Boo boo in select company

Boo boo in select company
Something to say?

Friday, 24 May 2013

Layers of Belonging

This last visit to India was off-putting. Something that has been nagging at the back of my mind for many years slowly came into focus. I did not really feel at home in India. Or was it just Kochi?
   So I have to investigate this strange, persistent discomfort in my head - an itch requiring constant scratching. I put off writing about it because I needed to be sure as to what I want to say. I now know this is not going to play out in a day or a week -or a month, maybe a lifetime. So please bear with me while I turn this over - and come to no steady place in the end. I know I will keep coming back to it.
   Kochi is a rich place where hordes of poor live. It is noisy, brash, cold-blooded, and in places beautiful. It is a buy-buy land. If you have money you buy. Whatever is current: flat screen T Vs  (the third one in the house) and Samsung mobiles are the latest. I feel no part of all this affluence.
   Yet I have lived in Kochi for five years in the early 2000s. And I still go there every winter, escaping the British ice-age. I speak the language and know the scams. I know how to haggle with the fish man and greet the old man. I love the food, the clothes, the colours and above all the back-waters and the Marine Drive, where the young and the old come at dusk to sit on the parapets and watch the sun descending. To this extent an outer layer of me fits in. I am not an alien. It's just that I am No Longer at Ease. As the wonderful Chinua (Achebe) would have said, if he had not gone and died on me last year. (There are some people who should never die; for me, he was one. Perhaps he never will, living on the sensibilities of the likes of me, who spent years living in the Eastern Nigerian bush.) How well he expressed that sense of fumbling alienation of the returnee. And Adichie (Chimamanda Ngosi), I am looking to you to keep that fire burning.
   It's just Kochi, I tell myself. Go to Thalassery and I am OK. And this is true, to a point. I melt in, I belong. Or so I assure myself. An inner layer of me is at home. Why then do I have to question all the parts when the whole is so familiar, so right? I scratch at my discontent and I know it is all the things which Thalassery is not.
   It is my fault that I am not interested, except as a visitor, in the Indian news, even when I think NDTV is so professional. I enjoy the aggression of the anchor, good old Barka and Sardesai and the rest. But where is BBC news and my favourite Channel 4 and Jon Snow? What are the Conservatives up to now? Is the NHS breathing its last? And is education still vaguely what I remember it as, when I taught in Wickford and Dagenham a lifetime ago? Unleash Jeremy Hunt and Gow on the nation and you have to hide your children and old people away in safe places.
   And the sad part is: I am certain I DO NOT belong at all in Britain. Neither the Labour one or the present mess. Though the old mess was a better and kinder mess. 
   All those years when I worked in many countries in Africa - did I belong there?  I knew they were temporary, so I did not try to find out. There was a job to do, so get on with it. And when it was over, thank God for safe drinking water out of the tap and twenty-four hour power back home.
   Sadly, I am coming to the conclusion that people like me belong nowhere. We who have been wrenched from our birth-countries early in life can no longer anchor ourselves elsewhere. We try to attach ourselves, we copy the behaviours of locals and proclaim ourselves even more suspect.
   Maybe I have to be content to be part of that huge diaspora of people who have left home and have never really gone anywhere. Vidya (Naipaul) has talked about it eloquently, sometimes whined about it. How can I equal him? Leave it to the experts.