19 Sep Are We Similar or Are We Different?
One could argue that fundamentally we are very similar – we are all conceived in the same way, we all come out into the world the same way, and we all die ultimately.
So, in the major events that our not under our control we are very similar. Where matters fall under human control, differences emerge. For instance, while we all die, our final rites can be starkly different – burial, cremation, being fed to crocodiles or to vultures.
What is a more important determinant of our being similar or different – events that are not under our control or those that are under our control? Surely we can find rational explanations for many of the differences. For example, people living in a desert would find it very difficult to cremate their dead or feed them to crocodiles.
Of course, there are some differences even in matters that are not under our control. Thus although we are all conceived and born in the same way, some are born male and others female; some with blue eyes, others black.
But note that differentiation in treatment along these characteristics is known as discrimination. Women have spent centuries fighting for equal rights with men despite the difference of gender. And now, under the law, it is illegal to discriminate by the color of the eyes.
So, we claim to be fundamentally similar and desire equal rights and treatment despite clear differences in physical attributes over which we have no control.
And yet, in matters that are under human control, we wish to accentuate our differences. Not only that, we spend an inordinate amount to time trying to prove that some of us are better than others. Often, we are even willing to destroy the other because of our belief in the superiority of our own ways (whether it is nature of the final rites or circumcision at birth).
Take nationality, for example. It continues to fascinate that some people around Ferozepur and Gurdaspur could have been either Indians or Pakistanis depending upon the tremor in the hand of an Englishman entirely ignorant of the geography or history of the subcontinent. And yet, once they have been cast on one side by this accident of history, they are supposed to hate the other. Surely, this is nothing else than a loss of sanity as pointed out by Manto in his masterful vignette of the Partition, Toba Tek Singh.
What is even more intriguing is that after hating each other so passionately out of this loyalty to India or Pakistan, people from both sides so readily exchange their precious nationality to become co-citizens with the British whom they jointly used to hate equally passionately for enslaving them for two hundred years. And once they find themselves together in Southall, they get along famously eating gulab jaman, listening to Lata, and raving over the square cuts of Miandad.
If we think of ourselves as world-citizens we are all similar because we had no say in our entry into this world. And we have a joint responsibility in keeping the world habitable and safe for our children and ourselves. If we think of ourselves as belonging to separate nations and tribes someone or the other will fool us into quarreling and ultimately destroying ourselves.
And once we have destroyed ourselves, despite the different ways we might be disposed off, if at all, won’t we become similar again in our non-existence?