I think a lot about this somewhat forced migration–first from India to Fiji on indenture ships and then from Fiji to the United States by modern aircrafts. There is a real crisis of identity and belonging.
I had an epiphany yesterday that we have been working really hard to change “twice-removed” into “an opportunity to start twice-over.” As Indian kids, we are taught to make the best of every opportunity and a lot of us do just that. The problem is that I cannot find a reason that we had to start “twice over.” I have no idea how my life would have been in India for my great-great grandparents and I have no clue why my parents left Fiji. So “twice-removed” is “twice-removed without reasonable cause.” And that may be the root of all my anger and frustration. And pain.
All my life, we’ve been told to get out of countries where we made our homes. I grew up hearing about how Uganda removed Indians only to experience something similar in Fiji. I hope I get third-time lucky because this time there is definitely a reason: I would no longer need to struggle to make sense of a life and existence I did not choose.
And I can already see my PhD dissertation topic — Postcolonial Indian Disaporic Identities in ____________. I am excited and content with life.
If I ever made it ‘big’ as an author, I probably won’t be considered ‘Indian Writer in English’ either since I have never been to India. At least that seems to be one of the central assumptions of the reporter: to make claims of authenticity beyond a shadow of doubt, one must have ties to ‘India’ and spend time in the country beyond merely advertising a book.
Why does it matter? So that the Indian press can take some fake nationalistic pride and solace from the fact that an award-winning writer is authentically Indian. No thanks. There is no such thing as being authentically Indian. We should celebrate good literature for the mere fact that it is good; not because it is written by one of ‘us.’
In a postmodern, postcolonial and transnational context, the Indianness of the writer is increasingly becoming both highly visible and irritatingly elusive. In the beginning there was Salman Rushdie, who was born in India—so what if he never lived here! Then there is Hari Kunzru—who, one wishes, looked more Indian so that our claim to include him as an ‘Indian writer’ would have more legitimacy! There is also Jhumpa Lahiri, the caramelskinned beauty, born in London, and brought up to be Indian in the US, who won the Pulitzer Award that is meant exclusively for ‘American’ writers. Is she Indian or is she not?
The annals of criticism on Indian writing in English are punctuated periodically by such basic questions. It is only when the big awards are announced that all debate is put on the backburner; the media, literati, and chatterati gear up with headlines and statements that declare ‘Indian writing in English comes of age’; ‘The Empire writes back’; or simply ‘Once again our girl gets home the Trophy’. V S Naipaul too, would have been similarly and readily co-opted, had he not waged a lifelong battle against such ‘areas of darkness’. There is definitely something about international awards that pushes further the frontiers of Indianness.
Strange things happen to these award-winning ‘Indian’ writers if they default on tokens of Indianness. Kiran Desai was pulled up by a chauvinistic section of the media for not wearing a sari to the Booker Award ceremony. Surely she should have known better than to reveal to the whole world and its aunt her innate multiculturalism—the same multiculturalism that she criticises so eloquently in her novel The Inheritance Of Loss. But Desai also found several champions who defended her sartorial choice as one that befitted a universal writer: Nilanjana S Roy, a reviewer and critic, observed, ‘Writers belong to nations by accident and by default. But the only country that can really hold them is the borderless country of the imagination. We diminish ourselves as readers every time we forget that.’’
Should we be ashamed of ourselves to want our very own Indian writers in English? Should we conclude that there are and can be no Indian, American or British writers? I wouldn’t worry too much about being overly nationalistic. After all, virtually no writer makes a secret of his or her saleable nationality when it comes to book promotions and publicity campaigns: Indianness sells well in the global market. The market-savvy Rushdie, for instance, introduced Kiran Desai as ‘a new child with lavish gifts’’ born of “India’s encounter with the English language’ and not as the denizen of a ‘borderless country of the imagination’ to the literary world.
The real problem is how to shop for the authentic Indian writer. Is s/he the one who looks Indian? V S Naipaul in; Hari Kunzru out. Is s/he she the one who writes about India? My God! Vikram Seth is out with his An Equal Music and it’s Mark Tully that’s in! Is s/he the one with the Indian passport? Oh God! Where is everybody?
I think I personally would go the Bollywood crossover way (there is no other way to go these days!). As in Loins Of Punjab, I too will look for the Indian soul—a purely spiritual engagement with the country. My prize for the Desi Writer Idol would go to our very own White Mogul, William Dalrymple. In recent times, Dalrymple has emerged as an articulate critic of American imperialism, which he critiques as the post-modern avatar of British colonialism.
The Scottish writer, his website claims, divides his time between Delhi and London. Not only is this more than Rushdie, Kunzru or Lahiri do to be Indian; it is also much more in hours and minutes than the time spent in their ‘own’ country by the likes of Kiran Desai. I hear that even Amitav Ghosh—who at one time was considered Indian with a vengeance by the same critics who rejected Rushdie for not being Indian enough—hardly visits any more, except for book tours, of course! Besides, Dalrymple knows Urdu, is a champion of pluralism and is regularly rapped on the knuckles by fellow whites for his West-bashing. How many Diasporic and international Indian writers can match this?
I see the Olympics as the single-most unifying sports regular sports events. And today, I felt the unity across the globe, emitting from the rich and unique Indian disapora.
Headlines Today, NDTV and all Indian news channels are going wild with their broadcast of the Olympics and for good reason. Ace shooter Abhinav Bindra created history by clinching the first ever individual gold for India after winning the men’s 10m air rifle event at the Beijing Olympics.
COngratulations for Abhinav are pouring in from ALL over the world–anywhere with an Indian population. That I believe is the greatness of the Indian disapora. Having adjusted to culture and lifestyle of another country through decades, there is still a connection to the “motherland” — not a nationalist connection, but a cultural one.
I have never been to India. My parents have never been to India. We are Indo-Fijian in every sense with 5 generations of our family brought up outside of India. And yet, when Bindra won the gold medal, my heart leapt up in the air and I went downstairs yelling that “WE won our first individual gold medal.” Of course, they did not comprehend what I meant by WE (probably thinking Fiji) but the reaction was still of excitement and jubiliance when I revealed that India had won its first individual gold medal.
This does not make me any less American–at the end of the day I am still going to be a couch potato, plug in my IPOD, study for the LSAT and write really bad TV fan-fiction in my spare time. But it is a recognition of identities that go beyond the ‘national’ — and no one should be deriding that sort of complexity and diversity.
And how amazing were the Opening Ceremonies? I am glad that I did not need to watch the Opening Ceremony on NBC with the notoriously rude commentators making jibes in passing at countries during the parade (lets forget the amount of commercials that interupted the event). At the same time, the Indian commentators could stop picking on Sania Mirza for not wearing a traditional saree.
It was also disheartening to see South and North Korea marching separately.
Headlines Today (India) estimated that a 4billion record estimate watched the Opening Ceremonies.
If you did not catch it, you can see the opening and closing here (minus the 2 hour long parade) …
Lets not get too blind in the gold and glitter of the event. This celebration of unique talent and diversity does not mean we ignore other voices and concerns.
In New Delhi, nearly 3,000 Tibetans shouting anti-China slogans braved heavy rains to protest near India’s parliament against the Olympics being staged by China.
“China is not the right place to hold Olympics, it is a blood Olympics, it is a shame Olympics,” shouted Kalsang Tsering, a Tibetan protester.
At the same time, lets not make political conditions and rivalries into the topic of discussion. Following the logic applied by Tibetan protestors, the Olympics should not be held in any country since there is no country in the world that does not violate human rights.