Skip to main content

Becoming British, Being Indian


The other day I had been to the Indian High Commission in London. I had heard horror stories about the chaos and lack of order at our national HQ in the UK that I was pleasantly surprised at how organised everything was. I took my ticket, found myself a seat and got waiting. It was a long wait and as you do on when you have time weighing heavy on your hands, I got talking to the lady next to me. Mrs. Kapoor had come to the UK as a newly wed in 1969, surrendered her Indian passport when she took British citizenship in 1975 and like me, was there to get her Overseas Citizen of India card. Her siblings and other relatives were passing away regularly and she reckoned, with all the resignation of the frequently bereaved, that she could not be hanging about for a visa to go to India when she was required urgently there and that she needed a permanent visa that an overseas Indian citizenship accorded.

It was only when I had settled into my seat that I realised that I had not eaten anything since morning. Not wanting to risk being away when my token number was called, I decided to go hungry. For some strange reason (most likely hunger), I told Mrs. Kapoor how I had missed dinner the previous night and was too rushed in the morning to have anything more than a cup of tea. Now, she began with a voice of one who has been there and done precisely that, you wouldn't have forgotten to feed your children if you had brought them with you, would you? No, I wouldn't have. I would have packed food for eight children, even though I only have a couple. Shouldn't you be looking after yourself?, she continued to admonish in that tone that, in an instant took away 33 years of my life. After ensuring that I was not diabetic (if I was, I dare not admit to her for fear of more reprimand), she proceeded to fish out of her bag a packet of dry crackers and a small bar of chocolate.

Eat now, she ordered briskly brushing away my feeble protests like the crumbs from the crackers.  Tentatively I took a single biscuit. More, she cried thrusting a few more from the packet into my now unresisting hands. Food is good only when it is shared, she noted as she bit off a cracker.

A more Indian gesture could not have been made. That of offering food to strangers. I used to see it happen regularly on trains in India. I remember how for many years, my brother would go hungry on long distance trains because he used to feel awkward about eating his food alone and at the same time, he was too shy to offer it others. On a particularly bad day several years ago in Bombay, a kindly neighbour I had only known briefly, offered a whole box of 'kozhukattais' that she had made earlier and thus lifted my spirits instantly. This compulsion to feed others seems ingrained in Indians.

And there it was, my epiphany. Mrs. Kapoor and I, two Indians who had surrendered our Indian passports in favour of a British one. And yet carried on being very, very Indian in a tiny corner of London. I bit into the chocolate square that was being offered to me. It never tasted sweeter.


(I am aware that I have let Tide slide. Will get writing again soon. - a)

Comments

glad to see you blogging again! :) Loved the post - only an Indian origin aunty can so effortlessly take complete responsibility for your well-being within five minutes of knowing you :)

In the time it takes a tight lipped westerner to ask, "Oh, If I'm not curious, can I know what you had for lunch?", the Indian aunty will know everything about you and your grandmother, right down to your family's history of diabetes :)One simply cannot be more efficient!
SUR NOTES said…
lovely blog post.
Alien said…
So very true.... wherever we be I guess its inevitable that we continue to carry a small part of where we come from... be it in our words, thoughts and at times in our subconscious gestures....
Kookaburra said…
almost felt like I met that kind lady ... lovely post ... could imagine how it feels! I have this strange opinion that first generation citizens and second generation immigrants preserve the most precious aspects of our culture - as if they were given a choice of which part to keep and pass on and which part to leave out - the beauty of language and warmth of culture is pretty obvious with the first generation immigrants and second generation kids! Sometimes it is pretty peculiar and unexpected and hence interesting! Simplest example is the tamil be Srilankan tamils! Lots of subtle enjoyable examples in North America ... You captured a very beautiful one.
Anonymous said…
I haven't commented here often. I just want to say i love your writing!

Best wishes,
Anjali
ammani said…
Thank you all! It was not intended as a comparison to show one way as being better than the other. It was just a small observation and one which resonated particularly well with me.
Deepa said…
...and with me too. Havent come here in ages and feels god after reading this one. especially.

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 …