Musings and observations on conversations with white people
Lately, I’ve been meeting a lot of white people. White people don’t seem to be the kind of people they used to be.
I came down from Oxford in the year 2000. It was a fantastic time to be in England. A couple of years earlier, Newsweek had done a cover story on London being the hippest city in the world. It was the height of multicultural flag-waving and Cool Britania.
British bands like Pulp sang empathetic songs from the POV of immigrants: ‘We came across the North Sea with our carriers on our knees/ Wound up in some holding camp somewhere outside Leeds. / Because we do not care to fight, my friends — we are the weeds./Because we got no homes they call us smelly refugees.’
One had no idea then how things would change in less than twenty years. White people are now marching through central Berlin and parts of America shouting ‘White Lives Matter’. They have also been passing through Dehradun, where I live for part of the year. All the ones I’ve met would describe themselves as liberals.
Here are excerpts from four conversations. White Girl 1 has come from England. Over butter chicken at President’s Hotel, she says to me: ‘How would you feel if foreigners started to pour into your neighbourhood?’
I say: ‘If foreigners came to settle I’d welcome them with open arms. They would add some variety to the neighbourhood. Please, by all means, send in Africans, Europeans, Latin Americans, Americans. This Punjabi-Garhwali town needs a shakeup. Perhaps I’ll end up marrying one of them. The Tibetan community is peacefully entrenched in Dehradun. Besides, the Brits didn’t just move into our neighbourhoods, they ruled the country for almost a hundred years.’ She dismisses this with a wave of the hand: ‘Oh that was long ago.’ I want to remind her that it wasn’t so long ago.
White Boy 2 can’t stop complaining about the Muslim call to prayer at dawn. ‘Jesus’, he repeats over and over again, ‘Jayzuz. Do they really have to do this?’ I remind him that church bells tolled at all hours in Oxford.
White Girl 3 says she finds India silly. I reply that I’ve made a career chronicling the silliness of my countrymen. She goes back to America and writes a story about a woman who hails from an exotic ‘Colarado bubble’ of yoga and desi spices and whose made millions selling her brand of ‘Chai Tea’ to gullible Americans. White Girl 3 gets trolled on Twitter by Indian Americans on the charge of ‘cultural appropriation’. She is genuinely puzzled by the trolling. I tell her it’s karma.
White Boy 4 arrives from Paris. ‘Man’, he tells me, ‘Paris is finished’. ‘There are refugees all over the place, tenting on pavements. It’s like Bombay. I thought Paris would always remain untouched. But they are all over the place.’ I am thinking to myself: The Syrians have no option. They’ve e been forced into being refugees, fleeing their land. The French colonised the world for adventure and money. And to compete with rival colonial powers.
Anyway, why are these white people telling me all this in my own land? I am, and proudly so, a man with a long-expired passport. But the sense I got from all these encounters was of the white race being swamped. Let’s not forget that racism was invented by whites. The odd thing is that none of these people would think of themselves as racist. What they do have is the unmistakeable stench of civilizational arrogance. Not very different from Hindutva.
Indians have always been open to the world. I’ll listen to a punk band even if they are dissing immigrants because I like the music and attitude. I like the Kinks even though they are obsessed with keeping the village green pure and untouched by foreign hand.
So what I’ve begun doing is that I’ve started appropriating white supremacist culture. I already have a collection of Trump t-shirts that scream ‘Make America Great Again’. I just ordered one that bears the legend: ‘White Lives Matter’. It should arrive in the mail any day.
(The writer is the author of House Spirit: Drinking in India)