Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Weight of History

It seems a long time since someone really examined the repercussions of history's great shadow looming over everything we do in this country - both on an upwardly mobile basis that is the individual's prerogative, as well as on the national psyche in these times of striving after modernity - however you would like to define that.

Back in the day, specifically the days when the Indian cricket team took on the Pakistanis in that quintessential theatre of the South Asian migrant experience that used to be the oil-rich Middle East, and even more specifically in the city of Sharjah, it was said that the real test of national loyalty for Indian Muslims was manifest in which team they supported through those emotion-laden series' in the desert kingdom. Both countries then were evenly matched in cricketing ability and in their respective seemingly never-ending chronicles of economic crises back home. That logic never seemed to take, even for someone like me who was entirely divorced from the 'majority' community's sense of triumphalism or even complicit in the 'minority' community's tired saga of never belonging in this land we secularly call 'ours', belonging, as I was, to a comparatively minute minority community. Identity, in this case, was loosely defined as following (and supporting) the fortunes of those sportsmen who looked vaguely like someone I would encounter on the streets I roamed, with familiar first names, as I suspect it did for my erstwhile classmates, Faiz and Nazir.

These days, when I see the strife-torn and existential dilemma that the Republic of Pakistan is embroiled in, I cannot but think - 'There, but for the grace of God, go I' - as I suspect Faiz and Nazir do too, wherever they are in the world today.

Following on from this argument (and taking the metaphor of cricket as a test of nationalistic sentiment further than logic would allow), when watching the Boxing Day test between India and Australia I was amazed to feel a certain amount of resentment watching the faintly brown-faced and turbaned crowds at the MCG waving the Indian flag with gusto during the disappointing 3 and a half days of the match. These people were immigrants, surely. They had the backing of the immigrant narrative - that of having breached natural geographical norms and landed and thrived on the shores of an alien universe (as all of the First World seems to one brought up here). Why then were they so blatant in their support of a team from a country they had despised enough to have left behind forever? (The Indian supporters in the stands were far too large in number to have been holiday-makers). Were they proving to themselves their double standards? Are they so comfortable with those double standards that they would risk showcasing them to the world as a mark of duplicity they wear with pride whenever their identity is called into question?

Moving on from the cricket (sigh!), I constantly encounter the rigid pageantry of the majority and minority community's manifest identity crises in the worlds I move between - as an outsider bound to a religious code from a culture circumscribedly(sic) as far removed from this brown soil as possible, and as an enthusiastic apologizer for everything we lack when we look at the mirror that the west continually throws at us smirkingly. Where then do I stand? Do I respect the sentiments of the throngs embarking upon a pilgrimage up a minor mountain where barely a year ago many supplicants died in an outrageous stampede? Can I carry on proving my secular credentials by defending a dogmatic creed that pits humanity's longing for deliverance against the by-now-overcome fear of the unknown?
And then again, can I really take shelter in the ragged concourse that is 'the-hidden-wisdom-of-the-ancients' and the 'ages-of-the-world' debate?

I cannot, anymore. We have to change now, and the sooner it happens, the better will be the economic and social plight of my brethren in the countryside - of this I am certain. There are no better representatives for what we stand for than ourselves and I will not stand corrected - even if fifty or less people show up at the BKC or at the RamLila Maidan at the fag end of a fascinating year of protest the world over.

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