– Koh Choon Hwee
It was Wednesday and it was very befuddling why Madam still had not shown up in class. My attendance was in jeopardy, thanks to a clumsily conceived MOU – Memorandum of (supposed) Understanding – signed by my home university and the lovely LSR; clumsiness on the part of my university of course, which went with a very Confucian pedantry on hours and attendance and algorithms of credit conversion, as well as a supreme ignorance of Indian ‘culture’, whatever that word means.
Thank Bhagwan for something to read away the time, for the copy of DU beat was foisted on me by Pragya Mukherjee and the very strange insight that her article has proffered – on the Indian conception of Japanese culture. So apparently old Indians think that Japanese culture is all about “pornography or gory violence”, while young Indians think that Japanese equals “anime and video games”. Pragya thinks Japan is more than that, and is a bit upset at the village-mindset-type-reactions that greeted her decision to learn the language. How all very fascinating, which made me want to tell you about what I think Singaporeans think about Indians; or rather, what happened when I revealed that I was going to spend a year in your lovely country, to my lovely family and friends.
There were your usual what the flucks and dire (racist) warnings about how Indians talk very well, very eloquently, but don’t believe them, they will cheat you, they love your money more than they love you – until I pointed out that that’s what they say about the Chinese too, the money bit at least. (Yeah I’m a Chinky!) “Why India?” was a common question accompanying a scowl or a look of utter incomprehension. “The future is in China, not India!” – which is, by the way, the reigning consensus in tiny Singapore, but that’s not the point since I’m certainly not in India to fleece people and institutions of their money, which is what they inevitably mean when they say the future is somewhere. Better yet, I was at a Bollywood dance class at the Singapore Khalsa, alongside Punjabi Sikh Aunties and one Punjabi Sikh Uncle when all of them surrounded me and one Auntie Gurmeet said, “Careful, don’t let those Indians bully you, okay girl?!” Yeah, Singaporean Indians are not Indians, so obviously true but I hadn’t realized it till then. (But I guess I would not consider myself China Chinese, so there.)
At the other end of the spectrum there was Weify, the ONLY South Asian Studies Final Year Honours student this year from my home university (and my best friend from college) who plays Jana Gana Mana on Youtube at home and weeps prolifically and then emails me about it. Bhagwan. The South Asian Studies Department is one of the smallest departments, filled with Indophiles who are just the sort to go screaming inside Weify’s car one night, when it went past a Minister’s house, hands plastered on car windows, just because there were Gurkhas on duty guarding the place. GURKHAS!!!! One of them (Haza, who may be gracing LSR corridors next year) wanted me to bring back some mud from India. I deleted her text message.
So I finally came, landed, moved in, and it’s been a good six months or so into the “Indian experience”. Recently, the Incredible India commercial has been showing on TV quite a lot and I’ve never seen that Incredible India. Though, I have been rendered incredulous countless times. Teacher strikes, student strikes, autowallas also want to strike. I have crashed the AISA hunger strike against the school fee hike. I say ‘crashed’ because my presence was thoroughly fraudulent as I snuck away to eat dinner at McDonalds. Except I was kindly informed that some of the leaders had went off to eat supper at night anyway, since it was a “relay hunger strike”. This is to me what chopsticks are to you, fascinating!
Unlike Pragya, in response to her editorial titled “Wrong About Japan”, I don’t think I could make a better country out of India, just by learning more of it. It hasn’t made a better me, I’ve just been fleeced and freeze-d, and now I’m thinking what the point is to this article, and my exchange program. I don’t think there is a point actually, except that the journey has been flucking funny.
– Koh Choon Hwee
Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.