Wednesday, 4 August 2010

getting my indian on

so i went to this function last night, organised by an indian group, organised basically so the indian community could meet the new indian high commissioner. i went along, not because i feel particularly indian or because i was dying to meet this person. i think it was mostly to provide a visible muslim presence, maybe a bit of a show of defiance, i'm not really sure.

it wasn't a particularly pleasant experience. there was the usual jingoistic nationalistic type stuff that i feel really uncomfortable about. it's a fine line between being proud of your culture and heritage, and being, well, just a little arrogant about it. just that touch of feeling smug and superior, that hint of boasting, that exaggerated sense of attachment to the motherland which, if we had truly loved that much, we would never have left.

the new high commissioner is a navy man. he spent umpteen years in the indian navy, and just before this current post, something like 3 years being the head of it. so obviously not a career diplomat, and i'll have to give him leeway for that. i'm sure he's a lovely person, i didn't actually get to talk to him personally.

but he started his speech with "namashkar", and that was it. a very small point, but as a greeting, it wasn't inclusive. rt hon helen clark was pretty damn good with her greetings, so i guess i'm a little spoilt. she managed to cover most major continents, with a big focus on the pacific. the other person who is fantastic in this regard is his excellency, the the rt hon sir anand satyanand. he tends to start any speech with the words "i will now greet you in the languages of nz", and includes maori, tokelauan & cook islands maori in his greeting.

it would have been really nice if the indian high commissioner had chosen a range of the greetings of india, to reflect the audience he was addressing. a "sat sriyakal", an "assalamo alaikum", as well as a few of the major languages (gurati, madrassi, bengali, for example) would have been a nice touch. as i said, it's a small point, but it helps to create an atmosphere where people feel engaged and identify with the speaker. and finishing with "jai hind", i'm afraid that didn't particularly resonate with me either.

but i think the thing that got on my nerves was the focus on the economic. admittedly, he'd spent the day with some representative from a nz trade organisation, and had apparently been visiting businesses in hamilton during the day. so that was probably at the forefront of his mind, and the reason why his speech had stats about the growth of the indian economy.

he particularly focused on the growth of the indian middle class (apparently now 40% of the population), and congratulated them for being the ones responsible for india's success. and of course, me being the committed lefty that i am, this just pissed me off. i mean yes, the educated middle class makes a massive contribution. but who is providing the bulk of cheap labour that allows big indian businesses to make the massive profits they do, that enables these major businesses to be investing internationally and buying up shares in other companies around the world?

are those labourers not providing too much for too little in return? hours of work for pittance in pay, and poor working conditions. i'm sorry, but the indian economy would not be what it is today without it's working class, and it would be nice if our high commissioner could include some appreciation for what they contribute, instead of talking of them as charity cases. yes, he mentioned that elite schools are now required by law to take a percentage of their pupils from the underprivileged classes - that percentage to be rising to 20% by some date in the future (which i forget). very charitable, except that high quality education is the right of every citizen of the planet. so please present it as a country righting something that is very wrong in the social structure. don't get me wrong, it's an excellent policy and i wish elite nz schools could be forced to do the same. it was just the presentation that i didn't agree with.

actually, i was probably one of the only lefties in that room. i think what he said was extremely well received by almost everyone else. and in that sense, he had read his very middle-class audience extremely well. i wish him all the best for his stay in nz, and it looks like he's pretty committed to doing a good job. maybe this is just me being a bit too picky, but there it is.

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