Sunday, July 10, 2011

Indian in English

Diwali in Nis, Serbia
What is it like, to represent your country in a foreign land that has not seen many an Indian? Do they view you with a preconceived notion? What is their perception of your Indian-ness? And more important, what do you, as an Indian feel about your national identity amidst strange people? Do you feel proud? Do you feel ashamed? Is there irritation at the worldwide stereotype? Or is there a ledge of advantage that your nationality perhaps pegs you on?

Ever since her return from the Balkans wherein she visited Macedonia, Croatia and Montenegro apart from long hauls at the base country, Serbia, Asawari has been ruminating on the intangibles of her presence in the region. And her Indian identity keeps coming up again and again.

Strangely enough, none of us here in the subcontinent give our being Indian any more thought or consideration than strictly necessary, while inland. It is only when we step on to foreign lands that our Indian-ness hits us most. There is a new found and keener awareness of the place we come from. There is also a frantic drawing upon the memory to explain symbols, stories and the occasional scams. There is this worldview cookie cutter shape that we try to fight or fit.

Several of Asawari’s Roma students presumed she was an “Indian Princess” who rode to school on an elephant! There was also some heartburn over the content of the dance lesson. While they wanted to learn the Bollywood moves to “Dil lae ja lae ja’, their Indian instructor was eager to share the grand
Diwali dinner hosted by Asja & Nada
classical tradition of ‘Kathak’ with them. Asawari further chafed a little at the recurrent phrases ‘poverty’ and ‘slum'. Around the same time that she was boasting of her ancient culture, the international media was spewing the Commonwealth corruption saga. There was also some degree of discomfiture at her presumed ‘spirituality and religiosity’ by virtue of her being an Indian.

Were there aspects of her country that made her swell with pride? Yes. She felt great that even though Urban India was apparently selling out to the McDonalds and Jeans monoculture, large rural tracts still retained their unique ‘desi’ flavour. She drew upon the richness of variety and diversity in her country. Her seventeen Indian summers had left her grounded and better prepared to face life’s challenges, she opined. What’s more, her command of the English language gave her an international edge!

Talk of an Indian identity wrapped in an English package.

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