Monday, November 13, 2006

Cultural identity

BBC 7 is currently running its Indian Summer series, showcasing myths and legends, historical dramas, tales of identity, documentaries and award-winning comedy, heavily infused with fiery Indian flavour.

I relate to the stories just as I suppose a Briton does, which is to say, with a little culture shock and sometimes even despair.

Despair not because the programmes are bad - they are in fact written and performed exceedingly well, but rather because they tell tales of humanity set against a landscape of inequality and inequity, corruption and caste, narrated without the slightest pretence and apology.

Like most literary gems that come from India. All tragedies exquisitely told.

Although I lay claim to one of the oldest names in Hindu history, I have never truly embraced this sultry culture.

I don’t speak the language, I don’t visit the temples, I don’t know which caste I belong to and neither do I know the where in India my bloodline originates from. Not that anyone has asked. It would seem that if one is the result of a mixed marriage, cultural ignorance is expected. I am the proverbial break in the link.

In a country where one is defined by race first before anything else, growing up without cultural identity forces one to develop an independent mind and liberal attitudes because there are no other alternatives.

I doubt anyone else during their childhood would be asked,
“When you grow up, would you like to marry a Chinese or an Indian?”
And after I randomly pick one over the other,
“Why, ah?”
How does a 7-year old to respond to that? I had not come into sarcasm then.

Generally my parents did not try to assimilate us into one culture or another, perhaps knowing how people can be cruel.

I never really cared about creed and race until I found myself a victim of the country’s infamous university quotas. I lost all faith in the ruling party right then and until there is an able and credible alternative government, I will continue to refuse to vote, as I have done for the past 9 years. But I digress.

Then the race issue came up again when I was dating. One guy I dated was given some ‘friendly advice’ by his friend for dating a non-Chinese girl. The nerve! I can understand how old folks are prejudiced but I did not expect it from my generation. I am glad that there are more young couples now whose relationship transcends race and colour.

So you can understand my horror on the current wave of xenophobia, for the lack of a better word. I am the very result of the melting pot that is this country hence I belong to nowhere else but here and the only race I can actually claim to is this bangsa Malaysia. So I get extremely upset when people shoot it down.

The benefits coming from a mixed marriage is of course manifold. I get exposed to not one culture but two! Topping the list are celebrations and food. Speaking of celebrations, the national oil company, Petronas, came up with this brilliant Deepavali TV ad. Made in TYPICAL tamil movie fashion, it is soooo funny. Watch it here.

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