Its a herd thing

 

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Category: Diaspora 16 Jul 06

 

It’s a call of the wild. The security of belonging to a herd.

 

I recently heard that of an East Indian girl born here of a Trini Indian mother and an expat Indian father. She went to live in her father’s country at the age of three, visited Trinidad in her twenties and stayed saying this is where she belongs.

 

All those childhood years in India amounted to a “foreign” experience since now, she says fetchingly with a thick South Indian accent about Trinidad, “Your motherland is always your motherland, No?” It’s a herd thing.

 

I think of that Trini frequency fine-tuned towards its “herd” spotting one another in the din of foreign cities—New York, Boston, London.

 

In packed train stations, bustling department stores, cinemas, markets, theatres: “You a Trini?” they ask my husband who has a tattoo of Trinidad & Tobago on his back. “Yeah,” he grins. They’re home.

 

I think of the Afro-Trini businessman who went to Nigeria and came back with a light in his eyes that wasn’t there before. As if he glimpsed what it could have felt and been had he been born there and grew up there. He saw how strong, how deep, centuries-old tribal feelings run. How language connects people for a thousand years. He came back wistful, Africa swirling in his head.

 

Belonging too much, closing off, dehumanising everyone else who isn’t like you, creates terror of the sort linked to a Muslim Kashmiri militant group that killed 200 Indian commuters in Bombay and injured 700 others on Wednesday, wounding the city, frightening its citizens.

 

I wrote to my cousin in Bombay after the attacks. I was anxious about him and my family there. They were okay. They travel by train, but thankfully not on the day when eight bombs exploded in Bombay in a co-ordinated terrorist attack.

 

Massacred people

 

My family in India asks me about Trinidad. They hear there are many East Indians here. Are they Punjabis? Gujaratis? Sindhis? What community do they belong to? What religion are they? How many Muslims? They want to use their markers to place them. India has minute pin markers for every one of its billion citizens and a bloody ugly history between the Hindus and Muslims, starting with partition, and Pakistan when a million people massacred one another continuing with the murderous tussle for territory in which thousands more have died.

 

I can find very few reference points. I reply, “I don’t know if they are Sindhis, Gujaratis, Punjabis, Bengalis or from Uttar Pradesh.” There are Muslims but they can also be Hindu. They are all of that or none of that. Their name and community reveals nothing. If you come here there is the possibility that you will meet a man who will introduce himself, say, as Vishnu Mohammed with no apologies.

 

For the most part he will be blithely unaware of the religious incongruity of his name; of the sense of outrage and desecration that will bring about in India (Vishnu, a Hindu God, linked Mohammed, after an Islamic prophet). He is a Trini and will freely walk in and out of Temples, Mosques and Churches.

 

A man claiming to be an al-Qaeda member in Pakistan congratulated the murderers in Bombay and appealed to Indian Muslims “to take up jihad.”

 

Already 350 people have been detained by Bombay’s police commissioner. The retribution towards millions of Indian Muslims will be terrible and some will say justified.

 

Many more will be massacred. Most of them, innocents.

 

Occasionally at dusk, when dust particles turn gold reflecting a vivid pink and orange sky of silk saris, or on a day when I can see the mist over the hills I think nostalgically of South India of the Himalayas where I grew up. I feel wistful. Then I see the ease of Trinis, the lurching, the laughter and I am glad that belonging without bloodshed exists, and I see it every day.

 

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur