In 1992, I wrote a book titled Towards Globalisation. I did not realise at the time that this was going to be the history of my family.
Last week, we celebrated the wedding of my daughter, Pallavi. A brilliant student, she had won scholarships to Oxford University and the London School of Economics. In London, she met Julio, a young man from Spain. The two decided to take up jobs in Beijing, China. Last week, they came over from Beijing to Delhi to get married. The wedding guests included 70 friends from North America, Europe and China.
That may sound totally global, but arguably my elder son Shekhar has gone further. He too won a scholarship to Oxford University, and then taught for a year at a school in Colombo. Next he went to Toronto, Canada, for higher studies. There he met a German girl, Franziska.
They both got jobs with the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, USA. This meant that they constantly travelled on IMF business to disparate countries. Shekhar advised and went on missions to Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Kyrgyzstan and Laos. Franziska went to Rwanda, Tajikistan, and Russia. They interrupted these perambulations to get married in late 2003. My younger son, Rustam, is only 15. Presumably he will study in Australia, marry a Nigerian girl, and settle in Peru.
No toilets nor running water
Readers might think that my family was born and bred in a jet plane. The truth is more prosaic. Our ancestral home is Kargudi, a humble, obscure village in Tanjore district, Tamil Nadu. My earliest memories of it are as a house with no toilets, running water, or pukka road.
When we visited, we disembarked from the train at Tanjore, and then travelled 45 minutes by bullock cart to reach the ancestral home. My father was one of six children, all of whom produced many children (I myself had three siblings). So, two generations later, the size of the Kargudi extended family (including spouses) is over 200. Of these, only three still live in the village. The rest have moved across India and across the whole world, from China to Arabia to Europe to America.
This one Kargudi house has already produced 50 American citizens. So, dismiss the mutterings of those who claim that globalisation means westernisation. It looks more like Aiyarisation, viewed from Kargudi.
What does this imply for our sense of identity? I cannot speak for the whole Kargudi clan, which ranges from rigid Tamil Brahmins to beef-eating, pizza-guzzling, hip-hop dancers. But for me, the Aiyarisation of the world does not mean Aiyar domination. Nor does it mean Aiyar submergence in a global sea. It means acquiring multiple identities, and moving closer to the ideal of a brotherhood of all humanity. I remain quite at home sitting on the floor of the Kargudi house on a mat of reeds, eating from a banana leaf with my hands. I feel just as much at home eating noodles in China, steak in Spain, teriyaki in Japan and cous-cous in Morocco. I am a Kargudi villager, a Tamilian, a Delhi-wallah, an Indian, a Washington Redskins fan, and a citizen of the world, all at the same time and with no sense of tension or contradiction.
When I see the Brihadeeswara Temple in Tanjore, my heart swells and I say to myself “This is mine.” I feel exactly the same way when I see the Church of Bom Jesus in Goa, or the Jewish synagogue in Cochin, or the Siddi Sayed mosque in Ahmedabad: these too are mine. I have strolled so often through the Parks at Oxford University and along the canal in Washington, DC, that they feel part of me. As my family multiplies and intermarries, I hope one day to look at the Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona and Rhine river in Germany and think, “These too are mine.”
We Aiyars have a taken a step toward the vision of John Lennon. Imagine there's no country, It isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too.
Shackles of religion loosened
My father's generation was the first to leave the village, and loosen its regional shackles. My father became a chartered accountant in Lahore, an uncle became a hotel manager in Karachi, and we had an aunt in Rangoon.
My generation loosened the shackles of religion. My elder brother married a Sikh, my younger brother married a Christian, and I married a Parsi. The next generation has gone a step further, marrying across the globe. Globalisation for me is not just the movement of goods and capital, or even of Aiyars. It is a step towards Lennon's vision of no country.
You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope one day you'll join us. And the world will be one.
This is written by Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyer, about himself. It was published in The Times of India.
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