what about people like me who grew up in the western part of the country, and have strong ties to the eastern part? Such a broad division dismisses the uniqueness of each state and we forget that all of South India, for example, does not speak the same language or celebrate the common festivals in the same way.

Before I moved to the United States, I was unaware of the details of the Civil War and the lingering undercurrents of discord between the North and the South present today. If you've watched Nagesh Kukunoor's extremely popular, rom-com film, Hyderabad Blues, you may recall a scene when one of the Indian characters refers to the Indian American protagonist as “Yankee" and he retorts back saying, “..but I am from Atlanta". This was in 1998, so for me and a lot of my friends, that comment did not make sense. Now, I see things in a different light.

What baffles me is the urge to split even when there is every reason to come together. Mumbai is a case in point. As a bustling metropolis that is bursting at the seams, Mumbai continues to attract people from all over India. I grew up in a building that was home to families from West Bengal, Punjab, Goa, and Tamil Nadu to name a few. Every summer, these families typically visited what was known as their “native place". On a daily basis, millions use the local trains to commute to work or college and it serves as a great equalizer, breaking down barriers of caste and class. When I commuted to St. Xavier's college from the suburbs, so did a lot of celebrity kids and rising stars from the modeling world. Given the crowded compartments, you literally rubbed shoulders with folks from various levels of the economic strata. Even though the city is a melting pot, there is a curiosity about whether you are from North Mumbai – meaning the burbs or South Mumbai (a.k.a. Proper Mumbai). The Southern part of Mumbai houses the historical structures, established businesses and posher residential areas. Not to be left behind, the suburbs of the North have expanded rapidly and are known to be cooler and trendier. Why can't the citizens of Mumbai just let it go and quit the unnecessary competition?

Just in case you didn't know, there is a North-South divide right here in Charlotte. Honestly, it is both utterly useless and completely reparable. Maybe because of its minor size, I had not experienced this phenomenon, until I moved from the Lake Wylie area, close to the South Carolina border to the Lake Norman area, located to the North of Charlotte. Suddenly, I felt like I was unfriended from an “us" list and had been relegated to a “them". At first, there were innocent questions, such as, “Is the Greensboro airport closer to you, than the Charlotte airport?" Huh! Then there were facetious remarks about us living closer to Alaska than to Ballantyne. That I can live with, but the inconsiderate comments were the ones that really made me contemplate about this ubiquitous tendency to divide.

Practically any piece of land, large or small will have a northern and a southern half, but is there a need to compartmentalize? Perhaps, we like the ease of using our pre-conceived or ill- informed notions. One of my psychology professors often said that human beings are “cognitive misers", meaning we like to get away with as little thinking as possible. That is one of the primary reasons we harbor and utilize stereotypes. We stubbornly cling to beliefs, particularly the ones that make us feel superior, even when there is factual evidence against these beliefs.

May I present an alternative? A conscious attempt to think about unifying actions. If you need some motivation, I suggest watching a short, animated film called Tree of Unity that I had watched as a kid, on Doordarshan. Back in the day, Doordarshan was the only television channel available to us. Despite the pre-historic appearance of the animation and overly simplistic messaging, it nudges you to think about unity. And even if you aren't convinced, you can at least laugh at the hilarious dance in the end.