Musings on suburbia.

I lived in Hobsonville for almost a year when I moved to Aotearoa in Decmber 2001. It was a small suburb with Whenuapai airport and army homes towards the north and Massey towards the south. Westgate was a collection of Countdown, The Warehouse, some cafés, Burger King and Event Cinemas. A gaming pub. I sat my driving test at the Automobile Association there. It was hard to get to Westgate from where my sister’s house. You needed a car or waited aeons for a bus. I took a bus into town when I started my PG Diploma in film, television and media studies the University of Auckland. You took it from the back roads of Hobsonville and it went down Don Buck Rd towards Massey, came out somewhere Triangle Rd before it got on the motorway. The last bus back from town was at 11pm and too bad if you missed it.

I went to Hobsonville after many years today and the Westgate area is a mess. Rather a superb example of very poor urban planning. Of course the roads have been widened and the fields opposite of the old Westgate, along the old road to Helensville, where Garelja Strawberries used to be are now fancy shops. Beyond that more parking lots and new developments. Another Countdown.

And lots of cars. But no sign of public transport.

I did not see a single bus go by; I did not spot a bus stop.

I was in Melbourne last week. I love that city, I love taking the train, the trams, the buses, walking the laneways. Public transport is smooth and easy. Of course Melbournians will disagree with this LOL. The two days I went into town, the Frankston line was closed beyond Caulfield. We had buses take us from that station to Flinders St. It was cold, raining, my son was with me and it was completely painless.

Here in Hobsonville, Auckland we have car upon car and a supposedly unending supply of parking space but no thought to public transport. Whoever planned this development did not seem have given a thought to adding in public transport. For now or in the future. So many people out there on the weekend. I am sure they would have taken public transport if there was any. With good frequency too. Not every 30 minutes. I drove. From Epsom. My bad too. I would have taken a train if it was there.

On The Intentional Circus Of The Mistress.

I tried not to say anything about the Bevan Chuang circus for a long time. People have affairs, even politicians and wannabes; affairs are made public and opponents make political gain, or not. Life goes on.

But not when the wannabe is Bevan Chuang. Every time she has opened her mouth after she first revealed all on Whale Oil, she has dumped a load of excreta on the public. First it was pictures without makeup, looking sad, saying things to Lincoln Tan, appealing to his lazy journalism (more on that later), then this interview for Metro, being the Asian princess-concubine, another interview for Radio Live declaring her intentions to save us ethnics from our political apathy. I ignored it all. Why give more publicity when middle aged white men (and a Singaporean) are working for the cause?

The final straw on my ‘apathetic ethnic back’ was Bevan’s intention to re-apply for Auckland Council’s ethnic advisory panel. I am Asian, a woman and very engaged with democracy and politics. Do I need a Bevan Chuang to represent me? Even though I do not live in Auckland any more, the idea of her being on the panel and using it to get on a national platform, with drooling white men pandering, desiring, their pants about to burst yet they dare not, is repulsive.

There is nothing wrong in being ambitious, there is nothing wrong in being sexual but when that becomes the only tool for social/political climbing, making claims to represent ethnic communities, then it is time to say enough.

Did she do anything for the ethnic communities while she was on the panel? Nothing. I challenge Camille Nakhid and Bevan herself to show concrete proof of the work she did. Apart from posting on Facebook, tweeting, sending out group emails, helping organise a few events and floating around flirtatiously there is zilch to show. I once questioned Bevan for attending a conference organised by Hindu fundamentalists and she had no clue what that was. How can anyone claiming to represent migrants show such ignorance? Would one not do due diligence about the event, who these people are, what the community is up to etc? How is she going to lobby for the ethnic communities on a local level and what is she going to say? L’affaire Brown might have proved her political naivety and lack of nous to the mainstream but us ethnics have known that for a long time. We just don’t say it. Only Renee Liang wrote about the story but she extrapolated it to an imagined experience rather than discuss ethnic representation which was/is the main issue. If Bevan was not on the ethnic advisory board and still had this affair, no one would care.

