Thursday, February 28, 2013
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
"Will this make the coolest profile photo or what?"
Something's been bugging me for quite a while now. Growing up in what used to be oh-so-politically-incorrectly called "the third world", I always tried to dissociate myself from my country. Obviously, educational biases tried to encourage my "Indianness", and my high school force fed us a "Hindi week" and a mandatory Indian dress code for large gatherings, but all this didn't really get me where it counted. I never thought it was cool.
So I experimented with Anglophilia, and then immediately felt bad for wanting to buy anything with the Union Jack on it (even though it's oh so pretty!), because the British were "the colonizers", and really, was I that much of an insecure traitor?
So what's the next best thing (because obviously, Europe and Europeans are the coolest. God forbid I find anyone of a darker hue to be as awesome)? France! France was beautiful, French was beautiful, the French were beautiful, la cuisine was beautiful; what's not to love? And last, but certainly not least, they never colonized India. Not for a significant enough time for any grudges, anyway. But after a while, no matter how many French films I watched (subtitled of course. Learning a language is so much harder than learning a few key phrases and mastering pronunciation. Merci pour le whiskey gratuit, mon nouveau ami, Pierre!). But then I found out, as one usually does in this cold, harsh world, that the Francophones were not very accepting of those that were different. It had nothing to do with the horror tales of racism and exclusion I'd heard from generations past. It was more about a common understanding of French slang, French popular culture, French mannerisms. If you hadn't grown up French, you couldn't just fake it. You were either cool enough to pull off a Picasso-esque Brittany striped shirt and a beret, or you weren't. Paris for example, was excruciating conversationally. No real friends were made, le sigh.
Naturally, I moved on to embrace Americanization, because, really, how could you not in this Pepsi-loving, McDonalds' guzzling world? They were so much more inclusive (on the outside). And even though, essentially, America is the brunt of many of the world's jokes (nobody tell them, they still think they're the coolest, and that World War II actually started in 1941, the silly dears!), it has shaped the global mindset so completely and subtly, whether it's through film and television or music and fashion. I am a little bit embarrassed to say that I am 100% a product of that after school education. All of my popular culture references are American. I begrudgingly admit, with my head hanging in shame, to being a masala hot dog (Indian on the outside, American on the inside. I made that term up. Woot).
South Park creators' "Team American: World Police" is so in-your-face, it's brilliant social commentary. And for those who take it at face value, congratulations on marrying your sister.
So why did I ignore the most obvious kind of patriotism, i.e. that towards my own nationality? Because I'm pretty sure I welled up in history class when I was taught about those who fought in the war of independence. And I'm quite positive that the origins of vedic brahmanism and the introduction of sufism and every other religion in South Asia excites me. And my passport, my delicious, unassuming little dark blue book with the worst photo of me imaginable, that I carry everywhere, in all my travels, is my pride and joy [update, life experience has made me less fond of it: post "Travel Fury"]. What then was my reason for shirking my own country when it came to the "cool" factor?
I have absolutely no idea. This requires more research, but I do know that we need to make India cool again. Not since the 1970s, when the government was still Non-Aligned and pro-socialism, and my parents were wearing bellbottoms and smoking pot, has Indianness been something to be proud of abroad. All the tradition and history and diversity means nothing when you're out in the first world. Either you're white, or you're "exotic", and in the case of the latter, you will be treated with a greater degree of reverence and understanding which can distance you from the colloquia. Being treated better is a terrible anti-equalizer. It's like when that one rich kid came to school in a Bentley. Nobody will truly associate with you on the level of a peer if they can't relate to you, and if they have to treat you special.
I call upon the rest of my generation that hasn't abandoned our homeland to study abroad in colder, whiter climes. Youth of India, make us cool again. Without using bastardized versions of Indian culture that has been "cleaned up" for the western context. Dhanyavaad and namaste.