Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Wanderer–Seekers

Present time: morning

The taxi driver is Pashtoon and we are exchanging directions in Urdu. The concierge is Dominican. The building manager is Ukrainian. The neighbour sharing the lift is from Tokyo. The cable guy is Jamaican. The hair stylist is from Korea. The shop assistant’s mother is Kenyan and father is Indian (he recognizes my accent and so proffers this information). At the grocery store the checkout clerk is Colombian (she’s sporting the national team’s T-shirt). The old couple walking ahead of me, trying to reconnect their youth with the ever-changing cityscape, is speaking Italian.

Not even half the day has passed. Yet wanderer-seekers that we are, and so here we are. 

(Please note: not once did anyone say, ‘where are you from?’ but during the course of interaction the information came up in some way, as in the case of the taxi driver who overheard me talk in Hindi and so started speaking in Urdu or the neighbour who said that he had just moved from Tokyo.)

In another time: late 1990’s. 

The phrase is ‘melting pot’. The thesis is assimilation. The lecture is in demographics. We are talking about India and the multiplicity of ethnicity and languages. But the reference point is New York City where the term was coined– in my opinion unarguably the most multicultural of all cities– the poster child for humankind’s insatiable wanderlust, the inability of members of our species to stay put in one place since time began. The reason why civilizations rise, grow... and fall.

But we are talking about India and the one thing that India to be truly multicultural *must* surmount– the caste system whereby accident of birth determines not just what you can do but also what kind of life you can live and  even what thoughts you can entertain. For young girls the first and harshest lesson in the stranglehold that is patriarchy.

Once again the barrier with its endless trappings is being praised. The consolation is that every civilization in free-fall reaches the break point from where there is nowhere else to go but to rise up again.


In another time: first decade of 21st Century. 

The MNC boasts of employees from 50 nationalities. But this is Europe and this multiculturalism is uniquely European– you know the kind where it is okay for people of a certain persuasion to play in the World Cup as part of the national football team but not okay for their community to build buildings or wear clothes of a certain distinct style. Consider the irony: nations once ruthlessly imperialistic, now "fear" cultural invasion.

Also as is often the case, this corporate multiculturalism, like most other things corporate (and/or imperialistic) has a financial motivation (i.e. tax breaks).

Present time: late evening

It is a rhapsody in blue.

There are sounds of the street, the sounds of the river and the countless tongues spinning forth tales of the day at close; the weekend has just begun. A lone Robin is singing too. Unrecognizable phrases and dialects interspersed with snatches of familiar words hang in the air. 

With my arms open wide I collect these voices and piece together a collage of melody. What once seemed unrecognizable is now a free-flowing, flawless rhapsody. 

So many words, so many different ways to arrive at the same meaning. Perhaps the reason why human beings have always been the wandering–wondering–seeking kind.

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