Auckland Council has called for applications from potential panellists. These panels have a two-point vague agenda about advising the council. Applicants need to have governance experience but is there a constitution for these panels? An outline? What happens if the council has to get rid of a panellist? What if someone passes or has to leave? Is there a strategy for such exits and reappointments? Will the minutes of these meetings be published for the communities to know what their representative panel is up to? It is time to make the process transparent. Let us know who applied, put up their resumes online, who is on the selection panel, and how the panellists fulfil the selection criteria. Surely that is an appropriate demand from an ignorant ethnic? And it will cost less than $250,000 ja?

Bevan would fail the criteria. Broad perspective, critical and strategic thinking, judgement, politics… Yet, she wants to apply. She is scared Len will reject her but she not scared of what the ethnic communities think of her ability to represent! It is not just the conservative elements that question this.

Lazy journalist that Lincoln Tan is, his ‘news’ article in the Herald subtly pushes Bevan to the public and has Camille Nakhid endorsing her. Did he ask the other panellists what they think? Asoka Basnayake was their media spokesperson, did he get a statement from her? When did he last do a balanced piece, especially related to Bevan? From the story about the dragon baby to trying to generate sympathy for a makeup less Bevan, this is a mutually useful relationship that does disservice to the ethnic communities. Not that the ethnics trust him you know, with so many stories bordering on sensationalism and always quoting either Paul Spoonley or Bevan Chuang. (Go do a general analysis of his work.)

It is time for the ethnic communities to speak up. It is time for the Chinese community to say whether they really want Bevan representing them (because who else can she purport to represent?). There are other young, worthy Chinese Aucklanders who will actually do the job and do it very well.

Bring On The Dragon!


Another Lantern Festival comes and goes and New Zealand celebrates Chinese culture in this wonderfully multicultural land. Aren’t we lucky? Just the week before New Zealanders were having a collective seizure over selling the Crafar farms to the Chinese. All is now forgiven in the bonhomie of dragon lanterns and dumplings.

Just the week before, the Labour Party, that party which loves and propagates the presence of ethnics in Aotearoa and vigorously defends our rights for cultural maintenance, suddenly wanted the Crafar Farms to be kept in New Zealand ownership.  Then there is the National Party. Prime Minister John Key has said and reiterated that New Zealand will be welcoming more investment from the Chinese. At the same time converting TVNZ7, a truly public television channel, into a shopping channel. Money and investment from the Chinese is desired but that economic benefit does not translate into equity of representation for the ethnic minorities locally, for the rest of the country to know and understand their stories and cultures and to overcome racist attitudes. The hypocrisy on both sides is obvious, their lip service to multiculturalism. You wonder where the xenophobia comes from? Is the fear of foreign (non-white) investment connected or not connected to how ethnic minorities are perceived and treated in Aotearoa New Zealand?

But then we have events like the Lantern Festival (and Diwali) to give us that connection don’t we? That annual gathering, mixing and mingling of mostly local Chinese and mostly mainstream (white/Pakeha) where everyone sees each other, feels good, eats Chinese food, sings karaoke, watches the fireworks, checks out the imported lanterns and goes home. Until next year. If the aim of such an event is to bring in a zillion footfalls and therein be successful then that is fine. Any B grade movie aimed at the lowest common denominator does just that. It is called mindless entertainment.

Imagine this:  Within the interiors of a HR department:

Two Pakeha read the top page of resumes and throw them in a rubbish bin.

PERSON A :Wong, Leung, Kwok, Kwon, Yik … no, no, no.

PERSON B : Oh you’ve got Asians in your pile too?

PERSON A : Yeah, seriously…no speak Engrrish … I don’t even bother to read through. PERSON B : I know! I just wish someone worthy applied, makes things easy you know … so what did you do over the weekend?

PERSON A: We went to the Lantern Festival. It was so good. I ate so many dumplings and the lanterns they were amazing.

PERSON B : Weren’t they just? I look forward to the Lantern Festival every year. It is so much fun.

