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An attempt at debunking the colonial hangover

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By Sumana Nandi

Early 2015, when I came back to India, after finishing my Masters from University of London, I was met with starkly similar yet interesting expectations from my family, friends and near and dear ones.

Now, I am supposed to narrow my brows and wrinkle my nose every time I see a cow choosing to pee in the middle of the street, halting the traffic, making irritated drivers honk continuously. I am supposed to be full of repugnance when the aunty in my neighbourhood after mopping her room on the second floor clean empties the dirty bucket of water on the street. It is now my duty to lecture the grey-haired uncle in the corner selling chaat and golgappas how he needs to maintain hygiene and cleanliness.

British_and_Native_Indian_SoldiersI must now have a plush job: a job which will ensure I have a big car (preferably a BMW or Mercedes), picking and dropping me for office everyday so that the neighbours can plan and save money by fasting once a day, so that they are also able to send their children abroad (note abroad here strictly means the United States, Canada, Australia and United Kingdom). Within a few days of getting this dream-job, as a convent-educated obedient daughter who has travelled the world should now settle down (like the mud dissolved in water left aside in a glass after a good stir) to another convent-educated son who should have spent at least double the time abroad and earn double (if not triple); the cherry on the cake would be if he is an NRI and also speaks English with an accent.

After such a settling down, the (Feminist) me should continue my job but only after the permission from my Pati Parmeshwar and his family lest I become a financial burden to my new family.

At kitty parties with mostly the friends of my mother-in-law, I should talk about the wonderfulness of the concerts I watched at South Bank Centre, sipping orange juice (carefully replaced wine with orange juice since a pure and pious daughter-in-law cannot have a history of drinking) by the beautiful wandering Thames at sunset. Or, explain the magnificent architectural elegance of million castles and the English lush green meadows carefully omitting the men I travelled (sometimes overnight) to these places with, built with the sweat and blood of many peoples of Asia, Afrika, Australia and the Americas.

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Despite all this, I am still expected to stand in attention while Jana-Gana-Mana, fondly reminiscing those days of going to the market holding my father’s index finger, choose a fish I want for lunch amongst the shoal of fish swimming in the little aluminium tank and get it cut in front of us, with my eyes gleaming with happiness. I only need to wipe a tear or two of the nostalgia of how I spent my life during those (uncivilised) days in the villages and jungles of India.

I light a cigarette and ponder: Why do my friends and family expect of me like they do? Is it only my friends and family who have such expectations or the society at large? Why do we believe that London is any better than Delhi/Kolkata/Mumbai/Chennai?

Thoughts of how I saw London is blurred my speculating reflections momentarily.

While in London, I have nursed the wound of my friend who got mugged at knife-point near Baker Street. I met men in the streets of Paddington who ogle, whistle and comment (just like men here) at any girl even if she is covered from head to toe on a rainy November evening. I poured phenyl on the walls of my house where those getting drunk at the neighbourhood pubs of where I lived came to pee.

Children of an eastern suburb of London, who have been made homeless by the random bombs of the Nazi night raiders, waiting outside the wreckage of what was their home. September 1940. New Times Paris Bureau Collection. (USIA) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #: 306-NT-3163V WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #: 1009

I have seen slums in London, with people huddling up amongst all thing in a one-room flat (rather pigeon hole). I have listened to soulful music on the pavements by the homeless trying to make enough money for their daily doses of drug and alcohol. I have been denied a job at a bar because I was “not white enough” and an Asian immigrant (even though I was legal immigrant with the right to work in the UK).

At my University, I was told to admire and be wonder struck with awe and amazement at the statues of ‘great’ scientists, philosophers and theorists who were mostly racist and those who made us, from the colonies in Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas look inferior to the boost up the ego of the Whites and initiate White supremacist colonialism.

I was told, my University is a leading institution for the study of Asia, Africa and Middle east while I was not told it was this same institution which fuelled colonialism in not only these continents of the world but also beyond by benevolently training colonial administrators to create havoc by imperialism and colonialism even till today as we feel the pangs of separations from our dear sisters and brothers in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

I have visited public libraries with so much audio-visual documents, half of which would have had make thousands (if not more) aware about ourselves, our ancestors and know more about who we are. Passing by the Kohinoor in the (in)famous British Museum, I wonder if it’s worth is even 0.99% of what the Colonial Raj has looted (and is still looting) from us.

