Name, looks, gender, colour and caste—we are who we are. We may have the means to change our moniker, and the money for a new nose, but surnames and skin colour, where we come from and who we pray to are all a part of a prebirth conspiracy. Beyond our control and taken for granted—what we call our identity.
Suddenly life’s a seesaw, a game of superior and inferior. We tell a girl, you look like a boy. We tell a boy, you look like a girl. X has good marks, Y has bad marks. One is too dark, too short, too poor. So carnivorous, so ritualistic, so clannish. Self-conscious, apologetic and ashamed, we must watch who we love and what we eat.
Through Bama or Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, literature speaks in Dalit and Adivasi voices. Nalini Jameela articulates the woes of sex workers and acid attack survivors such as Reshma Qureshi don’t hide their face. The human condition seeks sensitive interpreters. Words that switch on the lights in the world.
On a personal level, a South Indian growing up in North India, I was always taken aback by the almost-affectionate, ‘You don’t look like a Malayali’; so that an older me doesn’t quite know what to make of the ‘You look very Christian’ I get these days. If you are like me, then you wake up every morning worrying if there’s toothpaste in the house rather than oh, so and so is my god, mine alone. Me being vegetarian and teetotaller invariably ups eyebrows. Like all Antonys should consume raw meat.
Honeymooning couples are killed brutally and publicly for marrying ‘wrong’, places of worship can turn into terror targets, every Miss India is fair to the point of leucoderma. Guys who like guys and girls who like girls rarely shout it from the rooftops. Generations of people couldn’t draw water from a well or walk on the road or enter via the front door or cover breasts because of who they were.
Partially why a black author took on BBC recently. The title of Yomi Adegoke’s book—Slay in Your Lane—has been used in a BBC billboard. She posted a photo of the BBC Sport ad featuring UK athlete Dina Asher-Smith next to one of her book, co-authored by Elizabeth Uviebinené. ‘All I can say is black creatives, TRADEMARK YOUR S***… I mean, it won’t actually stop white women ripping you off and big organisations stealing your s*** , but at least you can drag their clarts to court!!!’ is her advice.
And finally Dr Payal Tadvi, who killed herself in Mumbai after reportedly being scolded in the operation theatre in front of other staff. There is strong suspicion that it is a caste-related case and not one of professional inefficiency. If true, then the death highlights the danger of regressions and the futility of education.
What can one say as yet another accidental tourist who strayed into planet Earth? Oh, but the brochure looked so good! Or, as a character in a film once said, ‘My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist’.