PERSON A : My family just love Chinese food. We go to yum char once a month for sure. PERSON B : I love yum char! Which is your favourite yum char place?                                                                                                                     FADE OUT.*

Does multiculturalism, as implemented by governments and related organisations, break barriers via events like the Lantern Festival (and Diwali) or perpetuate the other-isation, exotic-isation and ghetto-isation of ethnic minorities? I would argue that in the larger, multicultural context of this nation, an event like the Lantern Festival is aimless. Like giving popcorn and fizzy drinks to malnourished children so as to feed them but it is not the correct food is it?. Do we learn about Chinese people and Chinese culture at the end of it all? Do we know about their (and by extension other ethnic minorities) contribution to Aotearoa New Zealand?

How many of these visitors are going come away with more knowledge of the local Chinese?

Just another photo op.

Andrew Butcher of the Asia:NZ Foundation says that ”The immediate stuff in our neighbourhood I think that requires a wee bit more work and a wee bit more adjustment.” (In this article on overseas investment figures.) How much is ‘a wee bit more’? Theoretically, if the festivals organised by the Asia:NZ Foundation were meant to change perceptions about Asians, then, in the last ten years since these events began, New Zealanders would want to know about the dumpling-maker rather than just eat the dumplings ya? Unless of course the idea is to exhibit ethnic minorities as anthropological specimens on an annual basis and feel good about how diverse we are.

So, a wee bit more is actually work on a daily basis with everyday cultural existence and behaviour that is normalised and integrated. Not merely teaching Asia in schools or commissioning research that the media reports and forgets. A wee bit more is about the chaos at grassroots level that grows into a movement for sustained, constant visibility and finally acceptance. A wee bit more is empowering minorities and expanding their thinking not just engaging with community leaders and community elites.

Should white people be in charge of showcasing the ethnic minorities of New Zealand? Or teaching Asians about guanxi and how to be Asian or telling young Asians to go on their OE to Asia?  Asia:NZ is white people. (Pardon the English.) Perhaps it is about maintaining colonial, hierarchical power structures to keep ethnics in their place. Is there a wee bit where the ethnics get a say in their representation (minus the dumplings and Bollywood dancing)?

Let us suppose that these festivals are ‘soft power’ projected by New Zealand and packaged with economic incentives for China/India/Asian countries. To attract and persuade them that we are a multicultural nation and we take care of our ethnic minorities. (Look! We celebrate their festivals!) That’s great. We need more trade so why not. Then (a) why fake the concern for the communities and their culture? and (b) if the love for the local ethnics is genuine, is any of that money coming in be going to used to towards creating a robust, egalitarian society that is less racist and not so xenophobic?

Also, for the sake of argument, one can say these festivals are better than nothing. At least we ethnics get a chance to gather and show our culture. Sure. Does that mean (a) we shouldn’t try to improve upon the concept and (b) not question how, our representation, as shaped by white people, remains shallow and superficial? Or how their idea of multiculturalism is about reducing inherent complexities and preserve white supremacy? Where real, existential issues of ethnic minorities are overlooked in the name of cultural maintenance, where the elites from ethnic communities are deemed cultural representatives, where cultural certainty and ‘authenticity’ is the only thing allowed so white people can decide who you are? Multiculturalism which insists on staying static despite changing demographics.

That of course brings up the question of so called community leaders and patriarchs. Who, in most cases, are more interested in photo-ops with the Prime Minister and getting on panels and boards or becoming famous. Maybe these people agreed to the idea of ethnic festivals, to Diwali and the Lantern Festival ten years ago. How about seeking a review? In my experience they would rather be subservient to the government/Asia:NZ as long as their status in the community is maintained.

One way to move is to dismantle the hierarchical structures that insist on representing minorities. Then to rebuild. To separate international trade and business from local celebrations of culture and are yet connected because economic development is common to both. To restructure such as to engage with grassroots, where diversity is not a commodity within the soft power of our nation but a real value, where Asians are in charge of Asian culture, where young Kiwis of Asian origin have a say because this is their future. Asia:NZ is due for a new CEO. Maybe an Asian CEO? Perhaps a complete rehaul?

