Self- Identity

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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. An Indian among Indians, I  was one with the community. It was my belief, that the world was shrinking into a global village with the spread of the internet. I considered it a welcome change. It was, after all, the only way forward for humanity.

My move to Germany, I believed, would make my global outlook stronger. 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 you start to internalize the message. 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 until now. I never was, nor am I an anti-national, but I was never a nationalist.

Our roots remain important, however far or, however long we stay away from our country.

I am not the first to experience this heightened sense of identity with my country of origin. My husband once commented that it was almost impossible for him to forget that he was a foreigner in India.

This self-identity can be a hindrance.  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. They were born and brought up in Germany and hold German citizenship. They complain that in Germany they are still seen as Turks. In Turkey, people consider them Germans.

Similarly, even if I take up German citizenship, I would still be a Indian-German.  Second and third generation  citizens are also stuck with this labelling.

Many Indians this year are also reflecting on their place in the country. And how they identify with their country, even if they have not left its shores. There has been a rise in fascism;  and there has been a surge in anti-social activities by the Hindu right-wing party and its sibling organisations.

This Republic day was not one that Indians could ignore as usual.

Indians usually see The Republic Day and Independence Day as occasions to relax. There isn’t even the burden of celebrating any religious festival. This time, however, many are realising that the country they grew up in has changed. It has suddenly taken a turn they could not have thought possible. The whole country is polarised in a way that I have never seen before. Not just along 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. They start gushing praises for the Bollywood movies with its romantic heroes. It is with difficulty that I manage not to roll my eyes in these situations. The women are, after all, trying to be nice and friendly. I have never associated myself with the craziness of Bollywood, even though have grown up on a diet of Hindi movies,

Nor was I prepared to encounter Bollywood movies here. Bollywood movies have quite a following here. They are screened occasionally on popular television channels, after being dubbed in German.

Wherever I may be, it seems there is no getting away from the good, bad, and the ugly of India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow Morning

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‘Never knew before what eternity was made for. It is to give some of us a chance to learn German.’ Mark Twain

One of the biggest challenges in moving to Germany was learning the language. As a language German is renowned for its not-so-subtle difference in sentence construction and use of verbs.

Germans take pride in the precision of their language, as in all other things they do.  I was told there is a specify word for everything. This is especially true for technical objects and process. So as a consequence, Germans tag words together to provide a complete description, where the rest of the world makes do with phrases.

This tendency is omniscient, and has gifted the world with vocabulary like ‘Schadenfreude’, which translates to ‘enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others’ according to Merrriam webster. You get it by combining two German wordsSchaden’ which means harm and ‘freude’, which means joy.

However, for all their love of precision, Germans do have some words that have a double meaning.

None is as inconvenient as their use of ‘Morgen’. ‘Morgenmeans both tomorrow and morning. Many other German words have a double meaning.  Consider ‘kater’, which means  male cat and a hangover, but these are used in different circumstances. So if your friend tells you they have a ‘kater’ after a party, you know they are referring to a hangover and not a cat.

Sometimes though it is not easy to comprehend which ‘Morgen’ is being discussed. In all fairness German is not the only language that struggles with the concept of time.

Hindi has a similar problem. ‘Kal’ means both yesterday and tomorrow. Here the tense of the verb comes to one’s rescue. In German, with tomorrow and many mornings lying in the future there is no help.

How does one say tomorrow morning I mused? Not ‘Morgen Morgen’, which is actually a greeting used in place of the formal ‘Guten Morgen’. Anybody greeting with a brief ‘Morgen’ is usually suspected of being in a bad mood.

When I confronted some Germans with the problem of trying to say tomorrow morning they were momentarily stumped. They quickly explained that they get away by sayingMorgen früh’ or ‘Morgen Vormittags’. ‘Morgen früh’ translates to early morning (‘früh’ means early), and ‘Morgen Vormittags’ as tomorrow before noon. These are not good enough I pointed out. As both these phrases are not really the same as saying tomorrow morning. The Germans understand what is being referred to I was told.

It is though just one more of the mysteries of this language that an expat has to deal with.

There is also no getting away from the fact that for all their love for precision, Germans have no exact translation for tomorrow morning.

 

Introduction

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There are few countries more different than Germany and India. Though I had visited Germany a couple of times, the culture shock I experienced moving to Germany after living for decades in India, was not little.

Visiting is an experience distinct from living in a new country, and provides an entirely different perspective. Since I had visited Germany a few times, I thought I knew what was in store for me.

However, there were many surprises, and living here, comparisons of my life in India and Germany were inevitable.