I think I am an Indian, therefore I am.
"No, you are not," declared Bonnie, frowning and hiding behind her mom.
"Yes, honey, he is. I told you that Krish is coming to dinner tonight, and here he is."
"But mommy, you said Krish is an Indian!"
"Yes, honey, I did. And, this is Krish."
Nonplussed, Bonnie exclaimed "But...he's not wearing any feathers on his head! How could he be an Indian?"
This happened thirty-plus years ago, when I was a student at a U.S. university. Most international students at that university had host families. I had one too, and on that fateful day when my identity was questioned, I was going to have dinner with them. I learned from their four year old Bonnie that discovering my identity would be a simple matter of choosing my headgear!
Years later, when I was visiting at Keio University, Tokyo, I was once again faced with an identity crisis. I held a U.S. passport by then, and was quite certain about my identity as an American. Unfortunately, the world around me disagreed. My colleagues would often question me about the fiscal reforms in India, but never about the welfare reforms in the United States. The Japanese receptionist at the local American Club would routinely ask for my passport, but never for that of John Doe, my bridge partner. The students always referred to me as the sensei from India. I did not verify it, but I am quite sure that the sex workers of Tokyo, most of whom solicited business only from the Americans and the Europeans, would have declined to work for me!
Another time, I was on a faculty recruitment committee for my department. We were screening the 300 odd applications, when we came upon one that belonged to er... Kumarikandam Subramaniam. In his application, Mr. Subramaniam had not responded to the optional question regarding his race. With a few decent publications to his credit, he was a well qualified applicant from a reputed university. We were unanimous (there were five of us) that he should be invited to present a paper. Compliance with the Affirmative Action Program required us to forward our recommendations to the EEOO (Equal Employment Opportunity Office), along with the racial classifications of the selected candidates. Even though Mr. Subramaniam had not identified his race, the committee guessed from his name that he was an Asian-Indian. They turned to me, the only one from India on that committee, for a confirmation that Mr. Subramaniam was an Indian.
We knew that Mr. Subramniam's application would have a smooth passage through the EEOO, as Asian-Indians were considered as a minority. I declined to confirm his Indianness, however, saying that I did not believe in either racial classification or affirmative action. What if Mr. Subramniam also held similar ideals, and did not want to be racially classified? The Chairman of the committee, a senior professor and well versed in these matters, dismissed my beliefs and Mr. Subramaniam's in this regard as inconsequential. "Krish, EEOO will return the application to us, if we did not write in Mr. Subramaniam's race. If we refused to specify his race again, the EEOO would find another Asian-Indian to confirm Mr. Subramaniam's race. Whether he accepts it or not, Mr. Subramaniam is a minority. And, in case you did not know, you are a minority in the EEOO books, too!"
Let's turn to the weightier question raised by the title of this post. John Doe thinks he is a Hindu. Is he or is he not one?
"Of course not. He doesn't wear a turban."
"No, he is not. Hindus are vegetarians, and John pigs out on hamburgers!"
"Only Indians are Hindus. John is not an Indian, so he cannot be a Hindu."
"Hindus worship a zillion gods, but John doesn't worship even one. How could he think of himself as a Hindu?"
"If John Doe is a Hindu, then is he Sikh?"
For the benefit of the philosophically disadvantaged, the title is a paraphrase of the seventeenth century French mathematician and philosopher, René Descartes' famous pronouncement, Cogito ergo sum or I think, therefore I am, which etched the implied dualism in much of the Western thoughts to follow.