Die, Traitor, Die!
There is an ancient Hindu epic called the Mahabharata. It's the story of a great war that took place in 3067 BCE. The world's longest epic, it is also the grandest. I'll stick my head out and say that Homer's Iliad and Odyssey don't even come close. Trust me, I've read all three.
>In fact, I've read the Mahabharata twice -- from end to end. It's not easy because there is a lot of blood and gore and the tragedy is so overwhelming that it leaves you numb for days. But it's a thrilling read nevertheless. Countless generations of Indians have treated the book as a guidebook for leading their temporal as well as spiritual life.
For me personally, two stark messages from this ancient text have stayed in my head since I first read it 22 years ago. One, you must fight anyone who unjustly occupies your country. Two, you should be loyal to the country where you get your livelihood.
If one of the greatest histories of India offers that sage advice, is it wrong to follow it? I would believe not.
In this backdrop, I'd like to say that my last post caused a flutter in the Indian community in New Zealand.
Back of the envelope calculations show a third of the reactions to ''Why Auckland feels like home'' were negative whereas the rest said there was nothing wrong with my current state of mind.
That I choose to like this place or that is nobody's business. Just like what I eat or what laptop I buy are matters that only concern me. Clearly, nobody has a locus standi in these matters. So it was a bit startling to receive this telegraphic email from a once close associate: ''Interesting article. Welcome to New Zealand. Still trying to understand the reason for this article. The article is well written. Hope your boss looks at you favorably now.''
That's straight from my mailbox. The person who is welcoming me to New Zealand is doing so with a dollop of sarcasm. I know he's a good man and means well. He could even be pulling my leg, although when it's an email it's hard to tell.
Seek ye no favours at work!
I seek no favours because I don't need them. Just read through my posts and you'll see one singular streak -- I say it straight without fear or favour.
Besides, I'm not setting myself up for something big. I take apart people of all races. Unlike people who come here and try to be JP or QSM, I wouldn't touch these colonial appendages. I just love to write and I do it reasonably well.
And check this out, I haven't even bothered to look at New Zealand citizenship because it entails taking an oath in the name of the queen of Britain. (Don't get me wrong, it's nothing personal with the Windsors. I just won't go down citizenship street because there's too much colonial baggage attached with the oath. You know, British rule wasn't exactly a golden era for us.)
On the other hand, many of the Indians who are now accusing me of currying favour, have acquired New Zealand passports, happily swearing loyalty to the queen of Britain. There are some good reasons for this, they tell me: travelling to the US or Europe is easier on a New Zealand passport. Citizenship offers benefits such as being allowed to bring your parents to New Zealand and other family members. What they don't tell is their aged parents are able to collect the weekly superannuation cheque without having done a day's work in this country. (I hope Wellington will fix that loophole because frankly it is disgusting.) For such perks, they park their patriotism aside.
I bet the people who are alleging that I'm trying to be Kiwier than Kiwis, secretly gaze at their New Zealand passports in the middle of the night. That stylish silver fern emblazoned across that little black booklet must be giving them a huge sense of satisfaction. ''Aah, I've arrived.'' ''I sail through the fast lane at immigration and I'm home even before you foreign passports holders have cleared biosecurity.''
That must do a lot for the ego.
Forget the past
What's ironic is over the past several years I had written many articles - gratis - defending India without expecting anything in return. I wrote simply because I felt it was the right thing to do. Besides, who else would do it? I can't think of a single Indian writer in New Zealand who has presented India's case like I have. The others, because of whatever pressures, have taken the fashionable middle ground. For me there was also opportunity cost involved; every article I wrote about India in the local press was at the cost of some other - paying - article I did not write. But who's counting?
All that is forgotten and I'm suddenly a villain for beginning to like New Zealand. Does that imply these people dislike being in New Zealand? Or, worse, do they want me to stay unhappy all the time?
Another critic, a woman from my hometown, wrote, ''Sorry to know you have joined the ranks of the rootless.'' This is a typical comment directed by Indians at other Indians who speak or act foreign. I can understand if this was directed at a wannabe, but I never ever try to fit in. The funny thing is, all these people are aping Kiwi accents or local trends such as holidaying in Rarotonga, Saturday sports or afternoon BBQs, none of which I do.
Also, considering that she gave up a good job in a beautiful coastal village in Kerala, India, to be stuck in a tiny, cockroach-infested Papatoetoe unit is not just ironic but sad. She and her husband are both psychology majors. The husband worked for a year in a butcher shop and she applied for waitress jobs during their early days in New Zealand. Now well settled in the social services industry, they are waiting to acquire New Zealand citizenship so they can go and live in Australia. Neat. Who the freaking hell is rootless here?
I'll tell you how much I care for favours. When I travel to India, my well-connected inlaws send a team of cops to pick me at the airport. They hustle us through the diplomatic passport counter. It takes two minutes versus 30 minutes in the line for lesser mortals. Again, when we leave the country, we are taken to the diplomatic lounge.
And I absolutely hate it. That's because I feel it's not right to misuse public resources. Most travellers will never see the inside of a diplomatic lounge or even know where it is located inside the airport. And I'll tell you how posh it is - it puts a luxury hotel in the shade.
But I don't feel comfortable there. Firstly, I don't like the sullen looks the clerks at the diplomatic counter give me because they are being forced by burly Delhi Police officers to stamp my very ordinary passport. Also, it feels awful when the constables are made to pick up my bags when they'd rather do their job. I can see it in their faces...they don't like it either. To avoid such situations now I don't tell which airport in India I'm heading for. I make up stuff that I'll be in Singapore for a couple of days and I'll call them later. Most Indians would give up their right hand for such VVIP treatment, but I like nothing more than my best mate or my brother (depending on the city) to pick me up at the airport.
Neither do I accept the gifts I'm occasionally given on reporting assignments. My colleagues are rather exasperated at this because according to them I'm setting a bad precedent! If I don't accept the freebies, they joke, the door will be shut on them as well. But I just can't. It's not really about conflict of interests, it's just that I don't want anyone to ever say they treated a journalist to a free lunch.
To be sure, most of my Indian friends reacted positively to my post. Manish Maheshwari, an MBA at an MNC bank, said, ''There's no comparison. You liked apples and now you are an orange lover.'' I think he summed it up perfectly. Just because I have started liking New Zealand doesn't mean I have stopped liking India.
Another friend, Madhulika Khatri, wondered what locus standi these people had to question my loyalty. ''You should ask them what are they doing in New Zealand, forming an organisation,'' she said.
Basically what Maheshwari and Khatri are saying is we live in a globalised economy, where modern families shuttle effortlessly between their home country and the place where they work. I'm actually mulling the prospect of dividing my time equally between India and New Zealand in a decade from now. That way I can have the best of both worlds - live here, and shop, dine and travel there. Where's the downside?
That's the plan. Will it work? Well, watch this space.
Rakesh Krishnan's articles have been used as reference at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; the Centre for Research on Globalization, Canada; Wikipedia; and as part of the curriculum at the Anthropology Department of the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. His work has been published by the Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi; Oped News, Pennsylvania; and Rossiyskaya Gazeta Group, Moscow, among others.