''Mate, are you Indian or English?''
Updated: Feb 8
Identity- British, Indian, or Just Confused?
‘’Just out of curiosity, are you Indian or English?’’
Ah….the 19th of January- the swashbuckling Rishabh Pant drives a ball to the long off boundary. A man who symbolises the ‘New India’ wins a historic match against Australia. Hundreds of millions in India celebrate this incomprehensible feat as the Indian Cricket Team win the unlikeliest of Test Series in Australia. Curiously, the celebrations are not solely limited to India. Millions of Indians celebrate around the world, and I (full of endorphins, and probably on fewer than five hours sleep) post a Facebook status making clear the overriding joy that I felt at that moment. Then came a comment from somebody I used to play cricket with- ’Just out of curiosity, are you Indian or English?’’.
Facebook, like other social media platforms, aren’t often a medium for thought provoking introspection, but here I was thinking ‘’Actually, am I Indian or English?’’. I must admit, this has been an ongoing debate in my head, almost catalysed by the tragic murder (my opinion) of George Floyd, which happened to have occurred on my 27th Birthday. As well as unravelling the gross, systemic issues that racism the whole world faces- it was an opportunity for us to understand our own views on culture and identity. Then came the backlash, the marches, the black square Instagram posts. The world was finally coming to terms with this pervasive and malignant growth that has engulfed our society that is racism. I started looking back at my own past- coming to England at the age of 5, starting school in Essex, finishing secondary education at a renowned Private School in Manchester, spending four years at the University of Leeds to finally embracing corporate life in London. The many instances where I have embraced, shied away from, and most frequently, been confused about my own heritage. This is not just been limited to my educational and professional life- I have been lucky enough to travel to 29 countries and having been exposed to a plethora of different cultures has made me push to learn more about my own.
Be under no illusion, when someone sees me on the street- Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan would be their best (and admittedly most logical) guess as to where my background lies. Then when I would speak, that would most likely change to British. When I was younger, throughout my University years, I was almost obsessed with making the world believe I was British, and not Indian. I would shy away from eating in Indian restaurants with my parents, I would attenuate my British accent to eradicate all avenues of doubt and I would even at times pretend to like football (I still don’t have a football team). The two things that would keep me in touch with the land of birth would be cricket and my Grandparents, whom I adore to no end. The word ‘Freshie’ (fresh of the boat, a South Asian who stays in touch with their heritage) was used as a weapon, not something to be proud of.
An example of this would be when I used to travel with my parents. We were in Denmark, where let’s be honest the food is an adjective that starts with a ‘C’ and rhymes with ‘Strap’. Dad wanted to go out for an Indian meal. I called him a ‘Freshie’ and said that he should alter his tastes now that we aren’t in India anymore. Fast forward 7 years, on my trips to Germany, I beg my Girlfriend to have dinner in any curry restaurant that Freiburg has to offer. The reasoning behind this isn’t necessarily that I like Indian food more now, than I did in 2014- I am starting to come to terms with that being an Indian living in Europe and liking Indian food is not something to be ashamed of. After all, the national dish of the United Kingdom is a Chicken Tikka Masala. Granted, it does derive from the streets of Glasgow, but quite clearly this is an Indian-inspired dish.
Another example of this transition to embracing my own culture lies with Indian Movies. I used to loathe watching them with my parents. If my Dad lived in an ideal world, he would probably be able to watch Indian films from dawn until dusk. Now, I can understand why even the most patriotic Indians would be deterred by Bollywood movies- they are 3 hours long and have an obscene number of songs scattered throughout them. However, I was blindly put off by these films because I didn’t want to tell my friends at school I watched a Hindi film over the weekend at fear of being labelled a ‘Freshie’. Now, as long as the movie is no longer than two hours, and has good reviews- I am happy to give it a try. The fact is that a number of English people love Indian movies, so why should we be embarrassed about loving them too? Just like the Chicken Tikka Masala. In hindsight, I have almost used other people liking something to do with India as an opening to admitting that I like them too. In an ideal world, this should have been done on my own accord, as a way of embracing my heritage and my culture.
