There’s a scene in the Hindi movie Namastey London in which the protagonist Arjun Singh sets a British man straight when he attempts to shame India. “We come from a nation where we allow a lady of Catholic origin to step aside for a Sikh to be sworn in as prime minister, by a Muslim president, to govern a nation of over 80 percent Hindus,” he tells the man. This scene paints India as a harmonious nation with diverse cultures.
Our country has long been described as ‘a melting pot for cultural diversity’. But I wonder how a country like India, with innumerable cultures sharing a land, is one country. It’s practically a hotspot for all kinds of differences! Some believe we aren’t a melting pot. Sociologist Dr Malathi Venugopal says, “In India, we have several diverse cultural groups, each standing next to one another, acknowledging, tolerating, and perhaps, even appreciating one another’s differences. But we are not a melting pot; we are a salad bowl.”
The ‘melting pot’ and ‘salad bowl’ are not as similar as we might think. Dr Slawomir Magala is a Professor of Cross-Cultural Management at the Rotterdam School of Management at the Erasmus University in the Netherlands. In one of the ‘One minute education’ videos by the college, he talks about how a melting pot shouldn’t be confused for multiculturalism, which is more of a salad bowl. In a melting pot, people–no matter how diverse the cultures they come from are–are expected to become standardised members of the society. In a salad bowl, people retain their diverse identities and behave more like vegetables in a salad, wherein their diversity and creativity are preserved, he says.
We live in a multicultural society, but perhaps it’s time we turn to what sociologists call ‘radical multiculturalism’. It’s neither extreme nor negative as it might sound, though.
Maybe we are a melting pot–in a metaphorical sense, if not a sociological one. We have an uncanny knack for assimilating parts of different cultures into our own.