Social media makes the world smaller. And it makes my life richer. Because I have conversations (sometimes only in 140 characters!) with people from around the world who are generous, warm people who share the stories of their lives – the happy, the sad, the fabulous, the rare, the raunchy – you name it. Ordinary people with ordinary stories, just like you and me. Somehow the twitterverse led me to @abhijitmajumder who is the editor of an Indian tabloid newspaper. Let me say right here that I’m not at all sure Abhijit’s newspaper and I have very much in common at all, and while I don’t actually know him, I suspect he’s quite different to his newspaper’s target audience. In the best possible ways.
Within minutes of Julia Gillard becoming Australia’s 27th Prime Minister, Abhijit sent me a note on Twitter asking what I thought a change of PM might mean for Indian/Australian relationships, particularly in light of the highly-publicised ‘race attacks’ on Indian students in Victoria. To be honest, I have no idea, I suspect essentially the relationship is a very good one and I don’t see much changing at all. International student education has been one of the biggest contributors to the Australian economy over the last few years. Third largest, actually. Behind coal, then iron ore. Education of students from overseas. Huge, huh?! My considered opinion, and that of Indian friends in Australia, is that it is not what it seems and has been heavily misrepresented by Indian media. My note of caution, though, is that perception is often reality. If I was a parent in India, how would I feel about sending my child to Australia? Food for thought.
I assured Abhijit that the vast majority of Australians aren’t racist and are appalled by the perception that we are and disgusted by the tiny minority who somehow manage to have all of us tarred with the ‘racist’ brush. I mentioned Vindaloo Against Violence in February this year, the idea of a young woman in Melbourne. It was a day of ‘solidarity’ where Australians were encouraged simply to spend the evening in their local Indian restaurant. Naïve, yes, but simple, elegant, meaningful for those who took part, even if it does seem a bit naff. Abhijit suggested I write about it for his paper. I’m still thinking about the pros and cons of that, we’ll see, but to be honest I’m still struggling with it. It seems such a simply thing to do. I write. But.
My problem with writing about it is that it would go to an Indian readership that is still hearing about ‘honour killings’ on a daily basis or the Bharat Bandh (a day of general strike action by the community to complain about sharply rising prices, etc) which involved a level of violence and disruption that we don’t see here, and wouldn’t tolerate. So at the moment I’m battling with telling the VaV story in the light of activities in India that disturb me greatly. They’re nothing new, but I need to find a way to hose down my gut reaction of ‘Hang on! You’re still killing women who marry outside their caste?’ I don’t know. Maybe this will be the story I can’t actually find the words for? I’m wondering if the angle needs to be … if I was an Indian woman I’d have ‘given cause’ numerous times by now. I dragged a friend into the conversation on Twitter and Abhijit responded, “Feel ashamed to describe it. Honour killings are murders of young lovers who have married across caste. Barbaric.”
” … murders of young lovers …”
Oh my heart.
I sent Abhijit a song written by Jeff Martin, formerly of The Tea Party. The song is called ‘Morocco’ and it is about the honour killings of women in the Middle East. Different location, same tragedy. Jeff and I talked about it during one of his visits to my studio and I asked him how he came to write about something as dark and horrific as an honour killing. “It’s a song inspired by an article I saw in the Sunday Times in England about young women from the Muslim world – honour killings – it’s just a travesty that these things still happen in this day and age when we’re supposed to be civilised. “
I suggest that this is dark material to visit for a song, “It’s necessary. Things like these travesties that occur, and the fact that we’re supposed to be an evolved species on this planet. That people can take these beautiful books of love that were created centuries ago and manipulate them and twist them into these things that are basically dripping with hatred and oppression. I can’t stand parameters being put around the soul of a human ‘becoming’, so at any point where that faces me, it will probably come through in my music.”
Jeff Martin is a father, his little boy Django is just a couple of years younger than mine, how will he explain issues like this, different beliefs, to his son in the years to come? “Extremism is everywhere. You find it in the Christian religion, the Muslim religion, you find it everywhere. The only thing we can do with those that come after us is teach tolerance.” Is this one of the gifts of his music, an entree into other cultures, other people, other loves? “Absolutely. That’s one of the reasons I travel so much. I spent a couple of months in Egypt travelling back and forth between Aswan and Luxor. I met a particular family in Luxor – they had nothing as far as western pleasures are concerned, but they wanted to share everything with me. I stayed in their home, it was such a beautiful experience with beautiful people.”
We have so much to offer each other, and to learn from each other. When are we going to be brave enough to embrace it?
Here’s Jeff’s song, Morocco, recorded live in my studio last year. Enjoy.