And for all this ethnic communities have to reflect upon their own place and culture; to break the model minority myth, to build relations with each other even as we work through cultural maintenance and identity, so we have a say in the matters of this nation, to be seen as more than pawns by political parties and the white echelons. Remember what Uncle Bob said? Otherwise,

Most people think, great man will come from Wellington, Make a flash festival and make everybody feel high.…get up stand up…

*sorry for the wrong script format and apologies to my Chinese friends for using their surnames.

My Urban Gardening # 5 thereabouts.

While I procrastinate about how best to write my next post-it is half written-summer is here with a vengeance. Although it rains in the mornings, they say in this part of the world, it is hot as the rest of the day. I had my first swim in the Pacific Ocean some weeks ago but have yet to go in after that. Meanwhile my garden flourishes. This year I have done away with the chilli and eggplant. I have in my little balcony at the back a long pot of strawberry, spinach, cherry tomatoes red and yellow, broad beans, red guava and lime. This year I have vodoo-ed the pots. So the aphids, the fungal gnats, the ants and assorted summer pests are afraid to come anywhere close. So far so good.

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This year I planted seeds I had harvested from my lemon basil and tulsi. Little pots on my kitchen window sill, protected from the fiercely cold Auckland wind but allowing plenty of sun. It is a miracle when seeds, coaxed and chatted to, germinate and grow then become robust plants. This is my family, these plants. I’ve got blood and bones liquid to feed them too. Yeah it seems squeamish-to feed human/animal stuff to plants and then think of them as ‘vegetarian’. But then I wonder how vegetables are grown in bulk without feeding them (or enhancing growth, if that is the agri-market-speak). Better blood and bones than mineral depleting chemical fertilisers. As long as my plants are happy and I can go out the back door to cut some chives/coriander/spinach/basil/pick tomatoes even while I cook. Yeah, this summer is going well so far with my plant family. I just need to loosen the soil and repot some. And I do seem to getting better at gardening. From never having tried back in Bombay to making sure it on my list of things-to-do-always, kind of like meditation. That’s all.

More Urban Gardening

Winter is not a great time to grow plants but in mid-autumn I planted a bunch of broad-beans on the advice of a mate. Had no idea what to expect. The first thing that happened was that the pot got infested with ants. I have a lot to say about ants @$$$£$^&*&! At my Buddhist/Zen best I want to let them be because they are fellow creatures. At my human depth I want to kill each little bastard individually. These ants ate my egg plant and chilli plant in the summer. I’ve never known ants to eat chillies, Indian chillies too. They got into the pots and fed on the roots. I got one, ONE, brinjal and a mere handful of chillies. I love my plants. I love potting them, watering them every day, talking to them, touching them, feeling them…get the gist? And this was no time to be Buddhist. For my first attack I got ant/insect spray from the supermarket and sprayed it all over my balcony and around the back door. There was respite and I rejoiced. Round one to me. Not for long. I discovered they had snuck into the broad-bean pot and were proliferating. When Arjun was facing his cousins, the Kauravas, at Kurukshetra, wondering how he could kill them, Krishna, his charioteer said that sometimes the call of duty is greater than brotherhood. So the call of seeing my plant actually bear fruit was bigger than love for those little buggers. It was all out war. The enemy had to be killed with the deadliest Weapon of Mass Destruction. Ant Sand, supposedly safe (for humans). I sprinkled it all over the pot on the soil, around the plot and into the gaps in my balcony. There was no escape! I am pleased to announce the enemy has been destroyed 🙂 The war has been won, no insurgency expected. The plants are flourishing, thank you. They’ve flowered and the beans should not be far behind.

Meanwhile the Calendula and the Lemon Grass are doing very well. The LG was plucked out from another garden and by the time I drove home and potted it, it was as good as dead. This was towards the end of the summer. Then a mate of mine, the same one who gave me the broad-beans, said I should keep the faith and keep on watering it, coaxing it.Used in my Thai curry chicken some weeks ago.

