“The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages and kings”
The day at Cronulla was the hottest ever. Indian skin often burns painfully and easily; it is so used to air pollution acting like many layers of protection, and when we travel to 1st world countries, it cant cope with the sun. So while the rest of the world at Cronulla is in beach wear, I am dressed for rain.
It is beautiful. Quite picture-book perfect. People lying under the shade with babies playing around them. Painters with easels, deeply absorbed in their craft, blue water, gentle breeze, kids cycling alongside grand-parents and all the trappings of a tranquil beach town. We have never heard of it. But the lack of any other color except ‘white’ is glaring. It crosses my mind very soon after spending time here and I dismiss it without a thought.
I love dogs – actually any animal and every single bird- so my immediate interest is in the various dogs I can see all around. There’s one sharing a sandwich with its owner; he takes a bite from it, the doggie gets the next one. I wonder who takes the bigger bite.
We are relaxed. And then Joe plays us the tape of the riots of 2005.
It is unbelievable at first . Not just the horror that it is pre- mediated, but that it happened not so long ago, and in a Sydney suburb, one of the most global cities in the world. As Indians, the words ‘Riot’ & ‘Inter racial/ cultural attacks’ is hardly new. We have our own history with them, 0ne we aren’t proud of, and more importantly one we fear can repeat itself.
Amer is overwhelmed, breaks into tears and walks away from the group. The crew follows him, leaving the three of us alone. Gurmeet and I wonder why the law of the land did not intervene before it actually went out of hand. There was ample warning of trouble stirring. That is a stark difference between Australia and India- a country that has a violent history of invasions, a long foreign rule, a bloody partition (based on religious ideology) which separated neighbors and loved ones and took hundreds of thousands of lives, followed by wars, acts of horrific terrorism and religious & sectarian riots: The law of the land preempts, to whatever best degree it can, given our population & size, vis-a-vis our resources.
I spend that day pondering on how and why the word ‘intervention ‘ is different to each country, and how it is married differently to ‘human rights’ and ‘legal rights of individuals’, depending on the country, it’s history and it’s threats & fears. As we spend a large part of the afternoon walking through the tragic events that transpired at Cronulla, I constantly stop to admire the richness of natural flora & fauna, and bird-life .
Trev, our Sound-in-charge has gifted me a book on Australian birds. I love it and carry it everywhere. I think his patience may have been running a bit thin with my requests to identify various species of Astralian birds I hadn’t seen before. However, with a thousand varieties of Parakeet in the book, I still go back to Trev for the i.d., since I cant lag behind id’ing birds when the cast & crew has moved ahead.
Trev is knowledgeable about nature. He also rescues creatures off the highway, or they’d be crushed. His eyes spot even the tiny ones like this . He spots this, insists we come to a halt, places it off the road, and we are on our way again.
There is nothing more effective than a transmitter and its cables, to bring the greatest level of familiarity between 2 races! On the 1st day of DDR we get ready for ‘mike-up’- We line up in front of Trev, and he shows us how. We hold our shirts out at the neck and he scoops down the mike-lead, pulls it from the end of the shirt/ tee, and connects it to the small transmitter box he has already clipped to our trousers, after discovering that our trousers don’t have pockets. He then tapes up the mike just below the neck-line of the shirt.
Reticent Indian women, white Aussie stranger – what better way to break the ice. No wonder we fell in love with Trev within the 1st few hours of DDR. ( Across gender- I heard ‘one’ of the 2 Indian boys say this more than once-” Trev, I love you” and thought how tough it must be to be Trev’s wife! )
‘Mike-up’ games and activities may be our only hope at a peaceful world @ G-5 summits, etc. I have already introduced this as an activity in my corporate training programs for multi-national organizations. For some reason the male participants seem more excited about it than the women. I wonder why…
But let’s go back to clipping the black box to the trouser pocket. No big deal for almost everyone, but for Indian women it can pose a problem. Our Indian trousers (salwars) are generally thin cotton, and there is a cotton cord that acts like a belt. This poses a technical problem- the clip either travels at will all around the circumference of the waist, or keeps slipping off that thin cord. But that is the easier garment. The other kind we wear (and both Mahi and I had brought mostly those for their comfort value) are cotton-lycra tights called churidaars, which have slippery narrow elastic waist-bands. It’s hard to look cool when there’s a black box trailing you, or dangling from under your shirt, and you don’t even know. And generally there is an announcement for that ‘slip’.
