Sunday, 25 December 2016

IS IT POSSIBLE TO DECOLONISE XMAS? PARTIAL STORY OF AN INDIAN IN ENGLISH XMAS


When Barf is not Barfi / nightmares of a white supremacist xmas

Sukant Chandan
Sons of Malcolm
25 Dec 2016

Like many if not most, I struggle hard to get through the english winter, especially coming from what seems like the constant blue skies and sunshine (and MONSOONS!) and orange glow (thats just what I remember my Homeland before I was brought here at the age of 4). Many of our peoples actually have a problem with sunshine, as we get too much of it and its too hot, hence the obsessions with water, shade, and the love of many of our people of grey skies and rain! I remember in Tripoli, Libya in the summer of 2011 that a massive winter-like storm broke out, the temperature dropped suddenly and the skies darkened, but people were so happy and walking and enjoying the storm in the open.

Growing up in the 1980s in london as a young Indian boy was very weird, especially when it came to winter and xmas. I left Chandigarh, a really beautiful and organised city of my birth, to Southall, West London. Southall is like an extension of Punjab (massive amounts of Paistani and Indian Punjabis, mostly Indian there) / India / Pakistan (now also Somalia and East Europe), its the biggest concentration of South Asians outside of of South Asia in the world. So in *some* ways it wasnt so different from Home, however, it was clearly very different from home. One of the many first smacks to my system that this was ajeeb sa juggha (strange kinda place) was when the winter I arrived, one of the coldest in the last 40 odd years, that the land was covered by  a layer of very pretty white fluffy stuff - snow - that we call 'Barf', but the word for Indian sweets is 'Barfi', so I conflated the two, thinking this land was literally covered in sweets: but every time I went to try what seemed to be this loely sweet stuff, as soon as it touched my tongue a shock went through my system that this was some disgusting tasting yuck. That, perhaps, was a metaphor for my entire life in this country.

Winter was bleak in this country. What on earth is this? Darkness. Very cold. None of my extended family are around for me to run off with and be naughty and have fun. Where's my paternal Uncle (Mamaji) who used to pretend to give me the ends of his cigarettes that I pretended to smoke and drink whiskey and have pretend fights, cos my 'hero' was Amitabh Bachan, and this rebel without a cause neo-liberal individualist whiskey drinking street fighting singing dancing charming film star was mine and million of other South Asian, and Russian, and African children's hero who I acted out in my imaginary play, including in the aisles in the cinema, with everyone smiling and laughing at this 2/3yr old playing Amitabh with full vigour. No, those days were behind me, I was thrown into the middle of the enemy territory, carrying on inside me the lives of both my grandfathers who fought the people who run this new land I was in, they fought them in two continents: Africa (Kenya) and Asia (unidivided India), and I had come to the continent of Europe to carry on the family tradition.

Southall was a forward base of India in Britain, and it still is, with further additions and spreading of Asian people who have basically taken over the whole of the western regions of London, and further afield like Slough, Reading, Luton etc. Going to primary school there was kinda normal to me, but there were these white women who were teaching us in another language, apart from that we were all Indian kids apart from one white kid. Xmas just wasnt on our radar, we didn't really notice it. Probably the primary school tried to brainwash into a western colonial xmas, but it didnt register. I didnt watch TV, I lived in an Indian community, and the strange things was the darkness and cold in the winter and it why does everything look so grey?!

The other thing that made me kinda surprised and perhaps some kind of excitement as it was a bit of a spectacle was spotting a white person when usually my Father took me to the high street to shop at the grocery stores and the Muslim butcher. I always gawped at the head of the goat in the display cabinet at the butchers. This is one of my favourite memories, going with my Father to the shops, often it was dark, but the fruit and vegetables were all laid out spreading onto the pavement, the Indian music playing and the sounds of the languages and the smells just made me feel like I was in India. A lovely homely memory. But I was still in enemy territory, little did my very young child mind realise. My younger Brother and my only real actual sibling arrived within one year of my arrival in London. I remember being very loving and caring towards him, in the hospital after he was born I wouldnt let anyone else touch him or go near him as he was 'mine'. I still have a picture of my leaning over his hospital crib protectively with my tired but elated mother watching on.