My fenugreek (methi) experiment has failed though and I’ve got a mere two shoots. Keep trying, keep trying, that is mantra. I love gardening and having plants around me, some flowers, some food, some decoration, some edible. I think I should feed it some supplements. Next on the agenda is to plant strawberries and flax. Let’s see how that goes. Yeah it is not strawberry season. Yet.

One last thing. That can happen only in Auckland (or New Zealand). Last month I went to my old street and plucked all the red guavas I possibly could from the tree that everyone ignores. Only the rare person in that neighbourhood cares about this free kai (food in Te Reo Maori). Delicious little red guavas that I never knew existed. I was only aware of the green variety back in India. Here’s a look at the beauties.

Urban Gardening 2. My Plants Bloom

My tomatoes are ripening. Check this out the photo.

And the calendula too.  Although the coriander has failed to grow and my experiment with pomegranate too.

I wonder now if I need to buy coriander seeds from the plat shop…perhaps mine are genetically modified terminal seeds? The argument for and against GE/GM interests me no end. Of course I am no expert on it but the thought of genetic engineering makes me shudder. This is not paranoia. As a qualified medical professional I know the importance of science in saving lives and decreasing human mortality as well as morbidity. A lot of the world’s population would be long gone without chicken pox, polio, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and all the other vaccines we take as part of our immunisation schedule. Small pox was eradicated because of a rigourous schedule implemented by so many countries. Cervical cancers are probably going to reduce in prevalence because of vaccines (and smears that will catch the cancer in situ). So I am not against scientific advances in food or food technology. There has to be a way to reduce world hunger and food prices are going to go up no matter what because there is only so much land to till. That is why I guess for me it is an important part of my life and existence to grow my own food. Some of it anyway. The beauty of Auckland (and New Zealand or even Australia) is that no one looks at you like you are a nutter if you say you are into gardening. My friends in India don’t get that. We never grew up with a culture of growing your own food. Not in Bombay anyway. Old Bombay, Girguam, congested, chaotic, crowded and low on water. We used to and still get our water supply from the great Brihanmumbai Mahanagar Palika (or the good old Bombay Municipal Corporation-before the parochialists screwed it up) at 5am in the morning. I filled up buckets and tanks and pots for years. My mother still does it. So there was no culture of growing any plants except maybe for decorative purposes. I think that should change. I think with modern technologies we can grow some of our food in our apartments and share it with our neighbours. We can create our own compost-if we follow the rules and respect each other-and use the product to fertilise the land. Give back to Mother Earth. I now dump some of my kitchen scraps in the worm farm that my neighbour offered to share. It is full of gorgeous little creepie-crawlies and other microscopic organisms that do what they are supposed to do. Keep this ecosystem going.

I guess it is hard to spot all the little living things in the last photo but they are all amazing! What we as humans have to do is understand the ecosystem and that we need it for our survival. Long after we are gone due to some nuclear holocaust, when cockroaches are the only survivors, they will continue to evolve. My greenie, hippy heart looks for the day when it will dawn on more people than those of us fringe dwellers that ‘green’ does not mean some decorative useless plant and food does not have to come from supermarkets. In Auckland, up at Bastion Point, in the Orakei Marae, replete with so much history, the local iwi Ngati Whatua are growing food and bringing back native flora. In a project called Ko Te Pukaki the entire land is being re-forested and there are vegetable gardens, kumara pits and all kinds of flax being grown. Even Auckland City Mission send their homeless clients (is that the right word?) to tend the gardens and a lot of the food goes back to the Mission kitchens. The oh-so-dynamic Ngarimu Blair is the driving force behind this project. (Watch out for him..he might be PM one day.)

Yeah so one day I hope more people start being pro-active about growing their own food, understanding where our food comes from and how we consume it. The other good thing about Auckland for me is the fruit that grows on streets or in communal backyards. The feijoa in my backyard is already giving fruit

and I wait for the red guava tree on my old street to start fruiting (right word?). I did not know red guava existed until I saw this tree. They taste really good, slightly more acidic than the green guava I used to have in India. Apparently you can make jam from guava. So maybe if I gather enough next month I’ll try that (and write another blog).

