Sunday, April 12, 2015
A conversation with a reluctant Indian
He was an interesting character. He said he was born and brought up in Singapore, had his higher education in India, and lived in Australia now. He was as dark as an Indian could possibly be and bore all the racial features of a South Indian. He spoke as loudly and emotionally as only an Indian could, and with an accent that was distinctively Indian. If these were not enough to establish his Indian origin, he had a surname that proclaimed a Malabar ancestry.
‘You look every inch an Indian,’ I said. It was a compliment, but he took umbrage at it.
‘Oh, no,’ he protested in a surly tone, ‘my family left India in nineteen-o-five itself. I was born in Singapore, I grew up in Singapore, and I am an Australian now.’
The conversation veered away from ancestry and round to practical matters.
‘What do you do?’ I asked him.
‘I'm in Australia,’ he replied.
‘I know, but what do you do for a living?’ I persisted.
‘I'm in Australia,’ was the reply again.
An interesting means of living, I thought, and decided not to pursue the matter any further.
‘How are the Indians in Australia?’ I asked, pursuing a different line of thought.
‘Indians in Australia!’ he exclaimed and grimaced as though the very thought was painful. Then he let out a volley of four-letter words about Indians in general before becoming specific: ‘Wherever they go, these Indian b------s carry their castes and keep them intact.’ He repeated that elegant expression which came so naturally to him and asked me, ‘What do you say?’
‘Yes, of course,’ I replied, ‘Macaulay's b------s, linguistically speaking.’ He looked quizzically at me.
‘But you are an exception,’ I added, suppressing my amusement. ‘And I'm sure there are quite a few Indians like you in Australia.’
‘Not many,’ he replied with a supercilious smile. ‘My caste, as you might know, is high up in the caste hierarchy. But I don't talk about it like those…’ He uttered several vigorous unprintable expletives with reference those "casteist Indians" polluting the cultural landscape of Australia.
Soon enough, however, he returned to his favourite refrain: ‘But you can't call me an Indian. My family left for Singapore in nineteen-o-five itself. I was born in Singapore, I grew up in Singapore…’
‘But why did you come to India for your higher education when quite a lot of Indians go to places like Singapore for their higher education?’ I asked him.
‘Well, my parents sent me here because they wanted me to pick up a bit of Indian culture,’ he replied.
‘You seem to have picked up a fair bit,’ I said.