Regroup, Reassess, Resume

Hello World!

Over the past few months I have been wondering about why I have hit a writer’s block on my blog, and what I can do to overcome it.  And I’ve come to some interesting conclusions:

One, changing appearance, and other cosmetic changes can add only so much to the overall experience.  Ultimately, output matters.

Two, frequency of posts is important.  As is content.  And brevity.

Three, topics must cover a broad theme, an overarching message, and must deal with a few core ideas that the intended audience is interested in.

Three is what I set out to define in this post.  What shall I write about? Where shall I begin?

From what I’ve seen, there are three approaches that I can take:

One is to write about my life and my experiences.  Admittedly, this is an alluring approach to blogposts, one that my friend Sanjukta, avid blogger and social media guru, uses to brilliant effect.  I have lived on three continents over the last 3 years: two of these countries are diverse and waking up to the immense potential of equality and universal suffrage after years of crippling social segregation and discrimination (India, South Africa).  They are both members of the BRICS, and are both nations where in the past, institutional systems enforced a strict hierarchical order of individual destiny and prevented social mobility between classes.  This restrictive past has now given way to the present, with its chaotic democracy and attendant opportunities (and pitfalls).  The third country is the United States, sole superpower and global liberal hegemon, today going through a crisis of confidence that has resulted in serious soul-searching and introspection.  Arguably, social mobility in America is today the lowest it has been since the late 80’s, and in more real terms, represents a bottom-of-the-barrel picture not seen since the Great Depression.  The Occupy Wall Street movement is attempting to create a new national discourse about democratic capitalist states- one that is exciting and much-overdue, and has the potential to challenge the very foundations of this nation.  In 2011, popular protests have erupted in two of the world’s largest democracies this year in response to an unjust status quo.  Over North Africa and parts of the greater middle East, citizen-led revolts have challenged the will of despots, deposing some, beheading others.  In yet other countries, a raucous populace marches on, unwilling to be silenced.

This is my present, and it is a seminal moment: pregnant with possibility.  Is it not an exciting time to write about?  I think it is.

My second approach is to write about the issues I care about.  These are diverse, and range from the suppression of civil liberties in tribal India to the alarming effects of positive feedback loops on global warming.  Broadly speaking, these can be categorised as musings into the future, and they are an exploration of what our policies of today will mean for our tomorrow.  Climate change is of course the most pertinent of these issues, but they encompass geopolitical events today that I believe will have profound consequences for us into the future, such as the continued occupation of Palestine, or the collapse of the Eurozone.

This is my future, and it is an unpredictable and chaotic maelstrom.  Is it not worthwhile to mull about?  I think it is.

The third approach is to reflect on my past.  Having grown up in India in the eighties, immersed in the syrupy mediocrity of Bappi Lahiri’s plagiarism and Doordarshan’s parsimonious helpings of mass media, it is astonishing to see a country that currently eyeballs more than 500 TV channels.  For better or for worse, the last 20 years have created seismic shifts across India, and contrasted against the grimy steampunk of modern Bharat, my childhood seems starkly remote, almost idyllic.  Multiple writers have exploited this meme to the max, writing about every rich Indian’s deprived (yet happy) youth.  In the afterglow of success and prosperity, the exigencies of childhood can be rewritten as moral fables, the inadequacies papered over with a patina of quaintness.

This is my past, and it is the age when the elephant began to sprout tusks.  Is it not a fascinating era to recount?  I think it is.

So this is it, people.  In a nutshell, what I hope to write about eventually comes to this:

My past, this present, and our future.

Happy Reading!

Advertisements

: 291 Vaswani Nagar, North Main Road, Koregaon Park, Pune :

Pune was a quieter place then.  It was 1997, the year of the last great Pune Floods. M G Road was a one-way road, Deccan looked like a vast campus and Orient Express (since deceased) delivered pizzas to homes. Aundh was a forest, and NDA stood atop a dark and lonely hill in Khadakvasla.

