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(21): We are Individuals; they are also Individuals (I)

My stay in India aged one today. I and my wife live contentedly and our studies go on well—praises are due to Allah. I have shared lots of my experiences within the span of the year in some of my write ups. Another fresh experience, nonetheless, prompted this short piece, and this is an ongoing 3-week workshop I am attending on film, T.V and theatre acting, choreography and cinematography at the beautiful, hilly, artists’ hub of Andretta in Palampur, Himachal Pradesh (HP). There are about 50 attendees from mainly three states—the host i.e. HP, Punjab and Haryana. I am the only non-Indian; so, imagine the feeling. I have met some people that have reshaped the-year-old views I held on India and Indians; hence the novelty of the experience.

Our trip to HP was exhilarating, for the state is well known for its remarkable atmosphere and tourist attractions. So we all were enthusiastic the first day we heard about the workshop. The anxiety was multiplied when I ‘googled’ the name of the venue: Andretta. I read some interesting information such that the legendary Norah Richard, S. Sobha Singh, among other renowned artists, used to live there. Much is also said about the serenity, scenery and soppy nature of Andretta. I can go on and on, but the scope of this piece is de-limited to two things: first, it exposes to me the gaffe in generalization; and, second, the people I have met on the campus of the workshop, particularly one sonorous, 19-year-old girl named Veena (not a real name) who hails from Shimla, HP. She is a sophomore, reading Mass Communication and Multimedia.

I met Veena and one other girl a few minutes after our arrival. However much later, more boys and girls came. Some of them from Chandigarh, Punjab, have a fellow Nigerian course mate named Michael, but the way most, if not all, of them relate to me tells me a rather different story, for it seems as if I were the first Black man they had ever seen. I get, from almost all the rest, far more stare and, in a way, funnier reception. But this is not the first time I happen to be this unique, for I am also the only non-Indian in my class. It also does not translate to any racist or condescending, though it’s sort of a quaint, attitude towards me.

 I often associate two ‘disapproving’ facts to many Indians, especially the northerners among whom I live. One is that they live in a box with little or no knowledge of the world outside their country. Two, that a large number of them understand little or no English language. All these and more ‘incredibilities’ were as a result of numerous contacts and encounters I have had with them. For instance: I once had an astounding discussion with a faculty member in our university, Dr. Singh (not a real name), who erroneously thought Nigeria was part of Saudi Arabia for my being a Nigerian and Muslim. To him, Muslims are only in Pakistan (however some remain in India and Bangladesh) or Saudi Arabia. Second, most of the faculty and the students speak only broken English while many others can’t speak even that. But this amazing girl speaks fluently and eloquently. She was however apparently born with a silver spoon, and this gives her access to the best education money can offer. That nevertheless does not guaranty conception and perception, for many others have the same access to those prestigious schools but lack the exposure, experience and cosmopolitanism she possesses. Veena knows and speaks about Kafka, Albert Camus, Existentialism, Deism, Africa and the many countries on the continent, and much more. I learned a big lesson here; although the latter is old enough to be her father, she’s far more informed than him.

She, much unlike many others, especially the girls, knows of other human races like me. She equally, though, got startled at my being Muhammad, obviously a subscriber to that ‘detested’ religion called Islam. She’s in fact, spiritually speaking, incredulous, albeit she bears a Hindu name. Veena is so astonishing to the extent I wish this generation of Indians are like her; there would not have been reports on racism and related crimes. Indians would not have been regarded, at best, as incongruously incredible and, at worst, comical in many respects and instances.

We are individuals. The same could be the case with some less informed Nigerians, for although everybody undoubtedly knows about India at least for the popularity of Bollywood films, not everyone actually knows of other countries like Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal that border it. Not, again, everybody knows of Sikhism or Jainism as religions practiced by millions in India (and by mostly Indians in other parts of the world). We are, indeed, individuals. No one has the monopoly of knowledge. There could be as many uninformed Indians as there are in Nigeria. There are many Veenas and Dr. Singhs everywhere. I learn to respect individualism the more, and to generalize the least.

 Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
 1:11PM; 12/06/2014

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