Listening to this podcast, I was transported to my childhood, to a geography of bakeries – of freshly baked bread that earned my community the moniker ‘macapao’ to more hybrid offerings – springs rolls doused in crimson Szechwan sauce that no one in the Sichuan I visited this summer would recognise and the most perfect salted wafers. More than the food, it was the cadence of speech that called to me in the podcast, the tangential telling of stories, the “I tell you” and “men’.
As I ponder the question of belonging and the irrelevance of nationalism except for the most prosaic and political purposes, I realise that, new yuppie cafes and restobars notwithstanding, it is this corner of the world, this suburb where even the grocer spoke to us in English, is where I can claim to somehow forever belong to. At heart, I am a citizen of Bandra.
I sent a message about dance classes for the children to the wrong member of the Indian ladiz whatsapp group of my estate.
“Who is this?” she asked.
“C, from the Indian whatsapp group,” I replied.
“C is not an Indian name. Are you Indian?”
“But were you born in Hong Kong.?”
“Which tower do you live in?” As if I would fake being Indian to be a member of this whatsapp group.
Isn’t it curious how the people who demand patriotism from minorities never also fail to other us?
“Where are you from?” My children are asked.
“No where are you really from?”
They name the suburb of Hong Kong we live in.
My children’s geography of taste is also different. When they are in India, they tire of the local food and ask grandma, “can we get siu mai?”
I read that Portugal is one of the few European countries soliciting migrants.
“Hmmm, maybe I should apply, then at least I don’t have to explain my name.”
“Who do you have to explain your name to?” my Indian colleague asks in surprise.
I roll my eyes. The idea of India has grown smaller and smaller.
I listen to this podcast and learn that middle-class Muslims in India are thinking twice about giving their children Muslim names to avoid the inevitable bullying on the playground.
This is what we have come to.
Hong Kong was where I lost both my religion and nationalism (nationalism to my mind is a kind of religion in the “opiate of the masses” sense anyway). I recall reading about an artist who was invited to participate in the national pavilion of another country and her saying that she accepted the invitation expressly because it was not linked to national boundaries (I believe it was Dayanita Singh at the German pavilion of the 2013 Venice Bienale but I can’t be sure). I remember thinking that this was a sensibility I aspire to, even as I struggle not to root for countries at the Olympics and World Cup.
Five years ago, I wrote about how my sense of nationalism has faded. What has changed since then or while my affinity to the idea of the nation has eroded, ironically at a time when the idea of Hong Kong nationalism has been floated, my sense of belonging to certain places, my safe places – one dot in the corner of India’s west coast and one dot on China’s southern coast – has solidified.