Skip to main content

Becoming British - 1

I am no longer hysterical like I was when the letter came through the post a few weeks ago. "But this can’t be right", I wailed dramatically to my friends, "I don’t look British. My dark skin belies the pale English sun." I was distraught when our application for taking up British nationality was approved. Suddenly, I felt like I had sided with the colonial oppressors as portrayed in Tamil movies and had earned the technicolour wrath of all our movie heroes who played freedom fighters.

Mine was not a reaction I had foreseen. After all, I was the one who had pushed for naturalisation in the first place. I wanted to travel around Europe more and getting a visa each time we needed to leaves these shores was a nightmare. A British passport would open doors more readily for us and it seemed the obvious thing to do.

And yet, when the reality of becoming a British citizen and what we would have to do in order to be formally included sunk in, I became agitated. First, to become a British national, I would have to surrender my Indian passport. Indian citizenship is like a monogamous relationship that demands exclusivity from you. However, it’s a polyamourous relationship if I had a British passport at birth. I could be a citizen of any other country while still pledging my allegiance to the Queen. Next, becoming a naturalised Briton meant a tacit acceptance of something a little more uncomfortable to come to terms with. That Britain was now home.

There are many things I love about living in this country. There is a refreshing lack of sacred cows. Nothing is beyond gentle ribbing. At the height of the royal wedding extravaganza, there was a comic on tv who remarked if a mere wedding could generate such a lot of global interest, imagine how popular a public hanging of the Windsors would be. I cannot imagine that sort of a remark being made about Periyaar or that holier than holy cow Ambedkar. No one got offended or sent out a Public Interest Litigation. It barely caused a ripple.

I’m forever amused by British fascination and irreverence for an archaic and anachronistic institution such as the monarchy, its love for self-deprecation, its maddeningly polite demeanour (I once saw a lady thank a cash machine), its ridiculous obsession with its gardens. There are several things that would be a parody were it not so real. And yet, it is in this over-regulated country that I have been my most comfortable. I am not worried about what other people think and can simply get on with my life. I don’t feel vulnerable or threatened or feel the weight of oppressive tradition dictating my life. I could wear what I please and pretty much go where I wanted without a thousand questions being raised. This place simply lets me be. And what a blessed relief that has been.

So getting a red passport would seem like a natural step in the direction. Yet, somewhere deep within it feels like treason. And I sense a billion pair of eyes boring down on me.

(to be continued…)

p.s. I have used 'citizenship' and 'nationality' interchangably'. Please don't get technical on me.

p.p.s. These are personal observations and if there is to be any argument, I would appreciate if it is not allowed to degenrate. Thank you!

Comments

Shyam said…
Each time i come across an Indian changing citizenship, I feel extremely let down. I suppose you are right when you say that there are no holycows or PILs in Britain. There is no denying that they are a better society. But , I believe that those of us, who have had an opportunity to see the world , can come back and show our people that there is a better way to lead life. I see , on very few Chennai roads, women jogging and I see hope for a better tomorrow. We were a country ruined by the British and we need more time & many fine people to aid the ongoing transformation. Your blog tells me that you are one such person.

I hope that one day you shall return to the cage and break it open to set yourself and many others free...

PS: Actually its more like 2.4 billion eyes boring upon you..
mim said…
i used to be pretty "indian" loyal myself. but my pov changed after i began to read the writings of paramahansa yogananda...

here's what he said ...


'World' is a large term, but man must enlarge his allegiance, considering himself in the light of a world citizen... A person who truly feels: 'The world is my homeland; it is my America, my India, my Philippines, my England, my Africa,' will never lack scope for a useful and happy life. His natural local pride will know limitless expansion; he will be in touch with creative universal currents.
ummon said…
first, good luck on all the travel that's coming up!
ha, and next and rest...
am fed up with this concept of nationalism and patriotism and what have you.
just because you cling on to your original passport doesn't score any points for you.

abhi, abhi, now you are a brit
you have your name in a red book writ
so little love for bharat mata!
is that because of the ethics of our neta?
Got a nice read in your blog......
ammani said…
Thank you all for your comments.
Shyam, I understand and appreciate what you are saying. But surely we all want to live without needing to turn our lives into some kind of mission statement?
Mim, a very timely quote that.
Ummon, I know you have expressed these sentiments before. But look at it this way, I will not need a visa to come visit you now. So we can settle an argument over a cuppa.
Kookaburra said…
finally I got the time to comment ... it has been a treat to read your latest two blogs ... especially in these two weeks when I driving myself nuts trying to getting this "settling in Canada" dream happen for prax. I barely see myself passionately wishing for this emigration, but I have nothing patriotic to say either! :) I am just a person of comfort and feel very challenged to leave familiar places and strangely true that I agree with prax when he says sometime North America feels more familiar when India frustrates! :) ... I love challenges but not too many - not for long run ... If emigration leads us to "settlement" in its fullest sense, then it becomes "comfortable" and nationality barely matters to me. But at this age, somehow I am starting to hate winter in upper latitudes though - Goa spoilt me - I hated the monsoon there though :) ... May be only June-Sep I should be in upper lats! :)

