January 26, 2006

Woh Jo Des Hai Mera...

“Should a person’s affiliations lie with one’s family, community, culture, religion or state?”
This question put forth for discussion by my classmates at a seminar leads me to believe that I might just pass this course. What kind of naïve idiot decides that one will owe allegiance to any of these institutions, and how many stupid bipeds who have only partially descended from apes even know which one of these debatably separate paradigms they are allied to at the moment? Such questions make my blood boil.

A very problematic thing I’m having to do ever since I came to London is to be an Indian. Now I’ve never identified with being an “Indian” even back home. I sleep through the Republic Day parade telecast when I’m in Delhi, but if I don’t wish all Indians on Republic Day in London, it’s wrong. I’m urged to participate in protest marches outside the Indian High Commission, but I don’t do that back home, even when I’m interested in the issue directly, because of my scepticism towards the efficacy of the protest march.

Others around me are quite enthusiastic about representing India in the classroom. They describe how things happen in India, and I look at them blankly, wondering if they are talking about the same country that I come from. If a Punjabi Delhiite woman who studied the same subject at the same university as me for as long has a directly opposite opinion about the Indian press, what does it say about India and about us? We’re obviously made of some stuff other than these external labels which are more or less identical, and we obviously inhabit different matrices that we refer to by a common name. Is she wrong in waving a tabloid about and saying the Indian press chooses to be much more serious? Am I wrong in thinking that it is only because we’re still struggling with problems that the Brits have solved, and there is enough spice in politics and potholes to keep people entertained in India?

One lecturer makes a remark about the efficacy of turbans in preventing head injuries among Sikhs who are exempt from wearing safety helmets, and the global classroom titters. This makes me want to stand up and yell, no matter how many Sardar jokes I might crack back home. But I do not stand up and yell, for I am not “Indian” enough to do it.

The shallow understanding of Asia, a fault (?) to which the faculty admits, is disturbing in an age where information in readily available (hat tip: wendigo, desivenus, eleven red buses, and that tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream) In the context, any depiction of India or China seems so fake and twisted that I squirm in my seat. It is all mispronounced, like our names, so awkward on their straightforward tongues. The cafeteria is celebrating India Week. There’s Indian cuisine everyday. To put everything I’ve said into one plate, they’re serving “Vegetable Biryani accompanied by Rice”. I’m having chips.


Baraka said...

Wonderfully articulated!

Anonymous said...

Your faculty at least have the privilege /excuse of being foreign. My very very Indian Prof. says "Seeekh" instead of "Sikh", talks about the Aryan-Dravidian divide without even mentioning that the whole Aryan Invasion theory is being disputed. And as you said sometimes I am just not Indian enough to stand up.

Heretic said...

So many words to say I don't feel part of the Indian diaspora. That ain't such a big thing coz we've only been a nation for 58 years... seriously!

PS: I still get pissed if someone fails to stand up and pay respect to the flag while the national anthem is being played.

Supremus said...

Vegetable Biryani accompanied by Rice

-- ROFL - that one line says it all.


Nanda Kishore said...

Wait till you get the condescending comments about the poverty and the population. Something tells me you already have!

Vivified Visage said...

What I hate even more is when other people tell me how to be an Indian.

I live in New Jersey--Little India Central. You can't go down the street without seeing the desi places to eat, jewlery stores, and Indian clothing stores. Since I refuse to shop or eat there (my mom cooks way better and I do my Indian shopping in India, where things are a helluva lot cheaper) fellow acquaintances are shocked--I'm supposed to be supporting "my type" of people.

I totally agree with you.