Loss of home
Because the trend of human migration has received a fillip in recent times, the problems of diaspora have begun to loom large the world over. Governments, particularly of the countries of the North, where immigrants make up a huge number, are taking steps to see that diasporic communities participate in national growth without feeling alen or losing their own specific cultural moorings.
Developments in North America, particularly in Canada indicate clearly that the South Asian diaspora has become a major player in different walks of life even outdoing Whites in some areas.They have also begun to occupy high public offices in West Europe, North America and Australia.
Arts, films, theatres and literature scenario of the diaspora represent a major chunk in the emerging cultural scenario in these lands. Diasporic Studies now have a pride of place in subjects taught in universities.
Though diaspora is a phenomena that has begun to receive attention in recent times, the phenomenon of migration has produced many diasporic communities in the past. Consider Siddis of India. They migrated originally from Nigeria centuries ago and settled down in coastal areas of Gujarth and in regions close to North Karnataka District. As they still retain their earlier cultural practices, they have not been closely integrated into local cultures.
It is not proper to compare their impact on the host culture to that of Indian or Sri Lankan minorities in North America.
Parsis, who as a community, have made significant contributions to culture, economics and social life in India were also originally a diasporic community who migrated from Iran. In short, the sociology and economics of different diasporic groups in different parts of the world varies according to the quality of the labour they produce and its significance to the host country.
Sometimes one becomes acutely aware of such differences within a single country between different diasporas: for instance, there are enormous differences between South Asian, Black and Latino diasporas in USA.
The manner in which such migrations and resettlements affect human lives and their cultural representation is highly poignant and fascinating. People become dislocated and travel to far-off shores because of political turmoil, religious persecutions, natural calamities or man-made disasters like war or conquest by victors.
They tell their stories of loss and recovery in their songs, poems, narratives, plays, myths and legends. The autobiographies of African people who became the first victim of slave trade tell of their painful passage to a future that they could not decide for themselves. No less heart-rending would be the stories of woman slaves throughout history.
The Biblical Exodus and the more recent uprooting of Jews during Nazi period are part of wounded collective memory. Sri Lankan Tamil diasporic writers narrate in their works the irremediable trauma of losing one's home land. Migrations of this nature are still happening though they are much less spectacular.
The spin-off of the fall of the Soviet paradise produced unsettling effects on East Europe which is still causing people to migrate to the more prosperous West European countries, a phenomenon that has now become a source of concern for Western economies.
In the Himalayan regions the local people are now being forced out of their homes as a result of the shrinking of resources due to so-called progress and modernisation. The young male population is migrating to big metros or to prosperous destinations in the Middle East as their abandoned spouses compose moving songs bemoaning their separation from love and family life.
It is not just groups and communities who are forced out of their homes. Even in times when such huge migrations are not taking place, individuals are compelled into exile. Some of the leading dissident intellectuals had to leave their countries during the heyday of Nazism or Stalinism to become free from intellectual slavery.
During the era of apartheid in South Africa, many dissidents sought asylum in European countries where they had freedom to live up to their commitments. The list of such dissidents consist of many eminent names: Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Broadsky, Ceslaw Milocz, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Vasko Popa, Wole Soyinka and Nguigi. Most of them have been recipients of high recognition including Nobel Prize. But their path to success was full of anguish and jeopardy.
What happens after migrations? Does the exile find peace in the new home? Of course, those who migrate for better opportunities and prosperity are in a comparatively happy position. For instance, many young Indians who are enjoying good income in the West do not think of going back. Because they belong to a species called homo economicus, their home is where they can reap maximum income.
However, the more sensitive ones do not have this advantage. Still, they too are in a no-exit state. Many first generation Indian doctors, engineers and academicians came to the West for better career opportunities. Their original intention was to make some fortune and go back. But the longer they stay, the more they get entangled. Though they have nostalgic memories of their homes, their children don't. Indian parents do their best to keep their children within the fold of Indian culture symbolised by Hindu temples, Bharatnatyam or one of the export quality schools of spirituality, but this does not quite help.
When they bring spouses for their off-springs from back home, most often such marriages break up. Those of them who find local spouses become integrated into local culture. Thus aging non-resident Indians, already alienated from homes, experience a second alienation in their new homes. Cut off from their own children for whom they have lived on in a strange land. They age and die, rich but alone.
Indians in USA have invested huge amounts of money in building colossal temples. But the gods of such temples and their priests will suffer increasing neglect as young people of Indian origin turn away from them. However, the exporters of exotic Indian culture, like the owners of spurious Indian restaurants, will continue to thrive as their clientele comes mostly from non-Indian population.
There is a larger philosophical connotation to the question of home and exile. My favorite philosopher Walter Kauffman argues that alienation is a phenomenon that dates further back than Marxism or Existentialism. Were not Socrates and Aeschylus aliens in their own time and place? Was not Jesus so in Jerusalem? Siddhartha Gautama left his palace to become the Buddha as he was not at home with his princely comforts.
Many great saints and reformers in pre-modern India, lived in exile in their own lands and died under mysterious circumstances.
Tagore, who became the greatest symbol of Bengali pride, was not always happy with Bengali bhadralok. Brecht, who returned to East Germany after the end of Fascism, was not quite comfortable with the new dispensation. The post-colonial generation of African writers paints lurid pictures in their works of immense panoramas of anarchy and futility afflicting their lands after the White man's exit.
The minority of the sensitive, to use a phrase from EM Forster, is unhappy wherever it is. It is this discontent that is the groundswell of creativity. Unless we lose our homes, we will never find them.
More about H S Shivaprakash
Prof H S Shivaprakash is an acclaimed English professor and writer. He is currently working as the Director, Tagore Centre, Berlin at Indian Embassy in Germany. He is also heading India's cultural mission in Germany. He was the Dean, Department of Arts and Aesthetics Studies at the JNU, Delhi. He was also the Editor of Kendra Sahithya Academy journal ' Indian Literature'. He Authored eight books of poems, nine plays, two books of criticism in Kannada and English. He is a recipient of Central Sangeet, Natak Academy Award and MHRD Fellowship for Literature.
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