Reclaiming my Identity

Being fully immersed in a completely different culture and falling in love with a new country does strange things to your feelings of attachment. I walk the ten metres across campus to my ‘home’ after school, this home is a cosy, very messy, shared room.  Obviously my real ‘home’ is still cute little Clachan Cottage in Balfron but for now I have two. It’s difficult to ever imagine my room belonging to somebody else and that by August 1st I’ll have left here forever (or maybe not, you never know!). I also now adore the radically random nature of India itself. I’ve truly adopted India as my ‘host’ country and despite train times being changed without anyone knowing, buses not turning up when they say they will and nobody genuinely ever understanding me I love it here! I feel very proud of not only Southern India but this massive country which I now call home. Often in conversations with people we meet in the city or guests at the school, I cringe at the derogatory manner in which some Indians will talk about their country. Overly flattering of the ‘developed West,’ they fall over themselves to criticise their polluted rivers or corrupt governmental system. Despite our claims that all is not rosy in Western society, they continue to embarrass themselves by idolising people and places they know nothing about. It’s times like these when I feel more Indian than them.

For a self confessed pro independence Scottish girl, it’s also a struggle to answer a deceptively simple question of ‘Where do you live?’ Very few people in Anaikatti know where the UK is, let alone have ever heard about Scotland! ‘Akka, this Scotland place, your village name?’ the kids have asked me multiple times. For a while I resigned myself to answering with ‘The UK,’ and let my pride for the beautifully friendly place of Scotland to slip. However over winter break I decided I’d had enough of being from ‘The UK? Oh Britain!’ and was on a mission to reclaim my identity. First things first, I was changing my answer to that consistent question. I’m now from Scotland, in Europe.

Secondly, the upcoming events of ‘Annual Day’ allowed me to broaden the children’s geography skills. Annual Day is similar to Project Day in the sense it’s an opportunity for the kids to share the work they do in school with their families. This time round, it’s less experiments and poster work but a show of songs, dance and drama split over 2 evenings for the junior and senior school. We have an English Drama, traditional Bharanatium dancing, some Hindi songs, a Tamil street play and thrown in there amongst some others…CEILIDH DANCING!

In a country where Hinduism dominates much of the religious playing field, and its ancient philosophy teaches how men and women should not be seen as equals, it’s a struggle to convince them to be in the same room, let alone hold hands and dance together. As there was an administrative error in deciding the Pongal holidays (basically Patti decided giving the kids 3 days off in the middle of a week just after they’d had 2 weeks off was a bad idea) after one leave day on Monday, we had quite a low attendance rate this week. So, as a compromise we spent Tuesday and Wednesday focusing on Annual Day preparations. This meant introducing a mixed age group of hyper active, overly excited children to six hours straight of ceilidh dancing. Not an easy task.

However, four days on and the kids are making rapid improvements. They are getting there with learning how to dance in time to the music, clapping at the same time and dancing in the right direction. They now hold hands and (most of them) manage to put their arm around their partners.  We’re definitely making progress! I’ve even got high hopes to introduce progressive dances into the mix. Nandini Ma’am scowls when she hears the girls and boys aren’t working together and mutters something about gender bias being far too deeply infiltrated into Indian society. In my opinion, kids are just kids and I was the same at that age, but a bit of mixed sex teamwork can’t hurt. It’s all about abolishing stereotypes and providing a different point of view.

Until Annual Day, we’re now doing academics until lunchtime and then spending the afternoons rehearsing. Six hours of ceilidh dancing was insane, but three can still be a little bit of a struggle. During ‘kaylee’ class, we often have Sleeping Time where the kids lie flat on the floor and basically just shut up for 5 minutes; giving Caitlin and I a bit of peace! I also often use this time to give a bit of background to ceilidh dancing. Stealing the world map from the next door Social Studies class, I point out where Nuala Akka lives (Scotland) and explain cultural differences like kilts and bagpipes. The kids are really interested to hear about this strange green country where men wear skirts and boys and girls dance together, despite not even knowing it existed a few months ago.

I feel that the perfect way to combine my two lives, embrace both my homes and reshape my cultural identity is ceilidh dancing in a sari!