South Asian History Month: Dr Ananta Dave
29 July, 2020
Dr Ananta Dave, Medical Director and Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Lincolnshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust writes on the theme of dualism and of expressing yourself in the full richness of your cultural heritage.
A tale of two mother(land)s
I come from India - a vast country, a microcosm of the world, with 22 languages, hundreds of dialects, and an unimaginable variety in all aspects of culture - cuisine, dress, literature, music, and natural beauty. And there is nothing quite like masala chai (spicy tea), a melody of Lata Mangeshkar and pakoras on a rainy afternoon to evoke memories of my country of birth.
As I mark a quarter century of being in the UK, a first generation immigrant, there is a constant theme of dualism that epitomises the diaspora experience. Always caught between two cultures, two homelands. British-Indian. These are strange times. A tiny virus, SARS-CoV-2 has cast a huge shadow of death and destruction. But the racial and other disparities it has amplified have also given us an unmissable opportunity to come together to address the life-threatening inequalities.
I have faced racism at work and in the community at various points over the 25 years I have been in the UK but have also experienced life changing kindness and generosity from mentors, friends, and colleagues. I believe strongly in the ethos of the NHS – free healthcare at the point of delivery, but have also seen the institutional racism ravage lives of staff and patients alike, as COVID-19 has shown us. We need to find ways of recognising the grief and loss, and help the healing which requires love, hope, and time.
Unity in diversity
When I was growing up we were taught in school constantly the unity in diversity that epitomised India. The diversity still exists but the unity is looking a little wobbly and we as the Indian diaspora need to own it. And while we talk about the discrimination and racism in the UK that presents barriers to many immigrants, we need to acknowledge the great inequalities in Indian society too – gender discrimination, casteism and the obsession with lighter skin to name a few. The intersection of multiple inequalities is a particular scourge both in Indian and the UK.
I feel a great need to express myself in the full richness of my cultural heritage - the Indian and the British. I want to do my bit to make a difference so that “the colour of my skin does not become my sin” (paraphrased).
Mahashweta Devi, a great Indian poet writing in Bengali, said “What kind of history do we want to bequeath to the next generation? I had such a great ‘asthirata’ in me, such a restlessness; an udbeg (agitation): I have to write…so that I can face myself without any sense of guilt and shame.”
The RCPsych is to be applauded for organising the first ever South Asian History Month and giving us an opportunity to talk openly about our cultural heritage, its expression in the UK, and celebrate the fullness of immigrant cultures - their strengths and vulnerabilities.
Ultimately, I feel privileged to have two motherlands - a birth one and an adoptive one. The blending has made me - any uncoupling diminishes me.