The more time I spend in Uganda, adapting to Ugandan culture, the more I think about India, and what exactly it means to be an Indian-American expat (as opposed to American Indian?) Which is not necessarily the cultural experience I thought I’d be having, but considering the significant South Asian populations in East Africa (culturally so similar and yet so different from South Asian-Americans), it’s definitely been a unique one. Basically, I’ve never been so in-your-face Indian as I am these days. Here are some of the Indian things I’ve been reading and thinking about while in Uganda:
- Every Indian immigrant secretly dreams of returning to their homeland. But for many, myself included, the India that they dream of is one that doesn’t necessarily exist in reality. I’ve tried to stay honest with myself about my skill set, my cultural context, and my ability to operate in an Indian environment. But since working in Kampala, I’m starting to revisit the idea… After all, if I can live in Kampala, I can live in, say, Delhi, right? Maybe? Either way, the potential loosening of India’s protectionist policies regarding legal practice is good news for me/my skillset. (from WSJ Law Blog, 5 July).
- Growing up, I always heard stories about the politics in which our former lives were based — about Partition, Satyagraha, freedom fighters, Ben Kingsley as Gandhi, the first and second India-Pakistan wars, Indira Gandhi, the Shiv Sena political machine, Sepoy Mutiny, and democracy. These were household phrases. Then I’d attend history classes in school, and the history I read in school glossed over the complexities of the histories I heard at home. Ramachandra Guha’s article, despite its many criticisms, does a beautiful job of laying out some of the incredible successes and the incredible challenges of Indian democracy, filling the academic gaps my parents left in telling their personal stories. (From The New Republic, h/t Chris Blattman).
- Being a petite woman with a petite wallet, office attire that fits that doesn’t make me look like I’m playing dress-up, at a funeral, or horribly gaudy is kind of a pain. And my wool suit — obnoxious when walking a mile to catch a bus in the summer heat. Complaining about this lead to the question, what do women lawyers wear in India? As it turns out, office attire is about more than just style and comfort — it reveals debate about the inequities and the challenges female professionals (or any women for that matter). In India, as in the U.S., the “symptom-control” policies intended to reduce harassment and discrimination tends to exacerbate the problem. Is this really about wearing too much or too little make-up? Being too fashionable or not fashionable enough? Especially when in court, under the uniform black Barrister robes? I’m not sure where I come down on this debate — I agree that special treatment/”protection” is not a long-term answer. But I must admit that I always feel more comfortable riding in the women-only compartments of public transportation. (from IntLawGrrls, Lawyers’ Fashion Debate Exposes Inequities)
- On a related note, in my experience in Mumbai, it’s fairly common to experience heckling, catcalling, and disconcerting stares when going absolutely anywhere, regardless of how I’m dressed. One thing I’ve found about Uganda is that there is surprisingly little of that, which is a nice change. I really appreciate being able to walk through the streets of Kampala with little to no harassment or lewd stares.
- HuffPo did a piece on Aamir Khan’s turn towards social activism! I watch a LOT of Indian television here in Uganda, and now I’m emotionally invested in the lives of Akshara, Khushi, Meethi/Iccha, Gopi, and Archana. But Indian pop culture tends to be escapist, rarely approaching heavier issues. What I love about this Bollywood hero’s newest project, Satyamev Jayate, is that it’s an Indian voice, aimed at an Indian audience, addressing Indian problems — women’s rights, domestic violence, sustainability, disability rights, food security, etc. It may be another case of celebrity sensationalism, but it’s refreshing to see and hear these experiences from Indian media instead of through a foreign lens. (via Akhila K.)
- Finally, on the Indian blackouts — a coworker of mine was conducting research on low-level corruption and the impact of service delivery in Uganda. When studying best practices in East Africa, we often look to India, China, Singapore as models, meanwhile one of the explanations for the mass blackout was overdrawing. So, um, service delivery fail, right? For many of those in rural areas that lost power, this week was no different than any other day without power. But the sheer magnitude of the blackout (World’s Largest Blackout. Think more people powerless in one go than the entire populations of United States, Mexico, and Central America combined) and the fact that it took an event of this scale to bring some very inconvenient realities to light is incredible. What does this mean for India’s development, and emerging markets in general? Forbes has some less than optimistic ideas.