As I pass through the Madame Tussauds which has wax statues of Sharukh Khan, Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan among many others, I shiver with the thought of where the money and resources to finance these come from- from the colonies.

Not long ago, no doubt MP Dr.Shashi Tharoor has brilliantly made an excellent case for Indian Reparations and Reparations of the humanity at large, but can this repair be done by Britain and Britishers alone?

Is Britain along with her imperial friends i.e. the French, Portugese and Dutch are the few colonisers of this world?

Do we take a moment to think that we, the ordinary people- Aam Admi and Aam Nari also colonise those who are immediately below us in the power structure? Do we not try to look superior to our domestic help’s son, Rahul, by the virtue of the fact that we study in the most elite private school of the city while Rahul goes to a Government school? Why do we feel superior if we HAVE material things and power in a society than others who HAVE NOT? Do we think for a second how we have come to accumulate all those materialist things? Is it because of our hard work and the hard work of our family members alone?

Caste System PyramidAll these understandings, which I should be honest about, got even deeper and clearer while I was in London; it shaped me for the life I am leading today. I am not a pure soul. I am not perfect. I am only trying and seeking to live a decolonial life. I see colonialism as a process which not only the British did to us Asians but also a process which we Asians inflict at our fellow Asians- especially when the individual concerned is inferior to us in terms of caste, creed, colour etc.

Although, the Indian constitution makes these discriminations unlawful, yet in our daily lives we see this happening to us or to those around us.

Why? Because our minds have been trained to be perennial slaves of colonialism. If we want to make a mark in this colonial/neocolonial world we need to copy what our colonial masters did and continue to do.

Our Colonial masters preached the supremacy of the colour, adhering to which we hide ourselves in the corners of Beauty Parlours to scald our faces by bleaching them and using Fair and Lovely ten times a day!

Through this weekly column I hope to not only critically share dilemmas and doubts from everyday life but also to analytically interrogating them in the decolonial spotlight; so as to invite comments and observations from anyone who reads this sparking a regular dialogue on Decoloniality in the public domain.

Decoloniality is important for all of us, for our own existence and in the spiritual journey each of us undertake in this journey of life. Decoloniality is too important to be left to intellectuals (or often pseudo intellectuals) so that they continue their intellectual masturbation under the cloak of being “Academic”. Perhaps once this dialogue gains momentum, the expectations from not only my family and friends become decolonial but also our expectations from ourselves as conscious individuals, as humane beings become decolonial. With that hope I look forward to pen down my experiences and share with you sooner.

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  • Kofi Mawuli Klu

    Brilliant thought-provoking opening to what hopefully should become one of the topmost International Community talkingpoint columns of the World media! Very well done! We hope this column is one of the new truly radical beginnings in India of the long winding road of Decolonizational Safari we all have to travel in and beyond our colonised/neocolonised World today. The Antidote to Coloniality, in my Pan-Afrikan Internationalist opinion, is Holistic Reparations for Global Justice through genuine Decolonizational People’s Self-Liberation Struggle against Euro-Amerikkkan Imperialism in our colonised/neocolonised communities, particularly throughout the Global South. Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP spoke brilliantly well in the Oxford Union debate. Nevertheless, what is the actual state of Reparations in terms of internal and external Self-Repairs, with regard to Personal as well as Community Development, in India today? You have brilliantly well given the seemingly lost ball a big kick-start again in India! What does the rest of India and the World think?

  • Kofi Mawuli Klu

    Brilliant thought-provoking opening to what hopefully should become one of the topmost International Community talkingpoint columns of the World media! Very well done! We hope this column is one of the new truly radical beginnings in India of the long winding road of Decolonizational Safari we all have to travel in and beyond our colonised/neocolonised World today. The Antidote to Coloniality, in my Pan-Afrikan Internationalist opinion, is Holistic Reparations for Global Justice through genuine Decolonizational People’s Self-Liberation Struggle against Euro-Amerikkkan Imperialism in our colonised/neocolonised communities, particularly throughout the Global South. Dr. Shashi Tharoor MP spoke brilliantly well in the Oxford Union debate. Nevertheless, what is the actual state of Reparations in terms of internal and external Self-Repairs, with regard to Personal as well as Community Development, in India today? You have brilliantly well given the seemingly lost ball a big kick-start again in India! What does the rest of India and the World think?

Next Story

Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)