Before that one last picture. The brinjal I planted i just beginning to flower. Another month before I get anything edible.

Moving house; uncluttering my life

It has been a hectic December. Moving house is unsettling. After flatting for six years it was time to move and the adamant, pedantic and particular being that I am, it took me months to find the perfect place.  I am a city girl. Love the bush and the ocean; the sounds of silence, wilderness, living absolutely basic but I am also a ‘culture-vulture’. Cannot do without my films and visiting art galleries or just walking on Karangahape Road. I practically live on Queen Street during the Auckland International  Film Festival going from one theatre to the other and then work in-between! It had to be a city suburb. Easy to drive out of Auckland into the Waitakeres or the West Auckland beaches. Thirty minutes max. Besides, I cannot do ghetto nor do I envisage death by suburbia! Imagine living with inquisitive Indian neighbours! Or somewhere within endless rows of characterless houses enclosed by ‘new development’. Not to say it is all like that…yet… the whole point of living in Auckland or out of India is to be able to be amongst all kinds of peoples and ethnicities and they exist in Auckland. (181  ethnicities in Auckland at last count.) A global existence. Even if that makes me snobbish.

So, moving house.  I despaired at first. There were the usual cold, dark Grey Lynn villas and the hugely expensive Ponsonby flats or places in Kingsland, Mt Albert and even Sandringham. Not all were bad but neither did they call out to me and few lived up to their description in the advertisements. I even went to the local real estate agent to talk about what I wanted. (No, not much to say about real estate agents that has not been said before. They are not answerable to their customers neither do they care because they know that house-hunters don’t have a choice.) Then suddenly there were three apartments available in Herne Bay. I would have never thought there would be apartments in Herne Bay. It is where the terribly posh people live in their seaside mansions. Or atleast that is the reputation. So I went along blindly to  one apartment, the first place I inspected. There were a lot of people there. Couples confabulating with each other as they scrutinised the space. As usual I was the odd one out by myself. Never had to scout for a house before and did not really  know what questions to ask the real estate agent/property manager. Not that I learnt much because the second flat I saw, which I liked, the real estate agent was superficial and distant. It was an experience, that one. I asked to rent the place straightaway and filled out the form. ‘The landlord is away so I’ll let you know in two days’, she said. Ya cool I thought. I waited and waited. The landlord is still away, she told me. It took me while to fathom. The woman was, in typical Pakeha (white) Kiwi fashion, covertly racist. She did not want to tell me perhaps that an Indian would not do. What if the flat stank of curry eh? Otherwise what other reason is there not to give me the flat? It is not like negotiating to buy a house is it? Renting a house in New Zealand is simple and straightforward particularly for residents and citizens. I have never encountered blatant racism especially not in the industry that I work in. You are capable so who cares about the colour of your skin. That place was not to be mine. For a good reason.

My current flat/apartment is a gift from the universe. The first time I saw it, from the end of the driveway, I fell in love with it.  Brick edifice of eight flats built in the sixties/seventies. Four downstairs, four upstairs. A common garden in the front and at the back. The beach across the road and two more on adjacent streets.  Fruit trees and nice neighbours. Perhaps a pain in the winter but perfectly suitable for little hippy me. So I moved in.

And started to unclutter my life. I am a hoarder by nature. Inherited it from my grandmother. I’d hoarded bits and pieces, pots, pans, kettles, computer cords and all kinds of things. I’d need it all one day when I moved or so I thought. But then I’ve come to live the reduce, reuse, recycle motto. The triviality of material possession is an absolute truth that cannot be emphasised enough. I really only had/have my computers, my mobile phone, car, dvd and video player. Being the good Indian girl 😉 I had a well-equipped kitchen including my steel thalis, katoris and glasses. The rest of my belongings only tell the story of my life, my journey so far and only I value them. At this moment I sleep on an air mattress and have just bought a faded, velvet green sofa from the Sallies. My dining table is the floor. A kind friend donated the television and I have rented the refrigerator. Of course I have a collection of shoes and some really nice clothes, sarees, bits of jewellery, make up, perfumes…mere requirements for a slightly bourgeois existence, occasionally self-indulgent.

