I’m testing out Facebook’s revamped Notes feature and riffing on bindis and questions cultural appropriation. Apologies if you’re reading a duplicate version of this piece, but it’s a useful way for me to track traffic.
I read this (linked) article this morning and it got me thinking about the wearing of bindis and other cultural markers, and where homage ends and cultural appropriation begins.
When I was in my teens, I knew I never wanted to be a teacher. My father was a teacher, many of my uncles were teachers, my cousins were teachers, there were teachers everywhere I looked. I knew with the certainty of teenagehood that the last profession on Earth I would ever enter would be teaching.
When I was 22, I finished a graduate diploma in teaching.
About 18 months after I move anywhere new, I start getting itchy feet. I magically forget the painful process of packing everything we own, of readying a house for sale, rent, or return to landlord, of organising schools, animals, and our own travel. I put on my rose-tinted glasses and look around for the next place to be. I stare longingly at glossy photoshopped prints of far away places and imagine daily life there. I conveniently forget the drudgery of learning where everything is, learning how to buy things in a new place, learning the local currency (both financial and linguistic), learning how to get around. I forget the loneliness of leaving the familiar, the loved. I forget the tentative toe-dipping terror of entering new friendships, the complicated dance of figuring out who the other person is, and how they work. I have eyes only for the next adventure.
Today, the U.S. woke to the news of a terrorist attack in South Carolina. A single white man was welcomed into a Bible study and prayer circle at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, an historically black church. He sat with the other churchgoers for an hour. Then he deliberately, calculatedly shot those around him because he didn’t like the colour of their skin.
In a place of worship, a place of sanctuary and solace from the everyday battles with racism in large and small ways, nine people were murdered.
The 26th of January is both Indian Independence Day and Australia Day. As someone of Indian descent, and Australian nationality, I face no conflict there. There is no tugging at my conscience to choose one country over the other, there is no struggle in embracing both celebrations equally. Both celebrations are about nationhood, the forging of a cultural identity, and those are such an essentially important concepts to me. So where does the conflict lie?
Today, in the aftermath of a violent, unhinged man holding people hostage in the Lindt chocolate cafe in Sydney, killing two, causing physical injuries to more, and unseen psychological damage to so many more, I am heartsore. In the aftermath of a young, unarmed African American man being shot to death, ostensibly for changing lanes illegally while driving, by Houston police, I’m searching for the humanity in human beings. In the aftermath of the Taliban attack today on a school in Pakistan killing 141 people, I am despondent.
A flash fiction piece I wrote this week elicited unexpected observations on the motivations of a character, and started me reflecting on comments made to me over the years, and the intentions behind them.
When I was a very small child, I lived in a blissful world. As children do. Differences were barely noticed, and didn’t warrant mention.
When I was a bigger child, differences jackhammered into my consciousness.
When I was a child I lived in a multilingual house in Brunei. The siblings were overseas and far away at boarding school, and my mother was determined not to make the same linguistic mistakes with me. My parents spoke to me only in Malayalam, and the lady who helped with the housework spoke only in Malay. I was ensconced in a happy world where I was cradled by two loving tongues.
Into this world the siblings would plummet, tumbling and babbling, once a year, shovelling food like they’d been starved and talking all over the top of each other. I would stare, wide-eyed and awestruck, and utterly bewildered. Their very proper British-accented-Indian-boarding-school English was beyond anything decipherable in my coded world.
We were gathered, a rag-tag group of kids, giggling and squealing. Engaged in the forbidden, we knew in the deepest recesses of our hearts, that our mothers would furrow their brows and waggle their index fingers.
Cross-legged or legs folded under us, we sat on the floor of the walk-in robe of Ajita’s parents’ bedroom. The OUIJA board lay reverentially in the middle of our pre-adolescent circle, an upturned glass resting on top. The lights had been dimmed, and we automatically spoke in the hushed tones that darkness demands. We knew with the certainty of children, that witches, goblins and the denizens of evil winged their way around us. Small squeals of excited terror escaped one or another of us, as we impatiently awaited instructions.
It’s been nearly two years now. Two years since a home was packed neatly into a shipping container and transported across the world. Two years since lives were packed neatly into suitcases, friendships folded and vacuum sealed, family washed and dried and placed at the back of cupboards. Two years since we’ve woken to the melodic gurgling of magpies, since the heady aroma of eucalyptus warming in the sun has charmed its way into our consciousness.