50 Posts to Independence - Post No. 49
I was tagged by Nizam Bashir, who invited me to be the first person after him to participate in “50 Posts To Independence”, his blogging project in anticipation of Malaysia’s 50th anniversary of independence next August. It sounds like an ambitious, and very exciting, project – I’m interested in finding out where it will go. The link contains more on the project, as well as tagging rules.
Nizam asked me to write about what makes Malaysia special to me.
". . . You will leave everything you love most:
this is the arrow that the bow of exile
shoots first. You will know how salty
another's bread tastes and how hard it
is to ascend and descend
another's stairs . . ."
Dante, Paradiso XVII: 55-60
What can I speak to you of but exile?
The years spent dancing alone in empty rooms.
The years of queuing in immigration, the breath-held tightrope walk of waiting for the validation of a rubber stamp. The years of being harassed at the airport, learning to bite back the spittle aimed at the officer who mocks an accent I don’t even have. Fuck you, you dog. How many words has your language stolen out of mine?
The years of correcting every person, every person, who assumed I belonged to this nation. The years of correcting every person, every person, who assumed it belonged to me.
The years of displacement. The years of too many tears after too much carnatic music at 2a.m.
The years of being told that to be Indian is to wear coconut oil in the hair, interject every sentence with “aiaiyo!”, be a wifebeater or a beaten wife. The years of watching Indians pretend to be anything but. The years, also, of having my fresh-off-the-boat-from-Yarlpanam Tamizh teased by those who didn’t pretend.
The years of temples collapsing. The years of racist advertisements for jobs and housemates juxtaposed beside bullshit Petronas commercials. The years of attending classes with girls who couldn’t even pronounce Bharatnatyam, let alone their own names. The years of watching Bollywood fashion glorified in the same breath as actually speaking in any desi language is mocked.
The years of rage.
The years of living out of boxes. The years of tallying up, over and over, the inventories of the heart. The years of abandonment. The years of fleeing.
The years of speaking to strangers just because of their accents. The years of smelling the pages of India-imported books – that smell so profane to everyone else.
The years of secret envy. The years of crazy half-wishing that was me on CNN, all lost, but still – so close to that earth. So close to that mannvasanai.
The years of accumulating a body memory of dispossession, having it slide in and coat every interior wall.
The years of knowing home is but a magpie’s nest of memories; bricks of nostalgia, mortar of pining, windows and doors that searched outside even as they led within.
The years of being a stranger in my own land. The years of being a stranger in yours. The years of harbouring the knowledge that every chimera of my own countries are only balms for the wounds of my rejection by yours.
The years of privilege – the best cuisine in the world, the ability to walk down a street in jeans and not elicit one violation.
The years of invalidation.
The years of mapping a cartography of crevices, of fractures, this cracked and broken fugitive heart.
The years of loving this nation, longing for it. The years of an unrequited love so great it would not look me in the eye.
The years that should have been my childhood. The years that weren’t. And all the years that were.
Selamat Hari Merdeka.
Nizam, thank you for thinking of me as your first tag. Perhaps my post hasn’t done your vision justice. But then, each of the fifty posts will tell you something different. I am glad to be part of this project if only so that I can add my dua sen as someone who loves this country, however tumultuous and wretched that love (or, for that matter, that country) is.
I am now tagging KG, whose post should be up on or by Thursday October 5th, who in turn has already confirmed that he will tag Sharon, whose Bali trip probably won't let her meet the deadline if I tagged her. I look forward to reading other bloggers' responses and interpretations of what a Merdeka 50 tribute could mean.
Previous post on my exile.