I am an outsider in every country I find myself in.
In the Western world, they see a brown Indian woman who comes from an exotic land filled with colour, spices and promise.
“We LOVE Slumdog Millionaire,” they say, happy to talk about that foreign land of heat, poverty and cows.
I grit my teeth, because I, like every other Indian, hate the movie with a burning passion (“like the light of a billion suns, my Lord“).
But the words for me, anywhere I go, would stay the same – I am an expat in polite terms, an immigrant when countries are determining their immigration policies.
In India, I am in the convenient box that is framed “minority” because of my religion.
And we are told by our government’s even more right wing to embrace ghar waapsi. My religion makes my country nervous – even though we have been part of the fabric of the country for the past 2000 years, my ancestors owned land and paid allegiance to the same kings that my Nair brethren did and the only thing that gives us away as other are our family names, or rather surnames*.
I grew up going to church on weekends (and high holidays and fasting, like all good nasranis), singing hymns in a mix of Malayalam and Syriac**.
On weekdays, I was a patriotic Indian child of the Armed Forces, who went to a government school. I sang a Sanskrit/Hindi prayer, patriotic songs (Saare Jahaan se Acha, Hind Desh ke Nivaasi, Janmakaarini Bhaaratam) in all languages***, learnt and recited Sanskrit shlokas, contorted myself into yoga positions (my class’s favourite asana– Shavasana) and saluted to the national anthem everyday.
And I didn’t think that was a dichotomy at all. Because, being Indian was about embracing the weirdness of experience and the plurality of our being. Even more, being a Malayali meant being ridiculously tolerant of religions – being equal opportunity recipients/sufferers of Christmas, Onam, Vishu, Bakrid or passing by Palayam which boasted not only of monuments to three different religions, but also a stadium, a monument erected by the communists and if you looked behind it, Kerala University.
And that was that. Till it wasn’t.
The rise of populism and majoritarian politics is obvious in hindsight. However, as an outsider in every country I live in AND a bleeding heart feminist liberal to boot, it troubles me.
Because… the majority need not fear the minority. There is nothing an extremist from a minority can do that you haven’t thought of and done to yourself.
Because… unity does not mean uniformity. If these few years are the last throes of hyper-nationalism, let’s get it over with. Homogeneity, however, does not bring peace and prosperity. You need to look at better education to be able to do that.
Because… goodness is not the bastion of only the godly, nor is violence (in action and words) the last refuge of the heretics.
Because… I would like to reclaim my life back from people who label me as the other. I have the same pride in my heritage and my same/unique-ness as these people who glory in their rightness. Because, I promise you, you are an outsider to someone else.
*We use patronymics like all other South Indians, i.e., my surname George is not my family name – it’s supposed to be my father’s given name (it’s not, but that is for another reason altogether) and hence, my surname. So there’s that too.
**Old Aramaic, similar to what Jesus would have actually spoken on the Sea of Galilea. “But Jesus speaks ENGLISH,” scream some Evangelicals. And I am going to ask them to shut up now.
***Because… Kendriya Vidyalaya.