The affirmation of an outsider

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 AchaHind Desh ke NivaasiJanmakaarini 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.

Looking ahead by looking back

My friends tell me I am always in a mad rush to change things, people, the world – both things I can influence and things I can’t. I know that. It manifests itself in the impatience (that has also quadrupled during my 8 years in McKinsey) with which I regard situations, in the passion with which I throw myself into things I love, in this jumbled mish-mash of my hyper-focused short attention span combined with an-almost contrarian risk aversion.

And that is unfortunate. Because in this tumult of running around just to keep with what I want to do, there have been casualties.

I found this over the weekend, when I sat down to read my blog archives. In my first post ever (incidentally, in 2004 on a blogger address called Mumble Jumble, because why not?),  I tapped in not-very-vast reservoirs of anger to rant about slow internet speeds, spam and limited-size email inboxes.

And over the course of the next three hours, I read the book of my life (ages 19 to 30-something) as jotted down by a capricious teenager who was faced with the enormity of growing up and becoming her own person.

I still like her – that 19 year old Shruti. She seems manic – running from one thought to another with nary a breathing space. She is naive and the knowledge of the rest of her life hasn’t fully hit her yet. The troubles, thus far, in her life haven’t made her jaded or cynical, though she really wants to be. And she is fun, so fun.

Her writing has the same quality. It is breathless, moving from one topic to another at the speed of light (the way I still think, incidentally) and utilises way too many exclamation marks and unbound ellipses (Like this!!!!…..). It is imaginative – running the gamut from useless advice columns and fake book covers to the creation of a whole new character, Shruti Fraud. It is intimate – she made inside jokes to her regular readers with a wink and nudge; in fact, learning that she had regular readers inspired another breathless I-can’t-believe-it post. And most of all, it is personal – that young version of me treated her blog like a diary, ripping band-aids in public, whilst keeping the story private.

And like Google coming and solving that terrible limited-inbox problem, I have grown up into someone the 19-year old would not fully recognise. Yes, some of the quirks still remain, including the perpetual clumsiness and the manic-ness that has morphed into a self-aware undercurrent of impatience.

She would approve of what the 31 year old has done – she’s gone to a good school, got a great job that lets her travel the world, found her place in the world FINALLY (India is not kind to women who don’t conform to the norm of expectations), broken/mended her heart a few times (“Not to anyone inappropriate, surely”, she’d muse) and become more comfortable asserting her authority.

And, everyday I try and over-plan my future and try to reconcile my life and my ambitions, I forget how far I have come. And that, to be entirely fair to the 19 or even 25-year old me, is inexcusable. Because to look forward is also to look back sometimes and pat yourself on the back. It’s been a long journey but I really do think it’s been worth it.

While approving of the general direction, the 19-year old would wonder, “But what about your hobbies? What about writing? Singing and twirling in the house with abandon? Doodling in all corners of your books? What happened to all the manic energy you put into creative pursuits? Why have you stopped? And, and, and… what about your friends?”

And for that, I need to start making amends. Consider this step 1.

Cutting a Tale Short

Yes. You don’t have to tell me. I am short.

Haha.

Yes, I know… I’d probably need a fairly large stool to see eye to eye with you.

No, my name is not Shorty. No, it’s not Shrimpy either. Grr.

You can thank your German/Dutch genes that I get a crick in my neck just looking at you.Thankyouverymuch.

BUT, it’s not funny when 5,000 of you gang up into one huge mass of humanness that then proceeds to get wasted and bop its collective head to trash metal that can only be called heartstopping. Really.

And the only view I have ends approximately at all your armpits.

Fast forward

One day, my friend, you will meet her.

She’ll make your heart quicken a bit, she’ll make you happy.

It won’t be love at first sight.

You will enjoy her company, you will want to spend time with her.

You will seek happiness in her laughing eyes and comfort in her company.

She will always be there for you.

You will get married to her.

The marriage won’t be perfect. There will be fights. Which couple doesn’t fight?

But you will know, one day, that this is meant to be.

This, my friend, is your destiny.

Till then, keep searching.

The Quarter Life Crysis

The time when every end of the month brings you a monthly paycheck on your account and your heart soars- just a little.

The time when things become just a little clear, like looking through a fogged up window and just seeing the Promised Land a little far away. And then you wonder, how transient the mirage will be. The Jews were never, after all, left in peace in their own homeland.

The time when you laugh for your friends, and you grieve with them, but then suddenly wake up and realise that you need to take care of yourself. Noone’s going to do you THAT favour.

The time when, on one hand, you have realised that you simply do not want to sacrifice your independence- travelling where you want to, enjoying the books you want to, spending nights driving around aimlessly, talking to a million people, cooking when you want to, eating out when you want to and heck, sleeping till 1 PM if you want to. On the other hand, hoping, suddenly, just to have someone to share all these whims with.

The time that your relatives pointedly ask you, “So, when are YOU getting married?”. The time that you roll your eyes at your parents and shrug. The time that you beg for more time, just because there’s so much more you want to do with your life.

The time that you get a million mass wedding invitations in your mailbox and think, “Why?” Then, you go and discuss with your (very few) single (mostly male now) friends about what a pity it is that people are in such a hurry to get settled.

After all, you don’t want to, right? And, somehow, both of you know that’s not the whole truth.

The Quarter Life Crysis. You’re just yet another confused twenty year old.