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Elective identities

The elective identities of Internationalistan


Rishi, 71, has 305 flags and the maps of 185 countries tattooed on his body.

Globalisation demands a multiple personality order - the ability to take on several identities without a sense of conflict.

Is Anna not just India, but more than India? James Lock and Diana Christov, from Australia and Germany respectively, might well think so. Because both of them, while visiting India, have participated in the Jan Lokpal movement against corruption in public life which is sweeping across India like a bushfire. Indeed, people across the world, from Baltimore to Bangkok, have voiced their support for Anna's cause out of a sense of empathy with what he stands for: clean governance and the right to dissent. And it's not just NRIs or people of Indian origin who identify themselves with what he represents. In Thailand and Pakistan, citizens of those countries have found common ground between what is happening in India and what needs to be done in their own countries where corruption is also rampant.

This universalisation of Anna is not so much about the Gandhian as it is about globalisation. When Barack Obama made history by becoming the first African-American to run for the American presidency, several commentators observed, only half in jest, that the US presidential election should not be confined to American citizens only but to citizens of all countries because what the US does or does not do affects the whole world.

Indeed, as the sub-prime crisis and the more recent downgrading of America's triple A rating have shown, when the US catches an economic cold the world comes down with financial flu.

Economically, electronically and environmentally, the world is becoming a subtle knot of interconnecting relationships. The so-called 'butterfly effect' - if a butterfly flaps its wings in Toronto it causes an earthquake in Tokyo - is more evident than ever before.
While this 'exterior' aspect of globalisation has often been commented on, what is less frequently remarked on is what might be called 'interior' globalisation: the ability of individuals to relate to many different and geographically and culturally distant issues and ideas at the same time. Globalisation demands not a multiple personality disorder but a multiple personality order: the capacity to adopt several identities without contradiction or inner conflict. Such an individual could be, for example, a person of Indian origin, with parents in Bangalore, who lives in the US, has a Japanese spouse and a job in a Swiss-based multinational, and whose two children are settled in Stockholm and Sydney respectively. Oh yes, the person is also a vegan, an atheist, a fervent crusader against man-made climate change, and a devout Buddhist who reveres the Dalai Lama. Writing in The Times of India, Vinay Kamat has used the term 'earthpat', short for 'earth patriot', to describe people who believe in living without artificial boundaries of national borders and the rigid compartmentalisation of 'isms' like 'nationalism' and 'patriotism'. Such 'isms' are of comparatively recent origin and can trace their geneology to the industrial revolution in Europe which in turn gave birth to the concept of the nation state. Long before the term globalisation was coined, traders and travellers criss-crossed the globe without the need of passports or visas or import quotas. If that hadn't happened, Europe wouldn't have had potatoes or tobacco, brought from the New World by explorers, nor would India have had chillies, introduced into the country by the Portuguese.
In many ways, globalisation and the global mindset of the 'earthpat' are an example of going back to the future. Perhaps no one better illustrates the idea of a global citizen than a 71-year-old Indian called Har Parkash Rishi, who is also known as Guinness Rishi because of his inclusion in the Guinness Book of World Records for having tattooed on his body 305 national flags and the maps of 185 countries.

Does this suggest that the notion of a borderless world and the consequent emergence of a global citizen, an earthpat, are only skin deep? Far from it. If science is to be believed, the concept of the global citizen is literally rooted in our genes. Geneticists claim that the 'mitochondrial Eve' from whom all of humankind has descended was of African origin. So all of us belong to the same world, and the same world belongs equally to all of us.

Paradoxically and perversely, while championing the cause of globalisation where the exports of their goods and services are concerned, the so-called First World continues to impose travel and trade restrictions on people and products from emerging economies. Such oneway globalisation makes a mockery of universal citizenship which an inextricably interrelated world demands and requires. When ideas and images flow freely across borders and barriers, such protectionism of one's 'home turf' is ultimately futile. Be they individuals or communities, those who do not open themselves out to the world will become Myanmars, self-enclosed entities caught in a time warp and left behind by the surging tides of change.

So, sign up to be an earthpat today. Send a virtual 'I am Anna' cap to your Facebook friends all over the world. And wait to see what idea or icon they send you in return, and which you can choose, or not choose, to make your own. That's your right, as a citizen of a greater India, a true Akhand Bharat of the mind called Internationalistan.

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