Then comes cricket. Oh, glorious cricket. Invented by the British, but adored by Indians. I can categorically say that the Indian Cricket Team is one aspect of the country that I had no shame in vocalising my love towards. I would wake up at 5am to watch them play, I would buy their shirts, I would try and (fail) to bat like Dravid and bowl like Kumble. I would try (and perhaps fail even more spectacularly) to look like Kohli. I would proudly stand up and sing the national anthem before any match I was lucky enough to watch them play at a stadium. There was no shying away- if India won, my Facebook friends would know about it. If they lost, my Facebook friends would let me know about it. Cricket, however, was once an extremely topical subject when it came to identity and racism in the UK. Norman Tebbit, a Conservative politician in 1980s and 1990s coined a test. Tebbit stated that immigrants that supported their native countries in cricket, rather than England had not ‘fully integrated’ into the United Kingdom. WOW. Whilst there are some toxic connotations behind what Tebbit was saying, it almost presents a situation where no citizen of this country should face. I loved watching Tendulkar, Sehwag, Dravid and Kumble. If I preferred that to watching Atherton, Alastair Cook and Nasser Hussain scratch their way through their careers and bore the masses, does that make me less patriotic? Does every person residing in Manchester have to support United or City? Does a so called British ‘Ex-Pat’ living in Singapore have to ditch their national team and cheer for Singapore? The fact is that divisive politicians like Tebbit bring descendants of South Asian countries together. In adversity, people unite. From experience, the vast majority of South Asians I met do not support the English Cricket Team. Yet they work hard, pay taxes, do charity work, act British. To say that these people are ‘not integrated’ presents standards that we have no reasons to follow. You cannot force people to change loyalties, you must let them decide for themselves, or present incentives for such to occur. I am proud to support the Indian cricket team, and always will. That does not make me any less British than anyone else, and those who say otherwise have no idea how society operates.
Finally, racism. Oh racism. The shallowness of racism manifests itself in a manner that those who display that trait refuse to view people in any way more than skin-deep. Which brings me back- what does the racist see when I walk past them? The fact I pay my taxes, I donate to British Charities, I love a Sunday Roast? Unlikely- I am in their eyes, a drain, someone who ls inferior to them based on the colour I have. This is why racism is systemic- because in theory it is not difficult to be racist- you just have to look at someone and not really think much. I would go in far as saying that being racist is far easier than humans coming together and eradicating it. I have experienced racism throughout my whole life. From being called a Pa*I on a cricket field, to being called ‘Sid 2’ at university because the other Indian guy was called Sid, I have had it all. I have had teachers mock me for supposedly pronounce Nepal wrong (last time I checked, Nepal is geographically and linguistically closer to India than the UK, so I was likely correct there) and I have had a person say that I cannot be good looking because I am Indian. I have heard it all. What have I gained from it? Well thankfully very few people are racist, but racism exists everywhere. Secondly, there is absolutely nothing I can do to stop racial behaviour towards myself. I cannot and I will not paint myself white. I cannot convince the world that I have a British Passport. If a man at US border control wants to stop me for absolutely no reason and detain me, I cannot stop that. The only way is to educate the people who would like to listen and channel my sad thoughts to embrace my culture even more. So now if someone calls me a ‘Pa*I’, I will not respond saying ‘I am British, please don’t’. I will respond saying ‘Yes I am and the curry I had earlier tasted great’. Generally, we cannot eradicate racial behaviour on an individual level- I cannot sit down an explain over a fellow Leeds University Student why I should be called Karan and not Sid 2. They need education and not sympathy, because those tools are available. However, if someone who displays racism wishes to sit and chat and perhaps hear my point of view on the matter, of course I would give them that time. Our skin colour is out of our control, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. The more I have learned to embrace this, is the more at peace I have felt with myself.
So, am I Indian or English? I have no idea, but what I will say is that I am proud of being labelled both. To end, I posted a few lines on how I felt at the time of George Floyd’s murder about identity and I hope this provokes thoughts on accepting that we are all different and who we are is bloody amazing. These lines are what I wished I could have told a younger Karan in a parallel universe where this was possible. Thank you
If you are a young man from an ethnic minority reading this- be proud of your colour. You will regret the time that you are not. Be proud of your parents and their accents. It is with this accent that they have brought you up in a different culture. Be proud of your roots. Your colour and appearance are the most apparent attributes of yours. Show pride in it.