There were birds in the lake beyond the NCL campus.

Laxmi Road was the artery that ran through the city. Camp was the green lung that breathed, its alveoli soaking the heat and the air. Sassoon stood stolid next to The Railway station, housing (among other things) 2000+ hospital beds and one appendix (belonging to one mr mohandas karamchand gandhi, preserved for posterity). Budhwar Peth was the red light district.

And Koregaon Park was the centre of the Universe.

Its own universe, alone and distinct. A mysterious world of brooding buildings and overgrown gardens, plaster seraphs and purple robes – roaming the streets during the day, their open hair catching the dappled sunlight.

As you passed over the bridge leaping across the railway lines from Camp to Koregaon, the Don Bosco centre would rise on your right, and the turn off to North Main Road soon after.  North Main Road snaked its way to Mundhwa, umbilically connected to South Main Road by a ladder-rung of gentility, seven in all: unobtrusive portals that would ferry you from bustling NMR to the leafy temple-strewn length of SMR. In between the two roads was a mystery land of crumbling old houses and mysterious manors, their facades fenced by ferns and foliage, set deep inside from the tree-lined lanes, in coccoons of sound-soaking eternity. “Old Parsi houses”, we would intone, part-admiration, part-awe, whole-envy. “Old Money”, we would add, throwing in a grimace with pursed upper lips pushing down the corners of our mouths- the ultimate Indian expression of begrudging appreciation.

And right there in the beginning of North Main Road, before the right turn to the Osho Ashram, opposite the yet-to-be-born Hot Breads, next door to Gourmet, home of mouth watering waffles with unlimited honey and butter (which has since been ambushed and swallowed by a bright young Cafe Coffee Day, swarming with peri-pubescent puppydom), was German Bakery, the cafe at the end of the Universe, where burnt-out souls came to rest and feed, to sleep, perchance to dream.

German Bakery was on the first corner, its mian entrance opening out to the main road: the itinerant visitor would step through the threshold into a large leafy courtyard, littered with low stools and short tables, and intellectuals contemplating the swirling grounds in their coffee dregs. The aisle along the side led to the Tibetan shops, presided over by slightly intimidating aunties selling smooth coral stones and necklaces. Between these and the Bakery was the exit to the side lane, leading off to the river and the cremation ghat – a bare clearing with rectangular depressions set into the concrete. The river was full, dark and sludgy, and an Aghori sat on the far side steps of the ghats, tending to the shrine, making conversations and fires, and smoking his butter-like charas in his chillum.

German Bakery itself was always abuzz, and yet untouched: a tiny oasis of Truthful Chocolate ecstasy in a harsh and cruel world. A large Masala chai cup and croissants were among things on offer, along with mashed potatoes, hummus, fruit salads and cream and scones and cakes, and a pick of delicious omelettes. A wide and eclectic menu stared the visitor in the face, neatly inscribed and hung above the smiling Nepali waiter’s head, his cheerful frame dwarfed by the counter, piled high with such suspicious events like Organic Muesli and Pekan Boe tea. The cafe itself wrapped around the kitchen and the manager’s room, and was lined with wooden benches and white-washed walls. The monotony of the walls was broken by random advertismenets for colon irrigation and tantra classes, an ironic speech bubble above the head of Nirvana in night-blue ensemble talking to Pretty Young (Confused) Thing in the corner. A list of rules for visitors on the wall offered pragmatic advice, such as to not offend the locals by kissing in public. A bulletin board advertised second-hand enfield bikes, houses for rent and eternal salvation in Hebrew.

