My Motherland is a country of contradictions
I found myself back in my motherland, unlearning everything I thought I knew, and imbibing nuances about my self that have been missing for years.
Twenty six years ago, I was born in Kerala. A squealing little babe, I made my protest at being born immediately known. My parents listened, and at ten days old, whisked me away to Chennai - the first move of innumerable ones throughout my childhood that would erode any impact my geographical placement left on my identity. My parents’ indecision - and travels - took me around three continents, far too many cities, and resulted in me being dipped into every kind of cultural experience they could come across. I grew up blessed with what most parents in Kerala could only dream of for their children - that elusive, elitist dream - exposure!
And so after college in Europe, after my masters education, when I decided to try settling down in Kerala, my family was shocked. They couldn’t possibly begin to comprehend why I would eschew all the opportunities I was offered, why I would reject the comfort of development, to come back home. You see, they couldn’t even imagine why I would call Kerala home - I had barely spent any time there, I didn’t grow up there, and I was not groomed for life there.
And yet - I wasn’t groomed for blind obedience either.
I made Kerala my home six months ago, never having lived in the state that formed my verdant dreams of a wild part of India; a state I romanticised, caught between the ocean and the hills; racing to the forefront of development, education and growth. And yet, the time I spent in Kerala has been fraught with internal conflict.
I found myself back in my motherland, unlearning everything I thought I knew, and imbibing nuances about my self that have been missing for years. While this sounds dramatic, it is - if anything - an understatement.
The foremost example that stands out in my mind is that of my mother - a widowed woman, fiercely independent, corporate to the bone, and raising me alone - telling me the story of an heirloom I inherited from my grandmother. It was a rather large nose ring, and quite heavy. When I asked why any woman would subject herself to the pain of such an obstruction placed so inconveniently on her face, the answer I received felt like a wake up call.
A rule of thumb still in practice today, it seemed that women in rural parts of India were required to wear these heavy ornaments so they would rest against the woman’s mouth and dissuade her from speaking out of turn. To hear the person I considered most empowered and enlightened talk about a horrific means of subjugation, in such a matter of fact tone was the first lesson in the story of contradictions I would soon learn is an intrinsic part of my heritage.
Moreover, learning that this was practiced in the same state that birthed the prolific Women in Cinema Collective, the state that has been the trailblazer for transgender rights, the state that refused a beef ban, a state that I saw as the epitome of upholding human rights - simply broke my heart.
Diversity and plurality are fodder for the imagination when you’re growing up in India. It is the cheer we grew up on, along with a fierce cry of resilience - we shall overcome. It is no coincidence that this nation, in the global south, identifies with ideals so closely intertwined with international human rights.
This quintessentially syncretic identity of India sends ripples into every sphere of life, and becomes unavoidable in myriad ways, at multiple levels; and in the identity of our selves. And yet, those basic human rights - the discipline to which I dedicated my professional life - are often lost in the face of tradition and heritage.
Reconciling my professional calling with my social identity has meant rewriting everything I stand for - but it’s also been about coming to terms with a culture that has infinite possibility for acceptance and inclusion. Today, I write this piece knowing that Kerala is forging a path paved with the foundation of an ideal society, but I also know that this continues to be an uphill battle. It will take an army of us to ensure that our motherland continues to be God’s Own Country - to every child within.