The next step is to stay green. Yeah, yeah planted the herbs, chillies, tomotoes, even egg-plant but what about giving back to Mother Earth what she gives us? In my old flat I composted my kitchen scraps. For six years! When I moved to the new flat I had to explain to the property manager that composting can be done in an urban, apartment environment. My little greenie heart breaks every time I chuck my tea leaves into the rubbish bin rather than into a compost bucket. So now I am thinking Bokashi. One of my ex boyfriends was anal about research, a habit I picked up for better rather than worse. So, next year perhaps, after Googling up as much as I can, going to the green shops and talking to the experts I shall have much knowledge, enough for another blog. 🙂

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.

LOVING INDIA-9 Never Say Goodbye.

I am at home in Auckland typing on my own keyboard. I am glad to be home. I was sad to leave home. One is my matrubhoomi, motherland. The other is my karmabhoomi, the land that is shaping my destiny. Home is where the heart is?

Home is where you know the sequence of the electrical switches. The first and last for plugs, the second one for the fan and the third for the light. The same in all rooms of the house. Home is where your mother stores her stock of detergent soaps in the same place for as long as you remember. The bottom shelf of that wooden cupboard in the hallway near the bathroom. Home is when I walked through the labyrinthine maze of Khotachiwadi, Girgaum, Mumbai. The old bungalows, Ideal Wafer Company, narrow lanes still same-to-same. Home. The bus routes, bhel-puri at Chowpatty beach, sizzlers at Kobe, hawkers in the ladies’ compartment of the local train selling bindis, combs and hair clips. Some of the local trains are now painted an appalling McDonald orange (or red?). Nine to twelve carriages advertising fast food that is meant to be aspirational but which very few Indians can afford. They still go from Churchgate to Virar though. Home.

The domestic airports have to deal with air traffic. Air traffic! Indians are travelling their country like never before. Train bookings were always tough to get. Now three-three flights fly to and from one destination at the same time. Budget airlines on which you have to rush to ‘catch’ a seat and buy chana-singdana, peanuts, for Rs 20. And there is that benchmark in local luxury, Kingfisher Airlines (so I’ve been told). The sour-faced service at Indian Airlines continues. Home.

A group of villagers from a remote area in Maharashtra flew all the way to Delhi to meet their representative member of Parliament. He asked the women if they had flown before. This is the first time they had been out of their village, they said.

Waiting for her flight to wherever, while I waited for my flight to Delhi from Bombay, a matron munched on bakarwadi, a savoury. Her trolley was packed with her boriya-bistara, all possible worldy belongings. Like she was taking the Geetanjali Express from VT, Bombay to Howrah, Calcutta. Aap ko bhook lagi hai, are you hungry, she asked another women sitting next to her. Mere pass bahut khane ko hai, I have lots of food with me. Home.

That orgasmic middle-class utopia at Phoenix Mill compound continues to flourish. The chawls, where many of those textile mill workers who lost their jobs in the infamous strike during the 1980s continue to live, are rundown and probably spawning new blood for the Mumbai mafia. I had lunch with my school friends and ate tandoori prawns at Gajalee in Phoenix Mill compound. With my jholawala (socialist/bleeding heart) attitude intact. Home.

Then I flew home. The garden is overgrown with weeds. The chillies are a bright red and I will put them out on the footpath tomorrow for passers-by to pick up. For free. Home. One more week for daylight savings time to end. I might go for a dip in the ocean and am looking forward to my weekend walks in the bush. Home. I have to be overtly PC most of the time yet can send of emails to WINZ where I can call an officer obtuse and pedantic. 🙂 Home. I can do any kind of work and not be looked-down-upon. And I don’t have to keep up middle-class appearances. Home.

Bombay is home. Auckland is my space. Can’t ever say goodbye to either.