In 1902, Maharajah Madho Singh of Jaipur ordered the creation of two huge silver water urns that each carried 4,000 litres of holy Ganges river water for him to use when he travelled for the first time across the ocean to attend the coronation of Edward VII in London. As a pious Hindu, the Maharajah did not trust European waters and instead of risking religious pollution, he chose to carry the Ganges with him.
We can look back and laugh at the extravagant excess that such gestures symbolised – especially expats who have been away from their homeland for decades. In any case, 21st century Indians are intrepid globetrotters and the Ganges is so polluted that it may fail the strict health checks before being allowed into most countries for fear of sparking off epidemics.
But what we do carry with us when we choose to go abroad and especially as long-term expats, is mental baggage that far outweighs the Maharajah’s 342 kilo silver pots. Even Gulf Indians who travel home more frequently than their North American or Aussie counterparts, have a mental freeze about their country – their India and Indian values can be traced to the year that they left the country to go abroad. Never mind that India herself has moved far, far ahead in terms of social and economic values.
This is best reflected in the way we carry our outdated values with us – when cultural activist and phenomenal musician T M Krishna was invited to sing at a Washington temple, right-wingers blocked the temple concert, forcing organisers to move it the Georgetown University. Why, even in Bahrain, when Krishna came and sang from the heart last year, there were classical music fans who refused to buy tickets because he represented a thought process that bucked India’s ancient traditions. Most believe that artists should be trick ponies who just perform and should not seek to engage with the world or change the status quo.
Meanwhile, these cultural protesters don’t think twice about patronising a Salman Khan film, knowing fully well that he is an alleged serial abuser of women and has cases pending against him for everything from running over pavement dwellers to shooting endangered black buck. When questioned, they will reply that an artist’s private life should not be used to judge his or her performance.
Now this is a conundrum indeed. We will not support a singer who raises his voice against caste prejudice and who uses his powerful music to pay homage to all religions. Yet, we will be fans of artists whose unlawful, degrading behaviour is barely concealed by legal loopholes.
As expat parents who are out of touch with cultural values back home, just what are we teaching our children? That we can support causes without due diligence and understanding of their future? This blind subordination that clouds our expat value system puts us out of step with our roots even as we cling to our sucked-out traditions.
I am not saying right wing values are always inferior to leftist ideals. Obviously we live in a world where the right is more strident presently. But having moved to a different part of the world, surely we need to use the lens of our wider world view to examine the home-truths and not stay confined to our world of the 80s when we left our countries? After all we may be children of the 70s ourselves but as millennial parents, we need to behave in a way that acknowledges our influence on the future through our children.