The music in my life

To keep it brief-there has been such an outpouring of emotion over Michael Jackson’s death-there is nothing more I can say.

Just that growing up in Bombay, India, in the eighties, MJ was my first exposure to seeing a black American singer on stage. I know the politics and the power structure of that now. Why it is important to have with us the music of Michael Jackson and Prince. It is a reminder of the need for representation and to reiterate your place in the world. Through visibility, music and storytelling. Michael Jackson did what a lot of African American singers before him could not do. Not even Isaac Hayes. Living here in New Zealand I understand that better. Sometimes I wonder if we Indians are ever going to get that kind of music that goes beyond the purity of Lata Mangeshkar. No doubt that Lata is the Nightingale of India and her contribution to popular (and classical) Indian culture is immense but I crave for the complexity and ambiguity that talks about current India. Globalisation, aspiration, poverty, fanaticism and spirituality. I hope it will happen one day-for in my gloom and looking at videos on Youtube that is all I can think of. So in conclusion here is the video of the theme music from SHAFT (Issac Hayes) and MJ doing his version of Ain’t No Sunshine. RIP. Love always.

Smug New Zealand and racist Australia.

<Do not take this seriously.>

At least not as half as the New Zealand immigration consultants who are smugly looking forward to Indian students coming to the good ol’ Land Of The Long White Cloud instead of Crocodile Dundee. Coz they are racist there. We are not here, supposedly.

So when I saw all the shit on telly and learnt how Amitabh Bachchan had refused a doctorate from Brisbane I called my sister. She lives in Melbourne. She is Indian, she should know :-). Yeah she said there have been attacks. Nothing new. Just that they all happened in a cluster this time. And the police reaction was pathetic. There are three things the police apparently said that are circulating in the Indian community.

1-The Indians are attacked because they flaunt their wealth.

2-The Indians are attacked because they talk too loudly.

3-The Indians are attacked because they travel on their own.

If true then none of the above makes any sense. I have been to Melbourne so many times. It is a great city; multicultural and dynamic. It is also Australia. The indigenous people are missing, banished to the desert and boondocks to become unemployed alcoholics and gamblers in a perpetual cycle. The media is full of white people with supposedly Ango-Saxon origin, Australian identity denying anything else. Indian students in Melbourne, the ones I have seen in town, loitering at Flinders Street Station and in the trains and buses are regular middle class kids, a little bit frightened, a little bit out of their depth and a little bit defensive. Wearing designer gear is an Asian/Indian aspirational thing. No connection to how much wealth a person has. Does not mean they flaunt it. I don’t agree with it, being happy in my op-shop-hippy-East-Asian-inspired-cute-grunge but that is the reality with most Indian students.

Point number two. Indians are a cacophonic people. We are like this only, what to do? So we talk loudly. Point number three-totally opposite to the point before. If people are by themselves are they going to talk loudly? You tell me.

While it was not okay to throw stones and break the windows of the clocks at Flinders St, as the Indian protesters allegedly did, the anger is not without reason. I look at the number of Indian students and education as an industry and wonder if there is any platform that mediates between the visitors and the hosts? Are these students given an idea of what Australia is? Not all pretty for sure! Does anyone prime these students for a life in an alien culture that is different from what they see in American television programmes or Hollywood and even Bollywood films? (This is another thesis altogether-about how Bollywood films show the exotic Western ‘other’ to Indians in India and within the diaspora. In that world there are more Indians that white or other people.) Life in Melbourne is not all Salaam-Namaste. Universities and the police as well as the communities need to create a space for understanding these issues if there already is not one. On the other hand though Indian students need to try and get out of their silos. Living in a global world means not just combating white colonialism or appeasing white people it also imperative to co-exist with non-white folk. Do these students empathise with the Aborigines? Or other refugee and migrants? One thing I have learnt living in New Zealand is that if the tangata whenua, the people of the land, are given their rights and respect then other colonised migrants will also get their recognition as equal humans. 

Does that make me smug? Sorta. I realise that. Racism is different in New Zealand. It is subtle and devious. It is about contained multiculturalism. It is about ranting how obese, non-English speakers and smokers line up at the GP and use the health system, it is about complaining how the attendants in hospital are all Asians…that kind of stuff. Migrants are good as long as they shut up and show the money. That is why Immigration New Zealand sees a silver lining in the attacks on the Indian students in Melbourne. They can come here, we are cool and accomodating. I know the universities here have checks in place against racism and there are authorities you can talk to. YET! The simple presence of so many migrants and ethnicities from all over the world are denied except in exotic terms or not at all. Example being the latest Big Little City campaign for the Heart Of The City; to bring in tourists into Auckland CBD. Someone said to me the other day that tolerance does not mean acceptance. So this advertisement, in the main business district of Auckland, the biggest city in the South Pacific, which is actually Diversity Central does not show any ‘ethnics’ at all! First of all it shows an old man cycling (without or without a helmet is another argument); who can cycle in Auckland CBD? Then there are only designers and expensive restaurants! The one ‘Asian’ Boh Runga, I will argue here, is not really an Asian in that sense. She is a celebrity who just released a new music album. Alex Swney was so defensive on his Media 7 interview Alistair Kwun can’t stop himself smiling at the load of nonsense. Where was Swney’s acceptance of the diversity and multiculturalism? Where was the reflection?

Anyway, I digress. What I am trying to say is that just because there have been racist attacks on Indian students in Australia does not make New Zealand holier-than-thou. There is a lot of dialogue to be had here. And there is a lot of dialogue to be had in India too. About our attitudes to others within the country and outside. Perhaps it is time to reflect on our own inherent racism that is the caste system and the violence that goes with it. If we go to live overseas then how do we try to integrate and demand our rights with the understanding that if we expect the goras to treat us well then we too should treat ‘others’ with respect. It is as simple as that.