On a recent nostalgia trip, I just couldn't help but be struck how gradually we lost our national identification mark--the ubiquitous Namaste. On a recent visit to a Japanese cultural programme, I just couldn't help but wonder for their immense respect towards everyone.
There is such charm and inherent grace in the gesture of Namaste that it made me feel quite nostalgic for the times when the Namaste (or the Namaskar) used to be the common way to greet family, friends and even strangers in India. Growing up, whenever we had guests at home, a Namaste was always the standard greeting. Even though as children, we never quite understood what it signified--the word in Sanskrit roughly transliterates as "I bow down to the divinity in you which is also within me"--in retrospect, it was the perfect salutation to bestow upon anyone.
Which is why it makes me so sad to see that we--the proud citizens of urban India--have jettisoned the Namaste in both our personal and professional lives. We have cheerfully abandoned the traditional greeting in favour of the more modern Hi or Hello. The poor, forgotten Namaste is only pulled out on rare occasions like a family wedding when you have to greet the in-laws. In the world of business, we now prefer to shake hands with the person we are meeting instead of folding our hands together in the more traditional way.
The only people who still diligently use the Namaste on a regular basis are our politicians and the employees of airlines and the employees of five star hotels. I have a sneaking suspicion that both groups embrace the gesture as a nod to political correctness--and will happily junk it once they are no longer in public display.
I, for one, cannot think of a more gracious, or even graceful way to greet people. The gesture has a certain old-world charm to it. So, rather than restrict the use of the Namaste to the most formal occasions, wouldn't it be great if we used it routinely in our lives as a way to reclaim our Indian identity? In fact, now that I think about it, there are several other 'Indian' traits that I would love to see make a comeback. The first among those is our tradition of taking our shoes off whenever we enter someone's house so that we don't carry the dirt and the muck of the outside indoors. Nobody does that anymore and how I wish they would!
Sometimes when the scent of aromatic candles tends to overwhelm me in the drawing rooms of my resolutely trendy friends, I wonder what happened to our love for the home-grown agarbattis. It has been pretty much relegated to the pooja room, its use being considered somewhat infra-dig in the rest of the house. But hey, it can perfume a room just as well, and sometimes even more effectively.
Then there's the small matter of flowers. For someone reason, our traditional Indian blooms are quite out of fashion these days. Never mind the humble marigold, nobody is even interested in the aromatic chameli which can scent the very air we breathe with its subtle fragrance. Instead, we flood our rooms with exotic flowers flown in from foreign shores, even if they don't look or smell half as good.
Over the years, we have abandoned many of our Indian traditions and ways as we tried to embrace the modern world and conquer it. But now that we have established ourselves as full-fledged citizens of a global superpower, there can be no shame in reclaiming our Indian heritage as our own.
So, how about we start with the humble Namaste and then take it from there? Please, no letters about this is a ''Hindu'' greeting and we shouldn't impose it on other religions. The Namaste may have its origins in Sanskrit but it is now a cultural rather than religious construct. It is universally recognized as an Indian greeting and there is no reason why all of us cannot embrace it.
After all, when it comes to recognizing the divinity that lies within each one of us, why should it matter which God we pray to?