Coffee without cream and Indian-ness without Hinduness

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The famous joke of Slavoj Zizek about coffee without cream tells us that coffee without cream and coffee with milk is the same yet are regarded as different because of what the said coffee lacks. Zizek tells us about an incident where a person went to a coffee shop and ordered coffee without cream. The waiter told him that there is no coffee without cream but they have coffee without milk. Now coffee without milk or cream is the same thing or is it really so?

We can see that this joke also speaks about the reality of India. Today what we have is a politics of coffee without cream or milk. Although all Indians are definitely Indians beyond religious and cultural parameters the majoritarian politics seems to see a difference in the ‘coffee without cream or milk’. Both coffees are one and the same thing yet they are viewed as determined by negation or absence. Thus Indians that lack cream may stand for those that lack Hinduness.

V D Savarkar played such politics of coffee without cream when he distinguished Indians who have their holy land as India and those that lacked that character. Although coffee without cream or coffee without milk is the same Hindutva sees a difference. Thus an absence is thought to define what is otherwise a plain and simple ‘coffee ‘ as an entity which is malignant as it lacks something that is deemed essential. This means the absence of Hinduness is made a marker of the malignancy of being Indian. This means an Indian without Hinduness or coffee without cream is thought to be a coffee that has lost the sting of a coffee.

Indianness with Hinduness may be likened to coffee with sugar or cream. Thus, the presence of Hinduness is arbitrarily thought to be all sugar and honey. It is thought to add sweetness to India. Those that lack sugar are different because they are marked by what they lack. Such a lack is based on ‘either/ or’ logic The spirit of dharmic thinking follows the logic ‘and -and’. Such logic is enshrined in our constitution. We are citizens by our birth in India and not by the presence or absence of Hinduness. We can be equal Indians side by side on the horizontal plane rather than be hierarchically unequal based on caste-laden Hinduness on the linear vertical plane. We have to reject this linear hierarchical model that constructs the non-Indian as one does with coffee without cream.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao