Living in the shadows of history

All humans are not born equal.

Some are born in the shadows of a colonial past, with an indelible history embedded in themselves. Whatever they may do - and many of them do a lot - they remain unerringly colonial. Even if they are accepted by kind friends, behaviour with them - towards them - falls under tolerance; and indeed, they are always periodically reminded of who they are by others not so kind. They are confronted with stereotypes of themselves in daily lives, and even when those stereotypes are positive - for me, being considered an IT specialist just because I am Indian, for example - it is often living another person's life: That of a historical person, who we don't know and aren't ourselves, but who was present at birth and will always stay with me.

It's hard to explain this experience to someone who is not born into this perpetual coloniality. There are things a colonial can see - even when she chooses to ignore it - which the others may not notice at all. The colonial may want to live for the future as much as anyone does; she may indeed want to have hope and look forward, rather than obsess over her identity: But that needs overcoming, a conscious reinvention, which, by that very act, makes real the thing that needs to be transcended.

Indeed, a colonial often does the very opposite. In the fashion of multiculturalism, identity is one to be celebrated, not shunned. It, therefore, manifests in curated culturalism, vain attempts to educate others about the marginal and the exotic. The very practical world of diversity, token handouts that can be won from various politically correct public institutions and corporate look-good pots, feeds this shiny, rewarding coloniality. And, the opposite side of this very coin is rage, the constant claim of discrimination and demands for correcting the historical wrongs, with the hallmark techniques of special interest politics. But this confirms, promotes and sustains the same hangover that others may want to escape, guarding the gates of hopeful, universal humanity that others, untainted by the historical shadows, can so easily achieve.

That imagination - that we are all part a single, hopeful, human future - is a common aspiration. Even if the opportunism of diversity-beneficiaries or the constant state of the rage of postcoloniality-obsessed distracts from this central fact, it is the future, rather than the past, one really wants to live for. And, this brings out the most surprising colonial reflex of all - the denial of history while being steeped into it! The colonial mind, wanting to overcome itself, seeks refuge in denying the existence and importance of history, affirming that the objective of knowing is escaping, rather than coming to terms with, history; or when the persistent issues of identity and origin bite back, seeking refuge in near-mythologies of ever distant past. Anything to get the weight of history off our backs, anything to be eligible to participate in the common quest of building our futures, is the rallying cry of the colonial.

But, sadly, the quest for the future is shaped by those who can make sense of the past. Future is separated from the past by our incisive imagination but shaped more by the continuity rather than the chasm our feeble interventions can bring to it. Believe however much you might that a well-shaped computer can dent the universe, but the human future is grounded and rearrangement of bits and atoms disrupt it ever so tinily. If we accept that no one really can control the vast pool of common human past, then the insight - those who control the past, control the future - should be rephrased to give precedence to those who understand. And, in denial, Colonials have very little claim on the future.

So, should I hide my head in the sand or face the unbearable burdens of the past? I opted for the latter option, seeking to understand. And, as I learnt along the way, raging at injustices of the past is hardly the way to come to terms with it. In fact, forgiveness is - as this engagement is invariably personal and emotional - an essential aspect of attempting to understand the historical man embedded within me. Without that, I shall forever fight his battles, remain forever in his spell; I shall be, as my world will enforce on me, a prisoner of my skin. Rather than running away from history, I wanted to face it; accept its huge impersonal force shaping lives, through human actions but not by human designs, as both Marx and von Hayek would agree on. Overcoming my coloniality, I accept, is neither to be achieved through washing away my colour and hiding my accent, nor in claiming a sort of inverted superiority of victimhood, but rather than accepting that the power of history remains with the curious; it always was that way, and always will be.




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