An air of calm ran through German Bakery, with swirling cigarette smoke from tables mixing with the clouds from the coffee. Conversations ebbed, and flowed, and ebbed again, their lines looping and dipping and whorling through the hot summer air. Regulars dotted the tables, sitting beside newer wannabes, and pondered on the meanings of the universe, and on the vagaries of Kishan’s waiters.  As the cries of hawkers wafted across to the tables, somewhere a pair of flip-flops shuffled its way to the gate, its wearer drawn to the swelling tide of human consciousness outside – propelled forward by the purposefulness of the truly aimless. Ashram inmates walked in, their eyes scanning the cafe,  and their purple robes revealed shapely ankles beneath (as their erect nipples revealed sheer nakedness beneath, or so it seemed to our hormone-addled brains). Couples necked in the corner, and sometimes, a Warkari wandered in, lost on the way back from Pandharpur. Her Sari tucked in between her legs and folded neatly into her waist-fold, her forehead marked with a large vermillion circle of sometimes-purple red, she walked into German Bakery, her dish held out in front of her: battered, aluminium. 

And somewhere, another star-struck student would step through the threshold, his eyes drinking in the slice of peacefulness before him, his mind noting with sudden bemusement that time was treacly-thick here, the hours passed like days passed like minutes passed like the lifetimes that spent their years contemplating the slow settling of the black grounds into the murky depths of the Mint Ice Tea…

And history would play itself out again, a tired organ-grinder in the corner cranking up his instrument, preparing to play out the same tune again for the umpteenth time, as a new monkey prepared to dance.

                       – In Memory, German Bakery, No 291, Vaswani Nagar, North Main Road, Koregaon Park, Pune.

 

*Author’s postcript

Like everything else in Pune, the German Bakery was also torn down by the assault of invading Megapolis-Pune. In 2002, Pecuniary Pune crept slowly into Koregaon Park, widening North Main Road and taking a great big slice of German Bakery’s facade with it. The slow decay of the Osho Ashram and the steady invasion of more upmarket coffee chains turned GB into a symbol of wannabe kitsch: frequented by itinerants, populated by infrequents.  As traffic and dust rose with equal ferocity through Pune’s roads, the calm around German Bakery was shattered: its unhurried pace lost, its extravagant space now a thing of the past. Its access to both the main road and the side alley- a metaphorical cul-de-sac linking the mainstream and the alternate, was taken over by an army of rude short-cutters, turning the aisle of wafting thoughts into a thoroughfare to somewhere else. In 2008, when I spoke to Kishan, he confessed that times were hard, and he was staring closure in the face if things didn’t pick up. Presumably they did, because he was open and active till the 13th of February, 2010, over 22 years after German Bakery’s inauguration.

On Saturday, February 13th, 2010, an Improvised Explosive Device ripped through German Bakery, killing 9, and injuring at least 45 persons. Random images of carnage greeted passers-by, in an attack believed to have been targeted at foreigners, or the Jewish Chabad house, located less than 400 metres away. Terrorist outfits are being implied darkly in discussions, impending bilateral talks are being touted as immediate provocations. Possible links to Mumbai are being investigated. Inevitably, a high-profile blame game will ensue, and outrageous statements will be made; ultimately, the powers-that-be will continue to fiddle as Home burns: their railings all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

And yet another loud bang will rip through the sunny afternoons of our collective consciousness, tearing through the peace, severed limbs and shattered viscera piercing the bubble of calm around our most precious memories.

                           German Bakery is Dead! Long Live German Bakery!

in the winter of our disconnect

A few days back, a man called balasaheb thackeray, aging tiger and ailing supremo of the shiv sena made a few snarky comments against sachin tendulkar- cricketing god and all-round nice guy (actually that phrase is more aaccurate the other way round – “cricketing nice guy and all-round god”).  The issue was Sachin’s comment about how he played for India, and not for the state of Maharashtra, and how Mumbai, his city, was for all indians. 

Balasaheb’s patronising manner was criticised by the papers, and his condescension ridiculed.  Some papers used it as a chance to twist the knife in further after the recent humiliating election drubbing, some others pointed at the sena’s increasing disaffection with the pulse of the people.  “Marathi Manoos” has suddenly become a funny buzz word, to be used in cheeky jokes and trying-desperately-to-be-vernacular English newspapers.

