Of Conflict and Resolution:
(I was asked to write this for a class assignment and attempt to connect a personal conflict to a larger, political one. This was the result.)
Growing up, I went to five different schools before my family made up their minds and picked one country to settle in. In every place, there was one question that stayed the same, asked by both teachers who were trying to be friendly and classmates sizing me up, “So, where are you from?”
The questions of my identity, my roots, and the place I call home have always been some of my greatest conflicts. Like any self respecting millennial, I blame this whole torn in two complex on the usual suspects, my parents. My heritage lies in the proud Dekkani Muslim community, a people famed for their loudness, (more than) slightly misogynistic practices, and biryani. My parents, for reason best left to themselves, abstained from raising us in the traditional cookie cutter Dekkani way ; we spoke English as our mother tongue, not Urdu, wore frocks and pressed shirts and pants instead of salwar kameezes, and top it off, had an Anglo Indian governess named Wilma, who on the rare occasion would drop subtle hints about how much better life would’ve been if the Raj had stayed. Throw in my father’s Telugu Naidu side and you get this; every Eid, family dinner and wedding was a strange melting pot of silk sarees and lehengas, my usually very drunk Naidu relatives being eyed suspiciously by my Urdu ones, the sound of temple bells and the adhan. My childhood was chaos, but I never minded the this cultural conflict I was often thrown into.
This changed when I moved to Canada when I was 7, and returned to India as a teenager, brimming in all the glory of the angst and self-imposed misery that my new found young adulthood had brought. I spent the next few years in India on a tired, confused journey trying to find out who I was, which country and culture I belonged, and exhausted by trying to find an answer.
Conflict can come in many forms, and those days conflict was my classmates relentlessly mocking me for my accent, to the point where I went silent in class for the next four years. Conflict is when your mind wages war against itself when someone asks you where you’re from, really; Do you say Chennai, the city you reluctantly live in, or Mississauga, the town where your heart still firmly lies? Conflict is when you return to the country you still call home, whose flag you still fly every Canada Day, and find that its changed without you. The streets are different, the old park you loved is gone and all of your friends have moved away. I wasn’t Canadian enough in Canada, I wasn’t Indian enough in India. I was a messy collage of two countries and their cultures carelessly stuck together, and for the longest time, I didn’t know if I would ever find myself or a place to call home.
Today, the world is witnessing one of its greatest conflicts, one that mine does not even compare to. More than a million refugees have fled Syria to countries across Europe and North America, and a large number of them are children who were ripped away from one way of life and now must learn another. We can discuss immigration policy and assimilation all we want, but we also need to discuss what this new generation will go through as they grow up, the questions they’ll ask themselves. Will they hold on to Arabic or speak and pass down the language of their new country as a mother tongue? Will they change their names to sound more Anglicized? Leave their old faith behind to avoid stigmatization? Still call Syria their homeland or deny it?
I would never be presumptuous enough to assume that I could relate to their situation enough that I could offer them a concrete resolution.
I can only say that I, in my own way, am part of the Third Culture, much like they are now. My resolution, my peace has come with the understanding that all of these years, I’d been tearing myself apart in order to make myself whole. Choose this. Or that. There is no in between. My resolution came when I told myself I didn’t have to be one or the other, but that I am both. I am both countries, both worlds, both experiences, and I’ve found my life more enriched by it.
As someone who considers Star Wars a way of life, I find it sacrilege to quote its rival, Star Trek, but I make the exception in this case. In the 2009 revival of the franchise, there is a scene where the character Spock, who is half human, half Vulcan, must grapple with who he is. His father speaks to him, and utters a phrase that with will stay with me for the rest of my life, “You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you.” he says. It is a conflict that can either destroy or define you.
I choose the latter.