I am an NRI – a non-resident Indian. In the movie “Swades,” I was called a ‘non-returning Inian.’ Earlier this year, I decided to move back to India, mainly to move away from parents and learn to be independent.
Be careful what you wish for, they say, you just might get it. As my parents reluctantly gave in to my desire to shift base to India, Egypt my resident home was preparing for revolution.
My mother had predicted I wouldn’t last 3 months, and would want to come back. And how right she is. I’ve beeen bruising to come back home, but instructed not to. My health does not permit, and I know the truth – I’m of better use to my country – both birth and adoptive – right where I am . For now, I am in India.
The revolution in Cairo began on Jan 25, 2011; incidentally it the first year of National Voter’s Day in India, meant to encourage young voters by making 18 the legal age to start voting instead of 21. I am 31. Because I lived most of my life as an NRI, I have never cast a vote.
January 26 was the Republic Day in India. It was also the day Cairo realized what had happened and began calling itself a revolution.
On January 27, I called my friend’s landline – internet and mobile phones were blocked in Egypt. My friend was out in the protest at which guns were being fired. (Mubarak’s regime has never been kind to protestors.) His mother picked up the phone. She cried, as I would, and I tried to console her. I said, in my broken Arabic, that God will protect. And in my enthusiasm I told her – we’re with you; India is with you.
On January 28, I read an HT headline which spoke of India’s official policy being that the protests wee an “internal matter.” I was ashamed that I had promised too much. Of course I was not the spokesperson. So I decided to call whoever was speaking for me as an Indian (by now, I realize, I have multiple identities and shared loyalties). Surprisingly the Ministry of External Affairs person I reached was pleasantly amused by my insistence, and passed me the number to his boss Mr. Vishnu Prakash. They said they’d call back. They didn’t. I called again and never reached a person, but a lot of bureacracy. It feels like Egypt – same ole.
It seems pointless though. India has made its stance – that it is for the people of Egypt to decide its leader, and in a time of crisis we hope they solve it, we do not interfere.
This is still fence-sitting. In times of crisis, especially, it is important to articulate one’s position. As an NRI, I know (quite painfully) what sitting on the border is like I have learned now where my loyalties lie, and what places I call home, and I’m learning even more. And my position on things these days, changes by the hour, sometimes by the minute.
I understand diplomacy is not a circle where you call a spade a spade.
As a journalist, I’m learning too. Often as a journo / scholar, one is taught not to use the personal pronoun, “I”. Yet, more and more, I realize that I speak for no on else but me. That i cannot say to my friend’s mother that India is with you.
I am with you though, small one person, no fixed address, no job. I’ve been told I can’t make a difference. I’ve been told by idealists-turned-cynical that nothing ever changes, that life goes on, that there will always be some injustice to fight – if not in Cairo, in Kashmir, closer to home, in Mumbai, and closer to where I am now visiting, Bhopal.
But if I am to stay alive, idealist that I am, I need to believe otherwise. I need to make a difference, and I need to start with my surroundings and myself.
India said something to the effect of being disappointed in Pakistan. I know that feeling.
I’m disappointed you, India, gave the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for Peace to Mubarak, when now in hindsight it seems no one could have been more undeserving. It took Mubarak years to pick up the laurel. Nehru and Nasser meanwhile led the Non-Aligned movement, became friends to speak up against a world that spoke by might, and not by what was right. They would not sit on the fence now, when it was even more expedient then. Nehru would not have called it a domestic matter. Nor would Tagore. Nor would Gandhi.