Then the Sena struck back.  The office of one of the offending papers was attacked, the editor roughed up, the receptionist slapped.  Escaping journalists were grabbed by the shirts on their backs : buttons popped, fabric ripped.  The sena was triumphant in its admission.  Yes, it was us, they said to anyone who would care to listen, and this is a warning, so please note.

There was media outrage, predictably.  The press angrily demanded just retribution, and the chief minister cooed, and tried to soothe ruffled feathers.  The issue was not about the marathi manoos, he said, it was about vandalism and petty populism.  The attacks were heinous, the perpetrators dastardly.

Then two days later, the chief min raised the marathi manoos issue again in public.  People who are local should be given priority for jobs, he said.  I shall take the matter up with the railway minster, he promised a cheering and adoring audience.

And the media continued to sullenly fold its arms and pout in offended disaffection.

Something does not make sense here.  Hooliganism is one thing, but hooliganism and post- ‘ganism chest- thumping is not usually par for the course, especially when it is such a sensitive issue and involves the greatest sportsman in the land. 

Generally, when a political party owns up to something, you can be sure that that “something” resonates with the approval of a significant number of people, of a group that is on its way to being considered a ‘majority’.  When a political party owns up to vandalism and wilful attacks on media, involving (however obliquely) a national hero, you can be sure that there’s support, even approval.

The bottom line is this: If there was no public support for the entire “maharashtra for maharashtrians” polemic, then it wouldn’t be made, stridently, from every available political pedestal that an avaricious neta can clamber upon.  The very fact that political parties make it a point to defer to linguistic chauvinism to define their ideology means that it resonates with their voting public, as well as with swing voters, disaffected and undecided.

Anyone who has travelled in the dusty bylanes of rural maharashtra will know that there are only two things that penetrate into the heart of the impoverished state: politics and cinema.  While this is true for almost all of the vast rural hinterland in India, in Maharashtra, that other great Indian Arterial presence : The Indian Railways, is conspicuous in its absence.

Cinema is paradoxical, because it is hindi cinema that thrives in the boondocks,  from slick SRK starrers to slimy sordid skinfests.  It is hindi cinema, certainly, but the sensibility it represents (NOT its context – most hindi cinema is exaggerated vaudeville of Punjabi ritual) is something that people feel they can ostensibly connect to, and revel in.

Politics, though, is ubiquitous.  And while each of us purse our lips in exasperation when we see political antics, and their unfortunate consequence, we spare very little thought for the core demographic for whom that elaborate charade is meant.  How many of us have travelled across villages in the country, outside of our own provincial “native places”?  And I don’t mean 79 photographs set against the quaint prettiness of Fatehpur Sikri or Khajuraho, but really travelling through unremarkable shanty towns and rural homesteads, filled with hopeless dreams and the grimy effluent of cities?  When villages are mentioned, how many of us imagine a SRK-less “Swades” landscape, or an amir khan-less Champaran?

For all most of us know, rural India could be anything from an 18th century feudal fief to a idyllic pastoral-paradise filled with belles and moustachioed villains at every corner.

If there is anyone who bothers to visit, or even tries to understand what the hinterland thinks, it is the local candidate, anxious to please, geared to ingratiate.

It is this knowledge that emboldens our political parties, this invaluable understanding of the “grassroots”.  And if the Sena and the MaNSa are pushing the marathi manoos plank, then it is because it finds currency with a significant section of that grassroots.

I am not for one moment condoning the violence and the hoologanism. I am also not for one moment condemning it.  But I do think that with the horrified, faux cosmopolitan and pseudo- liberal reaction to the controversy, urban India and the English media have truly exposed the extent of their disconnect with perspectives that other parts of the country consider justified.  Its as if among the many Indias that coexist in the one great India, two groups of competing India stand, unable to understand the other’s stance or vision.

