Aamchi Mumbai to blighted blighty

Posted on March 14, 2011 | Author: Sudeshna Sen | View 914

artical Picture It’s technically almost spring. Or that’s what we’d like to think it is, with occasional flashes of blue skies and daffodils. These days, everyone I know is engaged in our bi-annual second-guess-theweather game. The rule is, the day you decide to dryclean your winter gear, vacuum-seal them with mothballs and put them away, the thermometer will immediately plunge below zero. So yes, it’s a kind of gamble about when to take that crucial decision.

Me, I’m too lazy to do anything about it yet. But when I was chatting with a friend the other day, I suddenly realised I’m localising — participating in local urban superstitions. I even claim I can smell spring in the air. Ouch.
And then, last week, I was with a group of mixed international journalists, and found myself actually defending, of all things, the weather and even the completely dysfunctional tube — especially in front of those continental Europeans. Spring or no, I’m going to go into a severe depression. If I really start localising — what am I going to be snarky about?

If I can’t laugh myself silly over the antics of the Brits, from a suitably distant vantage, all I’m left with is shades of grey skies. Even more ouch. Before I got hysterical, I did a complete self-diagnostic, and made lists. Do I obsess about the weather? Check. Have I carved my political affiliations in stone? I’m getting there. The first time I had to vote in this country, I went along for fun, and randomly ticked boxes. Now, I actually know who the candidates are, what their parties stand for, and even have a view.

I can even make British food edible (yes, I know that sounds impossible, but it can be done, really). Did I go trooping off to see The King’s Speech the week it released, way before anyone except the Brits thought it was worth a dekko? Check. Do I get intensely irritated every time I’m in India and people just ditch at the last minute on everything? Check. I have to admit to heaving a sigh of relief when Cameron & Co decided to back off from their plans to sell off vast swathes of forest land to private owners.

There’s hope for me though. I still refuse to watch EastEnders — there’s just this much one can do in pursuit of cultural research — even though I can’t avoid knowing what happened on The X Factor, Dancing on Ice, Doctor Who, or to Charlie Sheen. I still go ballistic when some hapless European mistakenly classifies me with British Asians, and treat them to a lecture on the history of migration, the empire, the difference between Indians and East Africans of Indian origin, and other south Asian countries until they glaze over.

I still find the Royal family intensely entertaining, and even more so the public’s relationship with them. In the past week, there’s been reams of space devoted to intense debate about whether Prince Andrew should be stripped of his role as trade envoy. Why? Because a one-time pal of the prince has just been embroiled in a particularly salacious sex scandal, a la Silvio Berlusconi.

I find it deliciously bizarre that at a time when there’s a disaster a minute around the world, cabinet ministers, prime ministers, the media et al worry about something to utterly trivial. Why, if, as most Britons I meet insist, all this Royalty stuff is over-rated, does it matter what an ageing Prince Andrew does or doesn’t? They’re almost more worried about him than about the fact that half of the top brass at London School of Economics — including the likes of Meghnad Desai — have been discredited for taking pots of donations from Libya, and passing junior Gaddafi’s allegedly plagiarised PhD thesis.

Talking of Libya, about the funniest thing to come out of that tragedy in making is the whole SAS-Mi6 fiasco. First, the recap: the UK government decided to make ‘contact’ with the rebel faction, and sent in a crack secret service team to Libya. The Libyan rebels caught them, sternly read ’em the rule book about showing up in a helicopter with the usual supplement of spy stuff like fake passports and hidden weapons, gave them some breakfast, and escorted them back to the next ship leaving for Britain. Everyone’s laughing their heads off, but there’s also some dented national pride indignation. Me, I just rolled on the floor in glee undiluted with even a hint of chagrin.

Meanwhile, fearing an identity crisis, I made a few frantic calls to friends, inbound, outbound, bin there, done that. It seems that globetrotting Indians, the kind who move from place to place, have the same kind of problems. We spend the first six months completely bewildered. Then we start to cope — either we set up informal or formal Little India networks, and keep the alien stuff outside where it belongs, or we try and integrate.

For people like me, who study the local culture with a microscope, it’s an occupational hazard that some of the stuff seeps into your blood. I asked some others too.
Europeans, for whatever reason, don’t seem to have that problem when they spend a few years in Asia — sure, they pick up local habits, but don’t feel like they’re being assimilated. Continental Europeans do, when they live for some years in London, even the French.

Brits say they get that double vision feeling when they spend time in America.
Australians, you can fling anywhere in the world, they still come up smiling on a surfboard. Most of us, as a survival technique, pick up the knack of leading double or triple lives. I’m sick to death of all those immigrant-angst novels. I think it’s high time someone wrote about people like us, who have to constantly walk the tightrope between multiple and different cultures.

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