Its nice to hear somebody thinking through this and wondering about it all ...
Anonymous said…
Congratulations to our Brit niece from your American Uncle and Aunt.
Naga Mama, Brindha mami

You May Also Like

Guest blog by Chinna Ammani

Here’s an interesting write-up by Chinna Ammani on stereotypical portrayals in Indian adverts. The opinion expressed is strong and the language uncompromising. Read at your own peril!-a

The Aiyaiyo Syndrome

These days I do what is called as a shooting supervision. When ads are filmed (with lip sync) in Tamizh, my job is to teach models their lines and rehearse with them. Most of them are from Mumbai and are non-Tamilians. So when they have to do a line in Tamil, for example "Adanaaladan Dettol ubayogikaren" (And that's why I use Dettol) , they invariably say "Aadanaladaanu naanu Detttaalu ubayogikkareanu" (Something hideous). Their exaggerated delivery of our supposed accent is all thanks to Hindi actor Mehmood. My blood pressure rises and I yell "DO NOT DO A MEHMOOD HERE. WE DO NOT SPEAK LIKE THAT".

Though their voice is dubbed later with a Tamil voice-over, I ensure that they pronounce it the non-Mehmood way. Mehmood has done this major damage to us So…

Bio-data

Married for 31 years, 2 months and 17 days
Six cups coffee a day, brewed everyday of marriage
Three meals a day,
At least two dishes cooked, each meal-time
One snack for every Sunday
Big basket of clothes ironed every Tuesday
Average 18 items of clothing washed per day
Three children
1 miscarriage
One mother-in-law suffered
900 sq metre of floor space mopped, once a day
One caesarean endured
3 chicken poxes, 2 measles, 2 fractures, 8 diarrhoeas, depression, conjunctivitis every summer, 1 tonsilitis and countless common colds and flues
1 job held for 29 years
6 hours slept every night
Sex tolerated every 2nd week
Religious rituals everyone of them, carried out
Not one of them, believed in
Lived 52 years and some
Died exhausted

Overheard, “At least she had the satisfaction of having lived for her family”


http://jikku.blogspot.com/2005/02/quick-tale-3.html#c111042815438237631

The Saturday Poem

Found this in yesterday's paper. Again, I wish I'd written it.

-a

Now and Then

"Now that I'm fifty-seven",
My mother used to say,
"Why should I waste a minute?
Why should I waste a day

Doing the things I ought to
Simply because I should?
Now that I'm fifty-seven
I'm done with that for good."

But now and then I'd catch her
Trapped in some thankless chore
Just as she might have been at
Fifty-three or fifty-four

And I would say to her
(And I have to bite my tongue)
That if you mean to learn a skill
It's well worth starting young

And so, to make sure I'm in time
For fifty, I've begun
To do exactly as I please
Now that I'm thirty-one.

-Sophie Hannah

Lost in Post

To a little boy

It cannot be easy being you. A follow-up act to your more devilishly charming, flamboyant older brother. Before you were born, I was convinced that no child could ever take the special place your brother had come to occupy in my life. I used to argue with your father you would always be a second-born. A runner-up. A bridesmaid (or a best-man, as you turned out to be). That you could never be the prized, cherished, celebrated apple of my eye that my firstborn child was. But how easily you tore down my flimsy little conviction. The minute I saw you, I knew I was gone. What was worse, I succumbed willingly.

My fears that you would be overshadowed by your brother have proven unfounded. Over the past year, you have come into your own as a person. Your brother demands and challenges our love and attention. You, on the other hand, are much more accepting of our distractions with him. It is almost as if you understand that he is used to being the star of the show for much of his…

I ask, you write

Okay, here's the idea. I ask you a question and you write a short story explaining it. Let me give you an example.

What happened when young Padmavathi was drawing water from the well to wash her clothes, early one Margazhi morning?

Annon's story

One morning when Padmavathi was drawing water from the well, she found Pettai Rowdy # 1 Govindarajulu inside the bucket! She dropped it at once and Govindarajulu went down and down and hit the bottom of the well with a Nung sound. His upper and lower teeth fused together and since then he has been fed intravenously. Pettai Rowdy # 2, Ragothaman Iyengar, who suggested this to Govindarajulu, now rules the roost.

After marrying Padmavathi, he is inviting all of you to a water drawing ceremony at the new well they dug in their house.

Jai Ragothaman Iyengar! Jai Padmavathi! Come one, Come all!

-

Here's a question for you.

What happened that made young Meenakshi change her mind about the parrot green saree she had originally chosen and go for a …