Truly, this is the winter of our disconnect.

things the indian people are doing – 2 :: the mumbai wall project, tulsi road ::

Letter to an ex- mumbaikar:

” see! brilliant idea of bee-emm-cee!
  see! hordes of dreamers descend on pipe road, tulsi!
( http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=9822921861#/group.php?gid=9822921861 )
 
see! a row of dull gray transform into a wall of whimsy and wit!
see! lurid bollywood posters of “gair” & “aladin” plastered all over it!
 
(as amitabh glowers and snarls,  riteish plays the lover –
the ex- chief minister’s son, now returned to power)
 
see! righteous indignation galvanise sensitive bombay youth,
see  anger and disgust for publicity most uncouth.
( http://random.asfaq.com/less-than-24-hours-after-the-wallproject )
 
see striped-shirt man in far corner snigger,
(himself a much-maligned, cliched figure)
and whisper:
“yeh hai mumbai meri jaan!”
 
–     nirvana demon (2009)”

11 of october, 2009 :: things the indian people are doing – 1 ::

This column is inspired by the immensely popular “stuff white people like” [read http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/]

With significant differences, of course. I’m not white, for instance.  Neither am I christian (nor is my name Christian, for that matter). And most, importantly, Indians aren’t white.

Other attributes are also that they are not homogenous : scattered as they are across more than a couple millenia and a few thousand square kilometres in that faux-rhomboid subcontinent south of the himalayas and flanked by the seas. With a political identity that crystallised itself to its presentness only about 60 years back, (and with transplanted seeds scattered far and wide across the world: Jamaica, Durban, Mauritius, San Jose, Dubai, Toronto), Indianness is both an identity and a self-realisation… who is to say william dalrymple is not Indian, or that the swollen masses outside a soccer field in port au prince are…?

Yet there is a common thread that unites them all, and a common set of likely actions and predictable responses, a thread that broadly fits into the things that the indian people are doing…

Queuing

Its ironic, perhaps, that I begin this series with things Indians are not doing,  what they internalise not to do from a very young age, and what they eventually never learn to do until their dying day, where they would no doubt push and shove to get through the Pearly gates too (“me first! me first!! You bleddy Saint Peter, Do you know who my father is??”)

We were driving through the orderly streets of Durban’s downtown, and suddenly came to a chaotic junction where three cars converged on us, seemingly oblivious of the traffic lights… I turned to her and asked reflexly “Guess where the Indian part of town is!”  She rolled here eyes laterally towards the nearest samosa stall…

Indians hate queues. The fact that someone else should get ahead of me, merely because of having reached that part of the universe earlier, in that specific space-time continuum, is a fact that is abhorrent to every Indian. Queue after queue in front of ticket counters will be thrown into disarray by the one joker who barges up to the head, and tries to muscle his way to the head of the line. What adds insult to injury, of course, is how he will then proceed to turn and loudly berate the people behind him in the line “Why are you pushing me, yes? what-what is it that you are doing?”, or better still, the ones who turn with a sweet smile, and assure you that yes, this is just a small interruption, and he will be off once he is done with the small task of buying the ticket….

And as the snaking queue that stretches all the way to the main gate (and spilling into the road outside) shouts and screams at the interloper in one voice, he will react with equal fervour. His shameless persistence in the face of all berations or his baleful retreat in the face of insurmountable odds will determine his success in the larger Indian Rat Race, where a billion pushing, jostling, shoving mass will leave you behind, if you don’t struggle… to stay in the lead.

And his loud protestations will give a million reasons why he should be allowed to precede everyone else waiting patiently behind him: his urgency, his occupation, his dying grandmother, his broken-down car, his connections in the ruling party, his previous experience waiting in the same line, or, most importantly… his Father’s position in society… (jaanta nahin mera baap kaun hain?)

But that is the subject of another post.

