The mystical nature of the Indian South African
I was at a bookstore yesterday and this woman who saw me pick up a copy of Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet came up to me and said: “Naarmarstaaay! I’ve read that book! Hinduism is just so cool, you know.” She showed me the red string on her arm and said: “I just loooove Vikram Seth, you know. And Bollywood, you know.”
Yes, I know. You’re an idiot.
Following on from my colleague Lerato’s column The 15 things white people should know about black people, I would like to lay out a few things others of all races should know about ‘Indian’ people.
1. We are not Indian. Our race may be stated as ‘Indian’ on official documents, but we are South African. Most of our families have been in this country for up to seven generations. Most of us have not even been to India. The term ‘Indian’ is for (ugh) classification purposes. I personally do not like being referred to as another nationality entirely just because of my heritage. I am as South African as wors. Also, there is a difference between ‘Indian’ and ‘Muslim’. Islam is a religion. ‘Indian’ is a nationality. Some Muslims do come from India. Some Hindus come from Pakistan.
2. Not all of us are Hindu. We may come from a country where majority of people are Hindu, but, like all over the world, we all have different practices. Christianity hit India long before the British decided we're better farmers than them. (Unfortunately for them, we're also better at cricket.) Some of us are Buddhist, Baha’i, Christian, Muslim and even (gasp) atheist. Don’t expect Diwali goodies from all of us.
3. We don’t all cook, and we don’t all eat curry or hot food. I buy roti at Spar. Making briyani is beyond me. And some of us do eat beef and pork. And we do not appreciate an introduction followed by “I had a great curry the other night.” I don’t care what you eat. Don’t associate the colour of my skin with food. I don’t say to white people “I had really bland food the other day” and expect them to relate.
4. Hinduism and India cannot be understood from reading Eat, Pray, Love and Deepak Chopra. Just because you’ve read a few novels about people going to India, doesn’t mean you have the slightest idea of what the religion or the country is. Even I don’t understand India. My mother went to India and after a month, wanted to come back home – it’s such a different universe. Like every country. Hinduism can only really be understood if you practice it. Oh, and Kabala isn’t Hinduism. Madonna is crazy. Don’t listen to her.
5. Our outfits and henna are not religious symbols. Traditional, yes. But not religious. Yes, you can wear them without the risk of worshiping what you may call ‘false idols’. Bindis are religious. If you wear one without understanding what it is, you may piss some people off. But generally, Hindus don’t care what you do, as long as you’re not directly infringing upon anyone. Hindus are quite chilled, actually. (Though there is a prayer for everything under the sun. And the sun as well.)
6. Not all of us are lawyers, doctors, engineers or accountants. I get surprised looks from people when I say I’m a journalist. One person even asked whether I am breaking religious laws by being in such a profession. Err… What? Most of us may get into those professions for monetary purposes, but some of us are normal and do jobs that we love. Hell, some of us do odd jobs even just to break the stereotype. Though we don’t get paid that much.
7. Not all of us have parental issues. We don’t live in feudal homes, we don’t all have arranged marriages, and we don’t do sati or pay dowries. We don’t have to ask our parents’ permission to go to the bathroom. Not all of us have to sneak out of the house to see our boyfriends or girlfriends. There are some that do, but by and large, our families are not that cuckoo.
8. We don’t all like Bollywood. I do. But most of my friends don’t. And no, I don’t know ‘that movie you watched last night with Aishwarya Rai and Shah Rukh Khan’. There are thousands of them. We don't know all the dance moves or the lyrics, and we don't have lavish weddings like they do in the movies. Shrien Dewani had one of those. See how that turned out?
9. Cricket fans and commentators, this one is for you. We do not appreciate it when you don’t make an effort to pronounce our names properly. I am tired of people calling me ‘Miss Raym-kin-sun’. Adding letters that aren’t there and anglicising just pisses us off. We don’t Indianise your names. We make an effort, especially with African and Afrikaans names. Break it down. Say it slowly. Try it phonetically. Think of how we would say it. Moo/tie/ah Moo/rah/lith/er/in. Easy peasy.
10. Not all of us own shops. End of story.
11. Don’t think just because I am of Indian heritage that I’m from Durban or Lenasia, and that I speak like Raj and Raj 2. I don’t have a dropped suspension on a Golf GTI. Nor do I have a sound system more expensive than my house. Some of us do listen to rock and classical music. Some of us are normal. I promise.
12. We have our slang, just like you have yours. We laugh at words like ‘ming’ and ‘kiff’, too. Don’t look down on ours. You can laugh about it. Just don’t be condescending and think we’re stupid when we say “let’s vye in the jol, ekse”.
13. We’re not all racist. Just like not all of you are racist. Most of us hang out with people within our race group. Just like you do. Why assume that we don’t like you just because some of us may just prefer to stick to the culture we know? It’s a culture thing, not a race thing. Also, we were affected by apartheid too. The Group Areas Act plonked us all together, as they did you.
14. We speak English. Majority lost grasp of our Indian languages about three generations ago. You don’t have to shout or speak reaaaallly sloooowwwwly to us. Indian South Africans are hired as newsreaders for a reason. We probably speak better English than the Queen.
15. We’re not all going back to India some day. We’re here to stay. Get used to it.