My family and other globalisers

In 1992, I wrote a book titled “Towards Globalisation.” I did not realize 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. They decided to take up jobs in Beijing, China. Last week, they came over from Beijing to Delhi to get married. Their wedding guests included 70 from North America, Europe and China.

That may sound as global as it gets, 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 in the International Monetary Fund in Washington DC, USA. They constantly traveled on IMF business to disparate countries. Shekhar went to Sierra Leone, Seychelles, Kyrgyzstan and Laos. Franziska went to Rwanda, Tajikistan, and Russia. They interrupted these perambulations to get married at the end of 2003. My younger son Rustam is only 15. Presumably he will study in Australia, marry a Nigerian girl, and settle in Peru.

Some readers may think that my family was born and bred in a jet plane. The facts are 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 traveled 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, 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.

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 of my children has gone a step further. It has married 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.

One thought on “My family and other globalisers

  • 2013.Jul.25 at 06:25
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    My husband shared this wonderful article with me. I am yes an Iyer by birth but have played various roles after ward. Your approach to the whole concept of globalization is awesome. But I want to emphasize it is as stressful as liberating it is. My head still turns when I hear someone speak in Tamil, though I have stopped speaking in Tamil with my own parents. I have no idea how to define this feeling. Would love to know how you feel.

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