Josna Rege

172. Balancing My Three Halves

In Britain, Immigration, India, Inter/Transnational, Stories, United States, writing on January 30, 2013 at 5:29 pm
Tree Pose (tree by C.S. Adams, from okiemama.com)

Tree Pose (tree by C.S. Adams, from okiemama.com)

I have always felt checking one’s “stats” to be a guilty secret, a worthless, time-wasting pursuit that is vain in both senses of the word. But I’m not ashamed to admit that I love checking Clustrmaps  on Tell Me Another’s homepage. Its world map has little red dots marking the locations of one’s site visitors, with yellow dots locating the most recent visits in real time. Sensitive as I am to geopolitics, I take note of the balance of visitors across the continents, delighting in the fact that I have as many visitors from Asia as from Europe, and fretting over how many countries in Africa or Oceania are as yet unrepresented. Now that my country count is up to 143 out of approximately 190 sovereign states (with an additional 16 whose sovereignty is disputed), it’s increasingly rare for me to get a visitor from a new country, but whenever I do I announce the happy event on Facebook, along with a map indicating the location of the country in question. I like looking at the state-by-state breakdown of my U.S. visitors, those from Greece, a country where my family lived for a time when I was a girl, and those from countries where dear friends of mine live. But my keenest attention is tuned to the relative numbers of visitors from Britain and India, the respective countries where my mother and father were born, and where I was born and grew up.

I don’t suppose it’s surprising that, after the United States, where (hard as it still is to believe) I have now spent nearly three-quarters of my life, India and Britain occupy second and third place in the breakdown of visitors to Tell Me Another. What continues to amaze me, though, is how close they have remained in their respective number of visitors over the period of nearly-three years that I have kept this blog. They have run neck and neck, with first one, then the other overtaking, then falling behind by an ear, then gaining the lead again for a time, but never very much of a lead or for very long.

Screen Shot 2013-01-30

At first Britain had a slight advantage, with India lagging. When this was the case I cheered India on, wondering why, with its large population of English speakers, it wasn’t overwhelming tiny Britain; taking umbrage at Britain’s unfair advantage, I found myself adding Pakistan to India’s count to offset against Britain, arguing that this was only fair since it was Britain who had partitioned them into two countries in the first place. Then slowly, inexorably, India’s numbers began to grow, until it was outpacing Britain, at first by no more than a few dozen visits, then a few score. Still more recently I have joined Indiblogger, an Indian blog directory and bloggers’ network. Perhaps this is giving India an unfair advantage, since I haven’t yet discovered a similar British network; in any case, India is pulling steadily ahead of Britain. Now that the tables have turned, I find myself rooting for the new underdog. Somehow it continues to be important to me to maintain a balance between the two, as if to demonstrate (to whom? Surely to myself alone) that both of them will always have an equal measure of my loyalty and love.

This wasn’t always the case. Growing up in early post-Independence India, it didn’t behoove me to wear my Englishness on my sleeve. To my shame, I remember taking part in teasing an Indian sister and brother, newcomers to our school, who had lived in England for a time and had just returned. Whenever they reminisced about their time in England, we chanted back to them in mocking tones, “In England. . .” Meanwhile I kept my own memories of my time in that country to myself. This is not something I was conscious of at the time, but have only realized in retrospect (see Xenophobia).

Years later, when I was already middle-aged, my sister accused me (as sisters and only sisters can do) of  suppressing the English part of myself. “How can that be?” I asked incredulously? “You use your name without including your middle initial,” she pointed out. She was quite right, I often did; could I be subconsciously denying half of my heritage? (Again, only a sibling can sow such self-doubt with a single statement.) Henceforth, whenever I published anything, I restored my middle initial to its rightful place, proudly upholding the name (I always hastened to add, if queried), not of the current Queen of England, nor of the Queen Mother, but of my own maternal grandmother (see My Grandmother and My Uncrowned Queens).

Back to the stats-checking. I joined a British Asian blog directory, although I haven’t lived for long enough in that country as an adult to qualify for that identity. I’m not exactly a British expat, either, so I don’t belong in that category of bloggers. Indiblogger turned me down for membership at first, on the grounds that I didn’t live in India. But prickly as I am about the politics of location, I appealed the decision and they were obliged to accept me, given that their membership requirements did not specify that a member blogger had to reside in the country. As always, I remain a slightly uneasy insider-outsider in most categories, preferring to speak in Doris Lessing’s  “small personal voice” to whoever just happens to come upon one of my stories, no matter who they may be or where they may be located.

But why “three halves” in the title above? Because although TMA gets more site visitors from the United States than from India and Britain combined, I realize that I haven’t weighed it in the balance at all. Given that it took me nearly forty years to decide to take U.S. citizenship, it may take a little longer for me to find a new equilibrium in a tripartite identity. Perhaps I take for granted that the United States will dominate my blog stats, and therefore I discount it to restore the global balance. Perhaps, like many immigrants, I’ve been reluctant to admit how much my current identity has been shaped by my life in a country to which I didn’t choose to come, but in which I did choose to stay.

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  1. There’s immense strength and vision in “remaining a slightly uneasy insider-outsider in most categories and speaking with a ‘small personal voice.’ ” The combination of being rooted, yet universal, is something I think we should all strive for. So enjoyed your post, Josna – thank you.

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Don, and for your ideal of balance in “being rooted yet universal.” In this crazy, endlessly shifting world where there is no solid ground to stand on, we need to learn to be like Eneke the bird in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, who, “since men have learnt to shoot without missing,… has learnt to fly without perching.” I too am enjoying your writing and your sketches. Best wishes, J

  2. Thank you for crediting me for restoring the beautiful “Elizabeth” to your name!

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