 

22 july, 2009 :Global Warming and the Democratic Paradox:

Much of my attention of late has been directed towards the monumental waste of resources that I see around everyday, in Durban, with its first world cities (and third world villages – but thats the topc for another blog altogether), correlated with images from the US and the UK on my brief visits there in the past.

The amount of waste that is perpetrated by the developed world is staggering in the enormity of scale. Paper, electricity, water, petrol, diesel, edible food, the list is endless. It seems to me that being “developed” essentially means going to an incredible amount of discomfort in order to ensure comfort to yourself.

Maybe that is not exactly true, after all. The paradigms of reference vary, certainly. So while the discomfort is relative (the trouble of having to pay for purified drinking water- purified with an immense amount of energy expenditure and cost – just so that you can wash your clothes and flush it down ure drain), the comfort is a no-brainer, designed to make life simpler, easier, hassle-free, and predictable.

this perhaps explains why traffic rules work so well in the developed world, with drivers’ absolute willingness to stand in long queues behind capricious traffic lights just so that they may be able to travel at great speeds with the promise of increased safety.

This philosophy, however, does not seem to work for global warming. And herein lies the rub. the reality of our age is that global warming and large-scale environmental degradation are realities that are projected to take place in a foreseeable future, with largely uncertain effects. Yet, the irony is that their extent and actual impact are matters of projection, at best. The effects of environmental collapse can be only appreciated by a person who has spent sufficient time imagining the future, and who is able to have a very sophisticated understanding of the “if-then-else” loop of reasoning.

Simple though this reasoning may seem, it is sadly not very common.

Again, changes, if and when they come, would happen at a gradual pace – effecting a gradual erosion in our quality of life in a way and so as to allow for enough time for civilisation to adjust to it.

What this does mean is that in the case of environmental protection, people will very often be willing to disregard the long term deleterious effects of their actions if they imagine that the short term benefits are attractive enough.

It also makes the process of educating people difficult because all that you have by way of reasoning is the vague threat that things may slide into a dystopic future where matters will be out of hand, and that responsible behaviour will help you to live a vastly less profligate lifestyle for a longer time frame.

Maybe, if you’re lucky.

This is where systems of governments come into play. And where democracy tries so valiantly. And fails: so completely, so pathetically.

Democracy has the reputation of something of a sacred cow in the world we live in today. It is seen as the best system of governance, and countries have been invaded in its name. Regimes have been toppled, rulers deposed, and the will of many people squashed because of the modern  (essentially wetsern) belief that democracy will solve most of the nation’s worries.

I do not want to go into the relative merits or demerits of the system. That is the topic of another post.

But democracy, as we know it: a system of government consisting of proportional representation of the citizens of the country, who are assisted and guided by the executive and judiciary, is not a system that is known for its long-sightedness. One of the important aspects of democracy is the fact that governments have a finite lifetime, after which they have to seek the approval of the electorate again. It follows, therefore, that to retain the favour of the electorate, a government shall have to take popular decisions that shall ensure another term in office.

It is within the dictates of electoral compulsion, and onlycorrect within the mandates of a democratic election, that a group of elected representatives should strive to take the decisions that the majority would support.

Herein lies the rub. So while elected governments will see it as morally justified, even pertinent, that they safeguard the immediate interests of their citizens, the long-term decisions (that may be uncomfortable in the short term and may have questionable effects in the long term) may be put on the back burner.

And why not? Governments do not fret about the world that they are handing down to their successors, 20 years into the future. Hell, the incumbents don’t even bother about the poor gits who’re coming in after them in a month’s time! This is is entirely different from, say, a monarchy, where the king has a vested interest in preserving and nourishing the kingdom for future generations, since succession is most often lineal.

This does not in any way mean that I am suggesting that monarchy is better or worse than democracy.

In fact, it does not even mean that I am suggesting that democratically elected governments are incapable of saving the environment.

But it certainly means that there will need to be an incredible amount of vision and concerted effort, and a will to think beyond the next general elections, if a democratic government based on popular consensus is to have a realistic chance of making long-term decisions that improve conditions and forge a new way forward.

