Societies are so complex. In ways, they are so gruesome, so ugly. Just disgusting filth.
I’m not just talking about India, I’m talking about in every country in the world, there are things that make you turn your eyes in shame, pretending that it’s not true in your country, in your town, in your class, caste, family, race, upbringing.
You’re pure. And good. And civilized. It’s the rest of the world, those underclasses that need to be educated and brought to light because they are…well…sobackward.
Not so. Close-mindedness pervades all of our lives, it just manifests itself in different ways. For those of us with power, the close-mindedness and the dysfunctionality in our homes and communities is ignored, justified, considered normal. But for those unfortunate enough to speak a historically oppressed language (Tamil), practicing a historically misunderstood religion, with features and skin that is historically and universally rejected as ugly by any nation’s definition, including your own—well, your close-mindedness is not simply ignorance. It’s savage.
I see the savage in it. When I hear of my best friend being driven out of her home by a screaming, jeering, laughing mob, crashing pots and pans and following her to the bus stop just because she had some friends over the previous night and someone started a malicious rumor in this small, tight-knit community on the outskirts of Chennai. Because she’s a white woman living alone and they’re scared of her ways, and of some of her friends who are…god forbid…African, and because she’s bringing bad luck. Then her landlord’s wife shows up beaten and bruised, and it’s because she was the one who said my friend could live there and have friends over. In a community already teetering on the brink of existence, with little power to influence their local corrupt governments, living on middle class salaries in a country where prices are rising to accommodate the spending power of the millions of upper class…well, you can’t use any more bad luck.
I see the savage but oh, the beauty. The first time I visited that neighborhood, the only image that stood in my mind was the beautiful, ornate temple on the corner that gave me an immediate feeling on peace and security, hearing the priest inside chant and dutifully perform his ceremonies with the deepest faith. The temple was painted with a fresh, bright coat of yellow paint. The people on the street grinned from ear to ear, chatting with each other, all helping me find the apartment I looked for.
You can’t truly love something until you understand it. But you can hate it. Hate is a by-product of superficial understanding. It’s a by-product of fear, bred from ignorance and partial understanding. And every day, all we ever operate on are partial understandings. The only way to battle that is to be aware that there is so, so much that you do not know.
My connection to India is a fierce, protective, maternal love. It’s not exciting. It’s not fun, it’s not the infatuation of Latin America or the homey comfort of the US. But I’m here, and I’m here indefinitely. Actions speak louder than words in this long-term relationship—I can’t rave about the dress, the food, the monuments, the languages, and the people like any good travel blogger would do. But I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. And wherever I go and settle in the world, India knows that I’m staunchly, stubbornly with her until the end.
That means that I see everything. I don’t have eyes of a tourist or a backpacker or a local. So when I see the pure goodness and camaraderie occasionally blending with the frustrating or grotesque, I neither gloss it over nor get scared away—I give India a slap, tell her to do better, and then I stick around for a while.
Because at the end of the day, I’ve stopped defending anything. I’ve stopped defending myself, my identity, and my hybrid beliefs, and I’ve stopped defending my darling US or India. It’s time for people to stop being stupid and clumping people using superficial parameters. Everyone and every community in the world is everything in varying amounts, like we were all made up of the same earth, but some with more iron and others with more sodium.
I’m really ready to stop defending at all. I’ve stopped fighting, and I’m just living everyday life with no judgments, no exoticism, no camera lens. It’s just regular life here, and I’ve long given up trying to be a conduit of information and experience to either side. That’s futile. Because the only thing that really matters is not international experience, it’s not understanding politics or culture, and it’s not knowing facts—it’s about what you choose to take in, what you choose to share with those around you, and how you handle yourself when things get tough. Because that’s ultimately what will determine how you influence the world.
written by Nilima Achwal