“But you’re an Indian,” he said. I don’t know whether it was what he said or the tone he used that made me feel a strong urge to box his face in front of 32 members of our college’s debate club. Fabian and I never got along well together, but after this incident, things changed between him and me—we became the worst enemies ever.
It can be a boon as well as a challenge to be brought up abroad and be surrounded by a transnational environment in university. It is like representing my motherland in front of other nationalities through the way I live, communicate and behave. Sure, I had lived my life in Thailand but deep within I am still an Indian. A faint criticism against my country could easily exacerbate me. I guess that’s why Fabian got into trouble that day.
It was a breezy Saturday afternoon. The debate club I was a member of had a new session with a brand-new issue to wrangle about. The discussion was on whether cultural background affects how a student performs academically. Everything was going well. Everyone had something to say about the correlation between their own culture and their academics. Finally, as the only present Indian in the club, I raised my hand to have a say. I felt it was utterly on me to place a positive image in everyone’s minds pertaining to my nation. Proudly, I reeled off by telling them something about the Indian background. Everyone was obviously impressed with India while I described its beauty, traditions and the people. Then I got down to talking about prominent personalities emerging from India and factually stating that the large number of globally well known engineers, writers, scientists, doctors and alike are born Indians.
I was almost getting on how our society places a lot of importance on education when the Zimbabwean-born Fabian shot his hand in the air, indicating that he had a point to rebut. Knowing how irritating he could get, I tried to ignore him until he wouldn’t stop waving his hand right and left to grab my attention.
“What!” I said out loud, almost spitting on him from across the room. Everyone looked him and uttered a sigh. I wasn’t the only one in the room tired of annoyance.
“But you’re an Indian,” he said.
I didn’t know what he was talking about. He was getting more and more irritating.
“So? What about me being an Indian?” I asked.
I clearly remember his smug smile and the ugly reply, “Doesn’t your culture supposedly give more importance to women being a homemaker than being educated?”
I stumbled. Where did that come from? I thought we Indians were past that orthodox period. It took me a couple of minutes to absorb what he said. Then, rationally choosing my words, I mentioned that the number of families that still carry this belief has decreased almost to the point of extinction. Though somehow I still managed to shut that guy up, deep within I knew that it was a lie I didn’t have to tell.
After that, I only had a vague idea of what happened during that day’s debating session.
My mind was victimized by what Fabian said. I felt anger within me for his comment. I felt guilty for realizing what he said was true, yet blustering at him. For the first time, I didn’t feel proud to be an Indian.
Perhaps others haven’t updated their perception about India, but we all know that the perception is false. The blame lies within us. There are families that still don’t allow their girls to study and we, as their fellow folks, don’t do anything about it. Maybe it’s time Indians sat back and elicit thoughts about what’s happening in this “globalizing” country. It’s time for some change. It’s time to make India a better nation where, without any guilt, we can proudly reply to people like Fabian, “Yes, I’m an Indian.”