[Inspired by this post by Dewdrop Dreams]
Recently, I mentioned to V that I didn’t feel a strong tie to India, even Bombay, anymore. I will always feel warmth and nostalgia for India, and by that I mean Bombay, in particular, and to a lesser degree the other places I have ties to in India like Goa, Hyderabad and Bangalore. Those places will always hold a special place in my heart because that’s where I grew up, where I still have close family and dear friends. I also love certain aspects of it, like the food and the much clichéd “warmth of the people” (but frankly I feel that way about Thailand as well). Do I feel I would want to live there, that I would die for the idea of India? Um.
In university, one of my friends stated that she found the whole concept of nationality silly, and that she felt no allegiance to any country in particular. I knew that what she said made sense, but I was uncomfortable with it. Then, I still felt the stirrings of patriotism.
Another friend living in the US said he identified more with a particular place, Bombay, than the whole of India which he felt he had nothing in common with. I argued with him then, that there was something people from the region of India had in common, and I still believe that. But that commonality extends to the whole sub-continent, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, etc. What is India then? Anyway, outside India we are banded together as desis or South Asians, as we are called in Hong Kong.
I understand the practical reality of the need for borders. At some point, fences must be drawn and armies are needed to defend those fences, which one assumes demarcate an agreed upon way of life. Or something like that. Kind of like, you can only be here if you agree with us, or we don’t want to come here and share the riches we worked so hard to achieve, or unless your parents lived here or unless you’re a certain race. This sounds more petty than grand.
Living abroad has given me some perspective on the idea of nation and belonging. For one, Hong Kong is having its own crisis. It is part of China but a number of studies show that Hong Kong people, more than a decade after the handover, don’t really identify with China. In fact, in regular interactions, they take pains to distance themselves from the Mainland. Probably worried about this, an attempt was made by the powers that be to introduce the concept of national education in the school curriculum, which was viewed with great suspicion by Hong Kong parents, and when a textbook was found to contain lines that praised the Communist party and denounced other systems, all hell broke loose. It made me think about how we swallowed the nationalism fed to us in school, how trite it was, and yet, how effective. So effective that most Indians wouldn’t say that they were ‘brainwashed’ as children, the word Hong Kongers use for what is being attempted through the subject of national education.
Many Hong Kong people say they love Hong Kong because they grew up here, they like living here, they subscribe to the values of the society and the way of life (which doesn’t mean they don’t grumble and criticise their own values). Many people who didn’t grow up here also come to love Hong Kong after they move here (like me, and the electronics repair guy from Nepal I met who said he willingly pays taxes here, something he was loathe to do in India and Nepal where he lived previously).
I love Hong Kong because it treats me well, because it is beautiful and because it has a buzz. I love certain places in India for similar reasons. But now that I’ve lived and formed an allegiance to a place outside India, I feel I could do it again. There are other places I could live in and love. It’s situational and specific and related to experience, rather than related to an idea that is commemorated in songs and borders and a flag.
That said, yesterday, we played the national anthem. Benji listened and clapped at the end. I like the song and how it makes me feel, even if I don’t believe in the idea of nationhood anymore.