With every visit to India, I find that I am less and less inclined to be frank (vocally) about my views on anything related to India, whenever such topics come up in conversations.
I hold myself back for the simple reason that my critiques can easily be (mis)interpreted as one coming from an outsider, given that I have spent an overwhelming majority of my adult life outside India, in the US.
It is a fine line that I have to walk.
More so was this the case when I met classmates, almost of all whom I had never seen over the thirty-plus years. The last thing I wanted to do was tick them off right at the get go--critiques are generally welcomed, I have come to understand, only when people know where the person is coming from. In my case, I had to first earn that "cred." And earning that cred will take a while.
In my classes too, it is the same case.
A couple of weeks into the term, if I engage in straight talk with students, they don't find it offensive; in fact, their feedback is often that they find my honest critiques immensely refreshing. I have served as an informal adviser to a few students--all because they were convinced that I was the only one giving them honest feedback.
One year--about the time the Great Recession started to unfold--my bottom-line to students was a simple "you are screwed." Of course, I also gave them constructive suggestions on how they need to work towards their productive futures. There is no way I could have given them such a dark bottom-line if I hadn't first established the relationship.
Thus, for the most part, during the reunion, I stayed away from serious topics. I didn't want to open my big fat mouth and tick people off anymore than I might already have :)
One of those juicy topics was about Gujarat and Narendra Modi. Oooooh, such a wonderful topic for debate and discussion.
I have always been firm about Modi--he needs to punished for having overseen mass killings.
"M" was happy to talk about the part of Gujarat where he lives with his family. He said it was another version of Neyveli, in terms of roads, facilities, small-townish characteristics, etc. He seemed to be genuinely happy to be living there.
When he suggested that I visit Gujarat, I politely said I would, even though I knew well enough that I am not in favor of going there unless and until Modi and his cronies are sent to jail for their crimes.
Another classmate joined in with her comments. She said everything that I would have said about Modi, and how his government has made minorities feel insecure.
They traded arguments, and I was happy to listen in. I did comment that I was not with "M" on this topic.
I wanted to draw parallels with the Arizona situation, and how I have no inclination to go there. It doesn't make me happy when minorities are not protected and, even worse, are harassed. Compared to Modi's killing spree, the Arizona measure, of course, would not even blip on a radar. In any case, it was one of those rare moments when better sense prevailed and I didn't get into any serious discussions!
I wonder if by now I have established who I am with my classmates and whether it will, therefore, be kosher for me to freely express my views.