Archive for November 20th, 2005

November 20, 2005

Of NRIs, Indian-ness and Coconuthood

Sort of related to Jai’s post about the NRI community in England.

I have a cousin in the states who is getting married next year. I rarely see her, maybe once every few years. She’s nice, and though we have very little in common we manage to have fun.When we were younger, she’d visit and we’d stay up all night giggling about boys. She’d show me photographs, and the boys in question (as well as the girls who she was friends with) were all brown. Not a single black or white face among them. I asked her about this, and she told me that the Indians just did not hang out with the non-Indians.
She’s more up to date on Indian fashion than I am. She watches every Bollywood release, and reminds me of those women in Bollywood NRI movies where the scenery and the white people are relegated to the status of props.
She’s always said she’d marry an Indian, because a non-Indian wouldn’t be able to understand her. This makes sense, I suppose, being Indian is a huge part of her life, and she’d need to be with someone who understood that. Now, she’s managed to find herself a man who is not only the ‘right’ colour, but from the right community, a very small geographical area. Halfway across the world, that’s a marvellous feat.

Once, an American guy I knew online because we both liked the same music introduced me to his friend who was Indian. We talked online a few times, and then she told him she didn’t like me because I wasn’t Indian enough. She was enthusiastic about her bharatnatyam, loved Shah Rukh Khan, and was generally very not-me.

Philistine that I am, I don’t wear my Indian-ness as a sort of badge of honour. I live in India and have an Indian passport, so being Indian is obviously not as big a deal for me as for someone who lives halfway across the world. Most of my friends are Indian, simply because I’m in India and Indians are most of the people I meet. But despite living in Delhi, I have plenty of non-Indian friends as well. Because my interests and concerns are not specifically Indian ones. My taste in music isn’t, the books and movies I like aren’t Indian (some of them are. Not all). And when they are, I can share them. I just sent a copy of Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines to a friend in England. A Dutch friend has been introducing me to a couple of bands from her country and I think they’re brilliant though I don’t understand the words. I’ve always objected to the idea of a list of universal characteristics of Indian-ness, such as obedience, respect for tradition, a love of Hindi film songs and classical dance. It’s some weird form of racial stereotyping – “This is what real Indians do. Be a real Indian”. Everything that one does has to be in connection with one’s culture. That just isn’t what the real India (if there is one) is like – they’ve created a homeland for themselves that is almost completely fictional.

I understand that two Indians meeting in a strange country might feel a lot more comfortable with each other, if only because they can talk about their homes, families and traditions and understand each other. But it worries me when that is the only connection one allows oneself to have – when we wilfully ghettoise ourselves. Of course people are free to be friends with whoever they choose to, I just think that great opportunities are being wasted.

Growing up, the town I lived in had a miniscule Indian population – I was the only Indian at my school. My classmates wouldn’t have understood about Diwali, for example, but they did understand why The Hobbit was a great book, and why Andrew from across the street was so annoying. On weekends we would drive down to visit cousins and then the talk could shift to festivals and cricket and religion and Pushpa auntie’s beautiful new shawl (She had gorgeous clothes. Great taste.) as well as the weekend’s football matches and my greediness for marshmallows. It all balanced out really well…there were people I could talk about India with, but that wasn’t the only thing we talked about – and there were people I couldn’t talk about India with but we had lots of other things in common so I didn’t feel the lack. I often wonder whether if I’d lived in a place with a bigger Indian population I would have stuck to my co-Indians. Sort of a Bend It Like Beckham situation – there are so many Indians in London that you can afford to restrict your circle of friends to them.

(I find this rather fascinating. Apparently racism occurs mainly in areas where there’s a large population of the group being discriminated against. The Subramanians in Rainhill outside Liverpool are just one family, they’re from a different culture and that is interesting. Plus they’re a pleasant couple, though their kid is pedantic and annoying, even at her age. But the massive community of Indians in Bradford are more than that – they’re an economic and ‘cultural’ threat – especially when they band together like that. I don’t think the people who have lived in Bradford for generations are justified in their hostility, but you can see where it comes from. )

That said, my soon to be cousin-in-law seems a pleasant sort of chap, and I look forward to getting to know him. I’m not sure what the point of this entry was, really, just thinking out loud. I don’t seem to have come to any conclusions beyond the obvious ones. To categorise oneself is to limit oneself. *Gasp*, how original.

November 20, 2005

Just a little experiment.

I fully support pre-marital sex.

*waits to see if she’s important enough to be arrested.*