Trev: ” Now lets see whose mike is …/ Radhiika, did that box slip off darlin,’ again!? Yeah, I could hear it fall off when you…” So much for sophistication!
The only time Trev’s receiver didn’t do its work was when one of us managed to drop the black-box in the toilet. I hate to break this to you via a blog, Trev, but .. okay, it was code-‘yellow’, not ‘brown’. Lighten up Trev. It’s the color you would prefer out of the 2, right! Hahaha. You said you loved Indians, didn’t you? I know you wouldn’t let color come in the way!
I wonder if ‘color’ was the issue at Villawood, the Detention Centre*. Muslim’s are generally not white. One lady from the protesting party foamed at the mouth about ‘Muslim women wanting a seperate bathroom from the men-folk’, among other things .
It was the smallest demonstration that ANY Indian would have seen. But what astounded me was the small- mindedness of the protesters, given that many of them were 1st generation immigrants themselves.
Sure, the opinion that the government should take care of it’s own citizens first is reasonable, but it is the venom they spewed, their open loathing towards the refugees that made this experience an unforgettable one. For me it wasn’t about Australians, it was about the break-down of humane-ness. Where is this over-powering hatred emanating from, because that is what many of them willingly gave out. And ‘hatred’ is such a powerful emotion. Coming from India where our exploding population and desperate poverty stares so starkly at us despite the modernization and reforms, their small-ness of spirit seemed even more magnified as I stood in this land of plenty.
The group of young pro-refugee advocates were zealous, intensely involved and committed. In just a few minutes they got down to action and brought out pens and paper and created posters
And guess who picked up a telephone number in all of the heated exchanges that followed? Our man in the hoodie is a charmer, and no demonstration can change that!
*(Waiting there is the Australian Protectionist Party, a group of people who believe that multiculturalism is a failure & that Muslim immigration should be stopped altogether. As they are talking/ yelling/ hissing/ spitting in rage, a group of pro-refugee advocates arrive and tempers flare further, as we Indians find ourselves in the middle of a heated argument about refugees.)
We have a friendly match, and what may have saved us Indians was Gurmeet collecting a pass with his hands. And why not.. it was a friendly game, right!
I love their stories of the fight to play football inspite of wearing the hijab and I love their yellow jerseys, Mahima & Gurmeet love that they have specially prepared vegetarian food for us, and Amer simply loves one of the pretty girls who teaches him the intricate techniques of playing ball and who claps when he scores a goal.
Some things stayed a constant in the DDR journey, thankfully!
Note- The construction of the 1st Joe-stupa in India was almost complete, but suddenly it collapsed. There is rampant mixing of sand in cement in some places in India, but luckily no one was hurt. Considering it was 2 feet tall, that is a relief.
Whatever the Australians may say, we Indians stay true to our word, and we don’t give up. Taking this forward, and since the Wall Street Journal has made Joe famous in America too, ( Who cares about the 4 Indians in DDR anyway..) some of my Indian friends there have already constructed a part of Joegod’s statue.
Like any sensible folk, we start building from the ground, but because all our gods (including Sachin Tendulkar whose wife Anjali currently favors “Ferrari Kii Sawaari) have their own favorite steed they sit/ ride* on, there’s a lot of healthy discussion on what would be a good choice for Joe. Ranking high are Sugar glider Possum, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, and because Joe has hit mid-life recently, Northern hairy-nosed Wombat.
Ride*- Indians don’t like the sexual exploitation of such a perfectly ordinary common-place word, so lets not even start.
Next-Hijab, head scarves, and the hot-pink DDR purse