All the changes that I experienced in Germany were not external. Some uncomfortable and surprising changes occurred in me. One of them was a change in my self-identity.
Living in India, I had considered myself a world citizen. I was an Indian among Indians, who believed the world was shrinking into a global village with the spread of internet, and I considered it a welcome change. It was after all the only way forward for humanity.
My relocation to Germany I believed would intensify my global outlook. However, in a foreign state, I was constantly confronted with my Indian roots.
Every time I met a stranger, people wanted to know where I came from. It was a perfectly innocent and simple question.
Each time I replied with, “I am an Indian”.
Repeat something enough number of times, and it starts sinking into your consciousness, and you can no longer ignore it. Not that I didn’t know I am an Indian. But it had never been an important part of my identity. It was not necessary till now. I never was nor am an anti-national, but I was never a nationalist.
Our roots remain important however far or however long we stay away from our country. Even if I take up German citizen, I would still be a German-Indian. This labelling sticks to even second and third generation immigrant citizens.
I am not the first to experience this heightened sense of identity with one’s nation of origin. My husband once commented that it was almost impossible for him to forget that he was a foreigner in India. It though does mean that however much you may want, it is not possible to blend into the new community.
One can aim to integrate, but it also has its consequences. There are many second-generation Turks in German, who are born and brought up in Germany and hold German citizenship. They complain that in Germany they are still seen as Turks, but in Turkey they are considered Germans.
Many Indians this year are also reflecting on their place in the country and the identity of their country, even if they have not left its shores. With the rise of fascism, and a surge in anti-social activities by the Hindu right-wing party and its sibling organisation, this Republic day was not one that Indians could ignore as usual.
The Republic Day and Independence Day were usually occasions to relax completely, without the burdening of celebrating any religious festival. This time however, many are realising that the country they grew up in has suddenly taken a turn that many could not have thought possible. The whole country is polarised in a way that I have never seen before, along not just religious lines but also ideology among Hindus.
On a lighter note, back here in Germany, I am confronted with other things that are quintessentially Indian. When I tell perfect strangers about my origin, some women seem pleased to learn from where I come and start gushing praises for the romantic movies with its romantic heroes from Bollywood. It is with difficulty that I manage not to roll my eyes in these situations; these women are after all trying to be nice and friendly. Even if I have grown up on a diet of Hindi movies, I have never associated myself with the craziness of Bollywood. Nor was I prepared to encounter Bollywood movies here. They have a following here, with Bollywood movies dubbed in German screened occassionally on popular televison channels.
It seems there is no getting away from the good, bad and the ugly of India wherever I may be.