Sunday, July 17, 2005

Confessions of a 'confused' 'Gulfie'

I am quite angry.

Someone came to our house the other day and justified sending his daughter to India for higher education because… she shouldn’t feel like a foreigner in her own country and must remain in touch with the culture of the motherland.

Now this man had his own reasons for taking this decision and I respect him for it. However, the argument that a child needs to be in India to be a better Indian doesn’t cut much ice for me. It gives the impression that most of us who grew up outside India turned out to be really bad Indians and that we are a bunch of hopeless cases.

I shouldn’t be picking on this man for my rant because he is really a very nice guy but the reason I am so worked up is because I have heard this argument so many times that it never fails to irritate me. I feel most people who make this outlandish claim do so on the basis of some pet assumptions and not, necessarily, on some cold hard facts.

Now I agree that there are some dodos amongst us who behave a bit dopey whenever they visit India and act more ‘foreign’ than the ‘foreigners’. But there are, also, some dodos amongst the Indians who live in India as well… and would anyone dare make a generalisation?

However, I have to admit that I often feel like a ‘foreigner’ whenever I visit India and I’ve spent a lifetime figuring out why I feel this way. The reason has nothing to do with a feeling of alienation from the ‘motherland’, so to speak, and neither has it anything to do with any misplaced arrogance.

My problem with India comes from the expat life that I’ve led throughout my life. At school (CBSE curriculum, by the way, one cant get more Indian than a curriculum that the armed forces’ children follow), I interacted with people from different parts of India and the same situation followed at the Indian Association, Bahrain Sports Club (presently, the Indian Club), there were far too many interactions and friendships with non-Indians who saw me as just an “Indian”, and that’s what I thought I was and was content with that kind of all-inclusive identity.

But upon going to India (Bombay, to be precise), I was shocked to find out that this “Indian” identity that had, somewhat, defined who I was throughout my life was not relevant here any longer. People wanted a little more information. It was like the Indian identity was wrapped up in onion like layers – they wanted to know my religion, my language, my caste, my state, my economic background, my social status, everything. My claims to be an “Indian” were met with derision because people took these other layers very seriously and thought I was a bit silly to think of the ‘big picture’.

Another shocker that greeted me when I went to India was the resurgence of right-wing political parties like Shiv Sena who were as rabidly chauvinistic as any white supremacist group in the West.

Now the Shiv Sena people speak my language (that’s Marathi) and since I grew up with very few people speaking that language and the only ones who did were family and close family friends. So when I went to Bombay and heard Marathi being spoken so widely it did cause a disconnect… my initial knee jerk reaction to trust anyone who speaks Marathi soon led to miserable disappointments and hearing the narrow ideology of Marathi people toeing the Shiv Sena line came as a real shock.

I couldn’t believe that a political group could actually differentiate between other Indians and make horrible suggestions such as, they should speak the regional language (what about the national language, I asked), people from the other states should not come to Bombay, people from minority faiths were not ‘fully’ Indian.

My response to this India that I encountered was quite simple. I rejected it because I saw no merit in it. I preferred to be an ‘alien’ in such a dysfunctional setup that thrives on being fractious. I was not pleased to see Indians not looking at the ‘big picture’ and, instead, focusing on petty ethnic loyalties. I thought that if this is what takes to be a real Indian, then, I am not interested in being part of it.

It’s tragic that the “Indian-ness” that I grew up with is now a distant dream even in Bahrain. Now that there are so many Indians here, very few people are actually looking at the ‘big picture’ and are continuously emphasising their ethnic identities. This is wrong and a setback to what we had earlier experienced in this country. Thankfully, it’s still not a hopeless case though…

This is why I was quite angry with the man because… based on my own background, I feel, I have grown up to be a better and a much broader Indian because of having been brought up here. Do I regret it? Not a chance. Am I confused? Doesn’t matter. Will I trade my life for something else? Not a chance.

3 comments:

gautami tripathy said...

Interesting and true. I have always lived in India, and most of that in Delhi. Here the first thing one asks about your ethnicity, religion, social strata etc etc. And then passes judgement over that. No one is interested to know about your education, your thoughts or whatever that has shaped you up....And what is more/less of an Indian? Can we honestly answer that? Just becos one is in India does not make him more of an Indian. Maybe staying out of the country shows you a different perspective of what all one should absorb and what not too. In a much broader sense, we should try to be better human beings with a sense of being a world citizen and not to any particular country. We cannot change anyone but we can change ourselves. Maybe I am going off the track but thats what I feel.

Pragya said...

Ashish,

I can't agree more with everything you said, I grew up in cosmopolitan Delhi and used to feel this way when I visited the place from which my family hails - Bihar. But now going back to India feels exactly the way you've described it.

But another point, just as an aside, the thing is, I got to see both perspectives. The Indians who have been in the US for thirty or more years are neither here nor there and don't know how to be. They think India never moved past the 1970s. They want to hold on to an India or an Indian ideal that no longer exists. So as a result they never quite fit in here and feel out of place when they visit India as well...just another observation.

cquark said...

To quote gautami:
"And what is more/less of an Indian? Can we honestly answer that? Just becos one is in India does not make him more of an Indian."

I think you brought out the very crux of the issue. It is also interesting to note that this is a problem that is faced by people of many cultures - after all, what does being "American" or "Japanese" or "Australian" mean?