Harnessing Ancestry : an Indian with a stiff upper lip

According to a recent BBC report, efforts to discover one’s military heritage is on the rise. Frankly, as far as individuals are concerned, I don’t see how the phrase, ‘one’s military heritage’ makes any sense given that the span of one’s life is not long enough to make ‘ancestry’ truly meaningful.

And there is another advertisement on the telly that presents ancestors as lost souls crying out for connection to the present through their descendants. What nonsense. I often find the efforts to take pride in ‘one’s’ culture, military heritage, race, etc, as a pastime for the feeble-minded as an Englishman has as much to do with the British past as he has to do with a past in India – unless it refers to thriving on the fruits of the gains extracted from the latter in the not too distant past. After all, that’s not respecting intellectual property is it.

The credit belongs to another mate, and you’re nothing but a groupie sporting a t-shirt with a band symbol who is attempting to gain some sort of vicarious significance from attaching yourself symbolically or proximally to an allegedly significant other, or allegedly 'related' other. The idea of 'ancestry', i suppose, makes sense in relatively insulated times when people took on the mores of those whom had come before in order to simplify one's experience within the same milieu. The idea of 'ancestry', when all is said and done, has to evolve with the expansion of one's field of experience. In other words, when my field of experience includes both India and China, they become a part of my 'ancestry' given that I'm more exposed to their mores and both lands have an impact on my future.

The power of the idea of ancestry is not without its benefits. The sense of identification, the thought that one has that significant other’s ‘blood running through my veins’ can serve as quite the aspirational and attitudinal aphrodisiac. I couldn’t help noticing, for instance, that quite a few members of the CPI(M), or Communist Party of India (Marxist), sported names like Marx or Lenin. And my own mother named me after the second man to set his hind-legs on the moon – if there was a moon-landing that is – in the hope that I mightst go where few had gone before. So, as I said, the power of the idea of ‘ancestry’ cannot be understated. It can serve as a scaffold that enables one to ascend or choke the potential to be more out of oneself.

For the BNP or many Chinese in, say, singapore, Ancestry is a basis for an exclusive pride that leads to their discounting the unfamiliar. For myself, it was a revelation that presented to me a whole slew of ancestries I could take on for inspiration and aspiration. I could be Scottish today, a rocker tomorrow, a Jesus betwixt, and a Marx thereafter. I am, I thought, and think, an entity that could latch on, like those parasitic fishies at the mouths of bigger fishies, on any passing meteor and be inspired aglow in the immediate wake of its passage. Why not? After all, some do say, ‘you gotta be black in order to hear Jimi’ as opposed to just listening to him. So maybe they are sensing something that my ipod is transmitting in an inaudible frequency. If any Afro-american can do it via the power of identification, or being interned within those conditions in the here-and-now in order to do it, so can I. Much comes down to identification-cum-socialisation at the end of the day.

Those whom are saliently associated with this or that culture or race or history are too frequently mired in pride before they can truly learn the value of their alleged ancestors. But just as transvestites are arguably more feminine than most women these days as they know that they have to be able to take on the gait of a woman lest they be laughed at for being nothing more than a man in drag, those who open-eyedly identify with the culture or race or ancestry…..of another, are more likely to eke out more from the experience than the untrained inherited eye that makes nothing more of the past than that which was, and hence move on to replicating it mindlessly for millennia to come.

Some of us have come across those odd little primates every now and then who say that we won’t be accepted by those we identify with as we aren’t of the same racial/cultural/ancestral genre - and such cretins are usually those who accord different others the selfsame treatment and hence make sense of the reactions of others by their own insensibilities. But the point of the whole exercise is not to replicate the ancestry of another in ourselves, or to get accepted with a ‘s/he’s a jolly good whatever’ in different dialects, but in bringing it to fruition by complementing their ancestries, after taking it on, with another take on things given the uniqueness of our respective experiences. In that, ‘acceptance’ is not an issue, conscientious and conscious self-development is. Taking on the best of 2 ancestries helps us transcend both. The Confucians (china, singapore), Bumiputras (malaysia), Sinhalese supremacists (sri lanka), the BNP and NF(UK), the Hindutva (India), amongst others, take note, for the good of that which you’re not going to be given your current route.

In truth, the attempt to be a part of any ancestry, and especially when it is not commonly thought to be ‘our own’, is not an effort to be an Indian in white skin, or an Englishman in yellow skin, but an attempt to discover yet-to-be variations of ourselves in the ancestries of foreign climes given that any particular milieu can only produce one variation of oneself. Not doing so is quite the waste isn’t it, given that the more variations we can resurrect within ourselves via identification with ‘other’ ancestries can lead us to see and hear and feel more than we might otherwise experience. That, and not the internet, I dare say, is the closest we can get to God-like omniscience.