Setting the Tone

Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.

- Theodore Roosevelt

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Promise of Return

A migrant is defined both by the journey he makes, of leaving, and the journey he never ends up making, of return. In that sense, I am a true migrant: I have left, and I am forever returning. Unlike the others with a stable life and steady aim, I have not fully assumed the identities of my host and not given up that of my home; nor did I do the opposite, like some others, and clung to my home identity and rejected what came my way. I have, consciously, let the journey change me, but preserved my deep desire to make the opposite journey some day.

But this is not just a transmutation between the home and the host, but the desire to renew myself that makes me a migrant. It is not about search of my roots, which I know full well where they are, nor a denial of my self-chosen circumstances, but rather the pursuit of an identity, an emotional construct of a 'universal' identity that defines my being and becoming. So, this is not about giving up or taking in, but absorbing, observing and enriching that make me.

It is not easy to be a migrant in Britain today, a country at seize from itself. Pushed to a corner by the global turn of economic events the country no longer controls or understands, and plodded by a desperate need to preserve its asset owning economy, the country has turned onto itself in a schizophrenic pursuit of its migrants, blaming them for everything including the lack of buses on the street, crime, the disappearing NHS, high house prices and lack of jobs. Despite evidence on the contrary, even the Government's own Office of National Statistics (ONS) says migrants work harder, have a higher educational attainment and pay more to than they take from public exchequer, a new breed of politicians, who are too patrician to listen and too clever to take a stand, steering the country into an irreversible xenophobia, where anyone slightly different seem to threaten an undefined British way of life. This is a country at war with its own spirit, one that lost its future to its own bankers and then ended up blaming everyone else.

But, still, there is an irony even in this tragedy: The city of museums seems to have lost its sense of history, even history of itself. Only a few centuries ago, dynamic British merchants and explorers fanned out to wealthy Asia, where asset owning classes lived in great splendour and in isolation from rest of the world. Their triumph, subsequently, was the triumph of curiousity and openness. Britain, a tiny island, became a great power by harnessing the power of globality, its famous army made of thousands of people from rest of the world, its businesses buying and selling everywhere and its culture being a melting pot of myriad influences and thoughts. This is the heritage the country is in denial of, having convinced itself that it was all about a few people residing around the City of London.

I have learnt it is different being a migrant in one's one imperial country than in any other. One does not get over colonialism easily, not in one generation anyway. Depending on how I see it, I am first generation post-colonial (my father was born in 1944, before India's independence) and surely I am not fully out of the colonial mindset, which always holds the imperial culture to be superior to one's own. So, I am forever trying to take the 'best of both cultures', forever marvelling at the 'British politeness' and most of the time trying to adopt to the accent and ways of life. This has, I must admit, nothing to do with being Global - this seemingly eclectic behaviour is all about  fitting into my own post-colonial frame of reference.

Also, this is a two-way thing: Not just my post-colonial mindset holds the host culture in high esteem, the host country seems to confer an identity to me which is hard to get out of. It is not discrimination, but a role expectation, that can sometime work in favour of the migrant: The Indians like me are expected to be Accountants, IT Professionals or Doctors, and it is easy to fit into these patterns quite easily. I, with my mix of different skills and experiences, and ambitions to be in charge of my own life, had to find a way, not always obvious, through this architecture of set expectations; it is only after I learnt what these expectations were, and learnt to use them in my favour, I could make the country work for me.

But, then, once I learnt the steps and ways of life, and became conscious of my assumptions and constructs, my desire to be free again has become paramount. After all, this journey was about being free: Free from the identity I was born into, free from the social expectations I was born with, free from the constrained parochial existence to which I would have been otherwise consigned to. Knowing one's assumptions is like holding a mirror - the evidence is instantaneous and rather undeniable - but this freedom must be followed up with the freedom to act and change. In my migrant experience, therefore, I tried to push the boundaries and test my ideas of a flat world shaped by technology and enabled by human connections, only to, to quote Eliot, 'come back where I started and know the place for the first time'.

So, this returns me to the point of start, just as I wanted. A return to the base, with a promise of re-evaluation and restart, in some form, is in the offing. Such reflections forever hold the promise of a springboard, may be time to push my ideas of a global institution to the next step, and may be, just may be, this is the start of that promised journey of return. 

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