I always knew that the way we carry ourselves reveals volumes about us, our identity, our beliefs, and everyone whom we represent, but it is only recently that I started understanding and believing this wholeheartedly. Everything is about how we present ourselves to our viewers, to our audience – whoever they may be. If we are ashamed of who and what we are, we will shy away from talking about ourselves and hence misrepresent our culture, religion, people, families, and – most importantly – ourselves as individuals. It is outright pitiful for us to portray ourselves as such. Every culture has its faults, but those faults should not become a source of shame for us and create fear in us of admitting who we are, whether to ourselves or to other people. Instead, the faults should encourage us to unite so that we can work on improving ourselves as one entity.
Let me attempt to give some examples. Some years ago, when Aishwarya Rai had just gotten engaged to Abhishek, the world was told that "Bollywoord Star Marries a Tree!" (obviously intended in an insulting manner). At that time, I myself thought, "Wow. How backward! Why would you marry a tree? What’s the point of this?" Even though I knew that their Hindu beliefs are such that if the believer’s astrologer tells her/him that "you should not marry ~such and such person at such and such time~," but the person still wants to, then this person will be cursed. And the only way to remove the curse is for the woman to marry a peepal or banana tree before tying the knot with her husband. (Of course, it’s much deeper than this, and I’m giving you only my understanding of it, which may not be the correct one, but I hope it’s at least close to correct.) Anyway, so I’m saying this here because I wanna say that I’m VERY proud of Aishwarya for doing this, even if her reasons were different than her desire to represent her Hindu identity – even though feminists in India rose against her, saying, "We’re trying to fight for your rights so you can be a free woman, but YOU! Of all the Hindu women in the world, YOU, a ‘forward-thinking’ woman, are doing something this backward, imprisoning yourself by marrying something as ridiculous as a TREE?!" It just shocked everyone that someone as educated as Aishwarya would do something as "backward" as that. No one stopped to think that perhaps she found nothing wrong in the practice, that perhaps it was her way of connecting with her religion and deeply-rooted culture.
Oh geez, so much for being feminists, yeah? Whatever happened to giving the woman the right to choose for herself? If an individual chooses to do something that’s not going to harm anyone else, why should anyone be against it? And why SHOULD we see her marriage to a "tree" as "backward" in the first place? I mean, who are we to decide that it’s backward? And what the hell does it mean to backward in the first place – doing something that the Western world doesn’t approve of? Good God! Must we really have other culture’s permission in order to carry out our own customs?
Now, I said that I’m proud of Aishwarya for having done this. Why, you ask? Well, because she dared to stand up for her beliefs that are not accepted as "modern" or
"progressive" and chose to stick with her tradition. (Sure, some may argue that she’s not the most traditional Indian woman there is, and I understand that, but right now, I’m talking only about this “barbaric” marriage of hers.) She basically uplifted her traditional values and taught the world that “NO one has a right to define the concept of ‘backwardness’ and ‘progression’ for you if you wish to remain true to yourself, your people, and your culture.” Were it something that would place her or someone else in danger, then, yeah, okay, that’d be a problem, and I’d understand why the world would try to raise a hell over it, but that wasn’t the case. Something like Swara (marriage through blood money, sort of), for instance, is something that doesn’t need to be practiced because it involves the forced marriage of an innocent victim.
Ghani Khan loved us (:D:D We're SO lucky to have had him!) in spite of our faults. He wrote in The Pathans, “I love them in spite of their murders and cruelty, ignorance and hunger. Because he kills for a principle and cares not who calls it murder. He is a great democrat.” (Oh my God! Ghaneeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! Come baaaackk!!) (I read this book online, so I don’t know which page number it’s on, but it’s in the Conclusion section.) How can you love something in spite of its fault? Oh but you can! It’s a matter of appreciating your own self first. It’s a matter of publicly representing yourself and your people to the world.
It’s wearing your own traditional outfits and going out in public in them with a smile of pride on your face.
It’s, in case of Muslim women who cover their hair, wearing the hijab and saying with a smile, “This is who I am. I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I love myself this way. I’m comfortable with myself this way. I feel better with my hair covered, and even if I may look ugly to others, at least I look beautiful in the eyes of my God, my Creator.” It's, in case of some Muslim women, covering your face because you *believe* it's your way of feeling closer to God or attaining the highest form of modesty, and as long as you are happy doing it, no one should object to your right to cover up that way.
It’s, in the case of devout Muslims, praying five times a day even when in the company of people who fail to understand why one would prostrate to an Invisible Being, and saying, “My God comes before everything else. Praying is my way of disciplining myself, my way of managing my time, my way of reminding myself that life is ephemeral.”
It’s, in case of devout Christians, going to Church every Sunday and saying, “My God deserves at leas this much attention from me; it is my obligation to make Him see that I have no one else but He to turn to in times of suffering, and this is how I thank Him for being there for and with me during those times.”
It’s, in case of Hindus, waking up every morning to perform pooja, knowing that this practice defines who they are, gives them hope, and adds meaning to their lives.
It's, in case of Jews, not performing certain activities on Saturday because it's the Sabbath Day and certain rules should be adhered to on that day -- it's doing it without a problem, knowing that you have just as much a right to do as your religion command as everyone else does with theirs, whether the rest of the world thinks it's fine or not.
It's, in case of the Amish people, not using certain (or is it all?) technological items because you simply don't believe in it, and telling people, "I can do without it. It's not a problem for me. And I'm perfectly okay with this. You don't have to try to get me to do it your way!"
It’s, in case of females who wish not to show any skin, going to a public swimming pool while fully dressed and not feeling awkward about it.
It’s, in many people’s cases, accepting and appreciating the idea of arranged marriages, knowing that they have more benefits than harms (for the most part, for many people – not for everyone), in 2009 and beyond without feeling as though they must give in to other forms of marriage just because everyone else around them doesn’t accept arranged marriages as the norm anymore.
It’s a matter of letting people know that you have NOTHING to be ashamed of, and you’re going to embrace your identity as it is; it’s about letting the world know that you represent someone, something, and are going to do it proudly and perfectly – that you’re going to be the example that later generations will want to look up to.