By around 1987 we moved to Ealing Broadway, we got a little two bedroom flat on a beautiful road. I moved into a local primary school, best years of my life, but this was half white and half non white, and a mix of working class and middle class kids. I have never known middle class people until this time in my life. The school I suppose reflected London broadly at that time. And I had now entered into the mainstream of colonial London. We had a TV that I seemed to watch more. I got brainwashed into coca cola, michael jackson, madonna, hollywood bullshit colonial culture. It became what I wanted to be, it became a means of denying myself, despite my parents always trying to do their best to keep my pride up of who were are, especially my Mother always reminding me that we are from a people of ancient civilised histories, that we are nothing less than the people over here, that they have no real culture. It didnt kick in any of this until my political awakening at 15yrs old, and then again at around 23 yrs old. At 15 and then 23 Black Power was increasingly blasting out from my inner zone of life.

But as a child as you grow and your system starts to absorb more and you act out what you absorb. Xmas was a massive propaganda project as it still is. What was Xmas to my child's mind? It was the most important celebration of people in this country. It was when the children got presents from this old white guy with a white beard from somewhere in even colder up in north europe. It was about families gathering together. And it was a very english white tradition and event. ie., nothing to do with me! All my family I was close to were back in India. When you get the feeling families are getting together and you don't do that, it makes you feel like you are something less. It was just a very alien festival that you felt you had to be a part of. But I wasnt. We never had a xmas tree, I wanted one, maybe I nagged for it. I demanded and nagged xmas presents, so kindly and generously my Mother fed my spoilt nagging. She shouldn't have, it isnt wasnt ours to celebrate, to waste money on, but more important perhaps she shouldnt have inadvertently fed my growing inferiority complexes by allowing me to indulge in this.

You have to remember, this was in the 1980s, Indian and non-white people who werent Christian didnt really develop any assimilation into this festival at all, I am not saying they should and those that do are not without problems, they are. But these days I think non-white people have in massive numbers adapted a kind of xmas to suit them, many of us do the xmas roast etc. Back then, we did our thing, they did theirs, and we slowly started to interact and fuse the things together, not all of us but many of us.

Recently I was at a really nice 'stay and play' xmas party in south London, there were some hundred young working class mothers with their children (three fathers including me), and it was so interesting to see the Asian and African mothers really trying to sing along to hymns and carols and songs about xmas that they didnt know, but they were so keen in trying to involve their children into something that is so alien to them but that it is the host colonial nations culture and festival. It made me sad and happy, happy cos mothers love their children and children were happy at this singing together and the free good food and free wrapped presents for every child, however it made me sad that our people are so keen to give into the culture pressure of pushing their children into a culture that they needn't and perhaps shouldn't assimilate into. Can we decolonise xmas?

As I have grown older, winters became harder and harder, the colonial commercial crassness of xmas, the dark and cold was just very hard for me. Once I started really focusing on my healthy eating and exercise in my mid 20s, things started to improve through winter and xmas, but its still very hard. I started to appreciate the change of the seasons, the last leaves on the trees. The first blossoms in the spring, and the period of hell that lies in between the two. I started to appreciate that for all its nonsense xmas lights are an attempt at bringing light to where there's darkness. But still the lights look so pathetic, it always feels and looks like the darkness always wins over the light in this country!

Xmas is bad for you. Those who indulge in it one would like to think we make of it the best we can, focus it on family and gathering together through the dark to make the children happy. That's wonderful and beautiful. But there is a sharp and intense viciousness to it as well, a viciousness that creates a lot of pain and hurt in many ways and for many people, including white english working and middle class people. But if you are non-white, its a really vicious thing. One thing I think I would like to see more and I will be doing is the coming Christmas, to promote and celebrate the ways our people from our southern continents have made this celebration their own in many ways. I know Christians in Ethiopia and Eritrea, in Palestine and Syria and Lebanon, in India and Pakistan, in the Andes have Christmas of a kind that people here know nothing about, our songs, dress for Christmas is something people in the west know nothing about. Christianity is a religion of the East, not of europe! The religion has been colonially occupied and is awaiting liberation, a process that is in or hands.

Wishing our children all the happiness and liberation that we adults and parents can provide. I won't ever fail them. Merry Christmas and the very best for health, happiness and liberation to you and yours.

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