That takes courage, and maturity, and selflessness. Because after all the considered thought and concerted action, the opposition may just win at the hustings by trumpeting the obvious current shortcomings of the government. Charges which would be impossible to disown, without scare-mongering about a nebulous future.

This is the democratic paradox, and it will be interesting to see how we shall negotiate it in the years to come.

16 Jul 2009 : :the unbearable heaviness of being (indian) part 3

It has been a long time since I have written, and while that may not mean anything to you, o occasional reader, o itinerant wayfarer, to me it represents a great departure indeed, after months of indolence. The motivation to stretch and move, to coax my tired digits to clatter over the keys and beat out the tattoo of a new blog post, is one that does not come easily, which requires practice and regular effort.

Yet this is here, and I am in Durban, and the excitement of a new universe opening itself before my eyes like the petal pink folds of a nautilus shell, is one that has to be discussed, and shared, and written down for future perusal, and reflection.

Durban is a port city, and home to a fascinating mix of people: of Indian, African, European and Mixed descent. Indeed, one of the first things a Durbanite will enquire after referring to a person will be the appropriate racial box that you can check them under (like “…so this is your family friend? Her name’s Barbara? She’s white, eh?”)

The totally unselfconscious way in which these people seek to know the racial origins of everyone they interact with is disarming in its directness. To people used to the almost aseptic political correctness of the United States or the UK, it represents the conversational equivalent of a loud fart (with concomitant malodorous accompaniments) in a packed elevator. There is a sudden widening of the pupils, and an effort to keep the twitching facial muscles under check.

It is interesting for me to see this, coming from an Indian perspective, and watching the racism from within the view of the community that identifies itself as Indian.

The Indians in South Africa are different from the expatriate Indians in the US, or say, the UK. And while this can be said of Indians in almost any part of the world, the south African Indians are reportedly the second largest concentration of Indians in any place outside of India, (till recently, the largest).

This makes them a group certainly worthy of attention and study, and their difference from other expats is thus significant.

Yet, it is this terminology of being Indian that is problematic. Because of course, “Indian” is not a racial type exactly, and though there might be an overall way of behaving and of dress and culture and attitude that is prevalent among people from the subcontinent, it is sufficiently diverse as to render any common grouping fairly irrelevant.

To elaborate on my favourite thesis, India is like Europe, and to think that there is a commonality to all of Europe that manifests in ways besides the Euro and EU summits would be a little simplistic.

Anyway, all that is neither here nor there, because the Indians in South Africa came here when India was not the nation we now know, when it was a huge conglomerate of colonies administered by the British. So all people of South Asian origin, from present-day Pakistan and Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka, are identified as Indian. The majority of Indians came in the 1800’s, brought in by the british, as indentured labour to work on the plantations. Following this, they set up shop, as small businessmen and traders in the cities, and proliferated and grew.

There was also a smaller community who came about a century before, but the overwhelming majority today are the 1800-ers.

anyway, after 1948, the South African government banned the further immigration of Indians into the country, following which India also passed an embargo against them. It got messy, and there were situations where people who married women in India (as indians are wont to do, of course 🙂 were not allowed to bring their brides into the country.

All this changed in 1994, when the country became a democracy, and equality was ensured by law. But not before ensuring that the primacy of racial identity was forever ingrained in the worldview of the south African Indians, without a commensurate level of contact with the subcontinent.

So we have here a situation where the India that the south africans were forced to identify with was a country that was carried forward in the collective consciousness in a group of immigrants, about 100 years before, and with all the resulting bastardizations of the process of migration and settling.

It created a fascinating mix, and thus we have the Indian community here, which barely speaks any Indian language fluently, and have not traveled to India in the past 2 generations at least. But a community which identifies fiercely with India, and what it sees as common Indian values and traditions.

 

(next post: marriage laws in pre-’94 South Africa)

Previous Older Entries