Thursday, June 04, 2009
It is Not Easy Being Green
It is not easy being brown either...particularly if you are brown, young, male and in Melbourne at the moment (or so we are told).
Over the past week I have had to field a fair number of queries (concerned or just curious) about the recent spate of attacks against young Indians in the city...my standard answer has been "It is Complicated"...it is the same response I have for the Pakistani cousins when they ask me if they would face any prejudice studying in Australia. To tell you the truth, these cousins (or anyone young, Pashtun and male) would face some kind of pressure and prejudice even if they were in Pakistan ...like Goldilocks they are either Taleban sympathizers/co-opted by the evil West/part of the pro-Punjabi establishment/hidden beards...NEVER Just Right! Ditto the young Indian student. And I have to admit that I have been kind of "sitting on the fence" on racism and prejudice in Australia because I live a very "insular" life...I came here as a post-grad student and have lived a life amongst academics since then...I am more worried having my work critiqued by some waspish critic and less about having my skin color or religious identity mocked....and well in recent times I have chosen the "cloister" of mommyhood so I have to admit I should not be volunteering to complete any survey on the life of an international student in Melbourne. It is also difficult for me to trash the Anglo Saxon Aussie when a Caucasian bus driver has jumped down every time from his seat on seeing me with Arhaan, he will get off the bus and carry the heavy pram and park it inside and will repeat the process when I have to get down, all this while inquiring about my day and wishing me well. However, I have to admit that if it has not happened to me I cannot shrug my shoulder and say that I dont see Australia becoming intolerant of certain communities in recent times.
See Australia has had a conflicted relationship with its multicultural aspirations...all of us are aware of its torrid history of White Australia and selective intake of immigrants till the 1970s, the problematic Howard years and hysteria about 'boat people' and 'queue jumping'. Like certain other nations while it is OK with the food and music that immigrants introduce to their world, it has not been that tolerant of some of those people and their lifestyles.
So henna tattoos, belly dancing, doner kebabs, Middle Eastern music? Yes
The IT revolution, Jai Ho*, curry, garam masala, Bolly-exercise, Bollywood dancing in the Park, Shahrukh Khan? Yes, Yes, Yes
Indian students down Flinders Street...nooooooo!!
Ok, I will be the first to admit that I had a major problem with the desi male student population in the days of Casa Flinders Street, and that was one plus point of moving to the suburbs...none of the Puppyjhuuppy Punjabi Perve encounters, not listening to one more Roadside Romeo thinking he was very original when he warbled Tere Mukhdey Pay Kaala Kaala Til Hai (or that inane humming from the back seat at a decibel frequented by mosquitoes ...that you are just dying to turn around and say Shut Up! or sing that song properly), the stale smell of parathas in the train and greasy smudges on the window and door of the train compartment, the scary scary discussions About Last Night that I just could not avoid overhearing(considering the guy in question is either screaming down the phone or pretty loud as he speaks to a friend next to him) should I take them seriously or just ignore it as major fantasizing on his part (About Last Night ALWAYS deals with a group of them having a sex worker over and well all of them having a session bordering on sexual violence)...a number of times these young men want to unnerve South Asian women travelling on their own (again its very complicated ...and so you have to tolerate their snide comments), attending the fireworks display last New Year's Eve which quickly became the New Year's Eve from hell as a group of obnoxious young desi men descended upon Federation Square....However would I advocate going " curry bashing" some night, no I dont think so.
The obnoxious behaviour of some of their compatriots might play a role in the animosity against young Indian men but there are other reasons too. There is a recession (whether one wants to admit it or not), jobs are moving overseas, anxiety as India starts flexing its economic muscles, Indian full fee paying students compared to limited student loans and scholarships for local students, the dog whistle politics of the Howard years, teenage angst (well, teenage angst compounded with other pressures), rise in urban crime, the dangers of working late shift jobs....but all this is very difficult to understand (and condone your attacker for) when there is a screw driver pressed against your chest.
The reaction of some of the South Asian population has been pretty problematic as well (OK, I have to confess that when one of my colleagues expressed her concern one morning I quipped "Im Pakistani, maaro @** ko" but seriously we are all brown for a certain population and I dont think we should rest easy plus I should be less blasé considering the bub and his genetic makeup)...a number of Indians have written emails, letters to the editor as how they dont see Australia as racist and how India and Indians at home and abroad are more problematic (I find this kind of justification very problematic)...I also witness a kind of "embarrassment" on our part, we are all comfortable with the Yash Raichands around and not the Ricky Thukrals amongst us ( a significant reason why the Manhattan Melodramas sell and films like Jhooom Barabar flop) I admit some of us have not been kind to the plight of the hapless Indian student as it ruins our perception of the Good Life.
Khair, this is just me...as I mentioned earlier I am an Outsider looking in both to Australia and India..I think Silvara who has the privilege of growing up brown in Aussie land (and who frankly writes far better than me as a South Asian female) can tell you more on this issue. Please visit her at
for what she and her peers have to say.
One good thing coming out from last week is that even if the events were just Bad things Happening to Good People Being In the Wrong Place at the Wrong Time and not exactly Indian student-specific as such, it has started an earnest debate on the issue of class, race and prejudice in Australia. Good for the Indian government for taking up the issue and forcing Canberra and Melbourne to take the issue of international students and their plight seriously. It is all very well when their fee and daily expenses contribute to Australian economy, and turn away when it comes to their housing, well being, and security in Australia.
Until then Gman has been instructed by my family to stop going to work in his Formally Informal ensemble and koee suit shoot pehen ke jaaya karey so people take him seriously ...siggghhhhh!!
** Is it just me or does anyone else find the Pussy Cat Dolls' Jai Ho video SERIOUSLY disturbing? the combination of voyeurism in confined public spaces, a bobbing head A R Rahman, ..I am not Happy.