Confession To My Diary

Mandula Bashu van den Berg - India


November 24, 2015

Dear Diary,
There is something I have been meaning to tell you for a while now. It’s been bothering me quite a bit and I can no longer go on pretending that nothing is wrong. I want to put some things right between us. As it is, I am not being fair to either you or me.
I’ve been lying to you.
I’ve been lying to you ever since I arrived in India three months ago.
You know, I had many expectations about going abroad for a year between high school and college. And I don’t mean expectations about me saving hungry kids – by now that idea has been rightly and effectively destroyed in every self-respecting news outlet and mind.
No, I mean the replacement of the hungry-kids-scenario. The image of the Self-Critical and Sensitive Foreigner, aware of her own positionality as she wanders into this new place. I wanted to fulfil those expectations. No selfish white saviourism for me. No cultural appropriation. I was going to do this right. India was going to be a Different Place (not less, not underdeveloped – just different) and that was going to be okay.
But here is the trick. I had so many ideas about how I would deal with this Completely Equal Differentness that I paradoxically had started to rely on my ideas of different to keep my carefully composed image of a The Non-Alienated-Stranger-Amidst-The-Alien together.
Dear Diary, here I am, in Pune. A very progressive city full of young people with ideals that are really not that different from my own. I’m surrounded by people who are pro gay marriage. Surrounded by Whatsapp groups and electric stoves.
But dear Diary, that is not what I have been telling you.
You have been filled with completely different stories. I have written to you about “the red dust of the roads specked with the fluttering colours of the women” and “the purple sunset over the corrugated steel plates of the roofs”…
Those are not lies in the sense that they are not true. Sure, in the past months I’ve seen plenty of red dust roads and slum communities. But they are just a partial truth of my experience. They are the truth I was unconsciously anticipating and they are the truth I choose to tell. So this is my confession:
For the past three months I have knowingly been perpetuating the Single Story of India despite the counter-evidence surrounding me.
The question is why.
I know part of it is just because it is easier. Even though I am presented with the reality every day, the pre-India India-narrative is still the foundation that it’s comparing itself to (yes Zia, a typical case of confirmation bias). It fits, it works, everyone’s happy. No need to get into the minefield of The Balanced View.
It also has to do with my sense of romanticism. I’ve realised how much I still romanticise ‘Non-Western’. I simply prefer the above images to that of “the parked cars in front of the boxy housing society”. I like pretty things and different things often seem prettier.
But the third reason is the most important. The described image of India fitted the narrative of My Journey. I wanted this year to be a challenge and so I tried to reduce my experience to those elements which I thought would contribute to that challenge. It seemed to me that my Story of Growth would be greater if I just ignored the stove and the internet connection.
But they are part of my story. Of my unique story. I realise now that the only way for me to fight the Single Story is to add one story that is truthful and authentic. A story that does not try to justify or cover up. A story where Whatsapp groups and dust roads do not exclude, but rather complement each other.
Dear Diary, we live in a strange world that can’t be reduced to a single narrative. And yet, that is precisely the way in which we communicate and connect. I won’t stop telling stories. But I’ll no longer pretend that what I didn’t write, also didn’t happen. All my stories are true, just as none are.
And that is both okay.
Love,
Mandula

 

 

Mandula Bashu van den Berg