Saturday, September 24, 2011

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!

7 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?

தக்குடு said...

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