What's your identity? Finding one's center.

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“The world is always in a movement.” Sir V. S. Naipaul

While going through identity conundrum, one wonders about what’s his or her real identity? What about a Srilankan orphan rescued from Jaffna bombing and adopted by Scandinavian parents? Or a Gujarati kid whose ancestors have lived for two generations in Uganda, still gobbles on Dhoklas, with his family migrating to Manchester after being kicked out by Idi Amin? Or whats the identity of you and me, searching their identities on internet? Where do we actually belong?

Of course, we all belong to the mother earth. And that would be the wittiest and an absolute answer to this identity riddle. But, let’s focus on Indian diaspora spread from tiny islands of Fiji to the tiny Djibouti on African horn. Indians are almost everywhere like British origin people. Difference is simply that British had spread colonising all these lands, may be shortly marrying to local people, and their progenies carrying these identities. While Indians have spread as migrating labours of all kinds, from a farmer toiling in a shimmering heat of Africa to somebody sipping coffee in silicon valley.

In his book "Finding the center" searching for his identity, V. S. Naipaul travels all the way to an Indian village where he meets an old lady who talks in Caribbean. Man gets surprised but not quite a lot as she belongs to her own story where people have migrated long back to West Indies. While she returned back to her roots and found her real identity, Naipaul himself couldn’t. His search for identity echoes in his books like “House of Mr. Biswas” also.

Rukshana Smith writes in her book “Sumitra’s story” about her confused state in Manchester when her family got kicked out by Idi Amin from Uganda. It wasn’t easy for her to switch from a tropical country to the cold unpredictable Manchester, that too carrying an African heavy accent and Indian heritage. What would this chapati-eating Afro-Indian girl do in Manchester? Of course there are plenty of Chapati-eaters in Britain, but not many some have spent generations in Africa. Well, those were 70s and now thousands of Indians like Rukshana are already in many counties. Yet, none of them know their true identities, or one should say 'live' their identities.

One of the conclusions, people have drawn post-world war II and many migrations later, that one needs to live their identity even if he or she migrates. This is contradictory to the common perception that one needs to completely integrate with the local culture, and leave behind their past identity. What people funnily call ABCD (American born confused desis) is simply a mocking remark to second-generation Indians who would never be called an American in spite of being raised as Americans. Their next generation would also be called of an Indian origin, and the coming many generations too. May be some of them who have cross-bred long enough and finally turn into hip-hopping Nickie Menaj may forget their roots. But, most would still be searching for their identities.

The only way one can get rid of this never-ending chimeric puzzle is, to keep two identities or may be plenty of identities. As William Dalrymple mentions in his book "Age of Kali'' regarding Reunion island, where he found a Tamil descendent with vermillion marks on his head, an Afro guy casting some magic spells, and an Islam fellow too. All under one roof in one family. They could have well transformed into french people in this french island, but none of them actually did. They speak french, follow french laws, yet have culinary habits from their ancestors, and the religious or mythical pasts too. They couldn't be termed 'confused' because they simple aren't. They now their 'identity' pretty well.


1 Comment

Singular identity myth is debunked.

There is a serious problem with the concept of 'singular identity' and generalized stereotypes formed around those singular identities seem quite odd and fallacious to me. I have always believed in fluidity of identity. If I take my example, my grand parents migrated from west Punjab to east Punjab to western UP to finally settle in eastern MP which is now Chhattisgarh. And then in Raipur, the capital of Chhattisgarh, I was born and raised in a very cosmopolitan environment. Though there was a part of me that felt an affinity with my Punjabi heritage but in some way I considered myself more a Raipurian than Punjabi.
And now as I with my wife and children have migrated from that cosmopolitan town Raipur in India to an equally cosmopolitan city Birmingham in the UK, there's hardly anything Punjabi left in our children. They can hardly speak a word of Punjabi, struggle to speak proper Hindi and speak fluent English in the weird Brummie accent which I still struggle to catch even after having lived here for 18 years. They prefer Italian pizza and pasta to Indian curries and British fish and chips, are more into punk pop and hip-hop than Jazz, Bollywood or Bhangra, follow Rugby and Football and show no interest in watching IPL. So what is their identity? A mere tag of 'British Indian' would be quite improper and unfair. And yet they are not confused about their identity. I agree, they know who they are but they would hate to stick any label on their identity as I did when I was their age.

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