I am at a bit of a loss writing about india. She is everything that I know, but also a complete stranger, bewildering me into a confused silence. I am stuck, my pen stationary on the page. Defeated I can only begin by trying to explain my confusion. I am a third generation Indian, my grandparents emigrated to Kenya where both my parents were born who in turn emigrated to the UK where my siblings and I were born. Although, we were brought up in the UK, we grew up in a predominantly Indian culture. Centering around food as cultures typically do, ours was an Indian diet, so much so that I had no idea how a knife and fork worked until after the age of ten. We identified ourselves culturally more to India than to the UK even though we were two generations from having lived there.
This image and cultural identification changed and morphed as we grew into adults and we integrated and assimilated into the western society around us but India and her culture were still there, deep inside, our roots, who we were.
But it’s not. Unconsciously our culture has changed and adapted to our Western hosts’ to create a hybrid culture, not Indian, nor English but a mixture of the two with a splash of East Africa.
Thus to an Indian I don’t look Indian. My hair is different, my clothes are strange and my body shape is telltale. I don’t feel at home on the noisy, busy streets, with the in-your-face poverty, the noise and pollution, the dirt, the smell and the spitting. I long for the quietness of European countryside, the order of her cities, the cleanliness of her streets. India is a stranger.
Yet, the woman struggling with the heavy shopping bags could be my auntie, the little boy begging for money could be my cousin and the guy spitting an entire disgusting mouthful of red saliva onto the street, centimetres away from my feet could be me.
Unlike other countries and continents, where praise and critiscm comes easy as an outsider, criticizing India feels like I am betraying her, like stabbing a friend in the back straight after meeting her after a thirty year exile.
Confusion, bewilderment and silence.