Our interviewer Poorva and Aswathy met at the Bangalore Lit Fest a few months ago. The two had met on a trek previously, so once pleasantries were exchanged, Poorva asked Aswathy for an interview. Aswathy’s choice of interview topic left Poorva amazed and dumbstruck at the same time; Aswathy wanted to talk about how jingoism played out in her friendships. Interviewing India recommends you read this interview not only because Aswathy does a fantastic job of showing us just how our relationships with those around us have changed with time, but also how her story has become every free-thinker’s story in today’s India.
Aswathy, 44 years, self-employed, Bangalore
Interviewed by Poorva Dinesh
Why did you decide to give us an interview on friendship and jingoism?
I used to take friendship for granted. We grew up without any specific mindsets or divisions. We grew up with all kinds of kids. We never worried about whether we were mingling with the same groups, caste or creed. But now all my friends are the new friends I have made because they are my son’s friends’ parents. And I find it extremely difficult to make friends with them or hang out with them because it affects me when they put “outsiders” in boxes and are very judgemental. I even tried introducing the term jingoism to them.
I wonder if something is wrong with me, because everybody seems to be comfortable with name calling and things like that, and I feel very strongly about it. I came here to the lit fest to listen to Ramchandra Guha to feel a little better (laughs).
Do you feel alienated?
I am a Malyali but I don’t identify myself as a Malyali. I grew up in Chennai; I came to Bangalore when I was 25 because I thought the city was very cosmopolitan…but I am very disappointed to say that people have become very very xenophobic. People are comfortable being in their social groups and anybody who speaks another language is seen as an outsider. It’s almost like a vice to speak another language.
You feel compelled to be with a certain group because your children are friends and you don’t see eye-to-eye with them. Have you thought of doing something about it?
I don’t want to discuss this with my child because I will be putting ideas in his head. I don’t want him to grow up thinking he is different. No one treated me differently because I was a Malyali in Madras, and that’s the treatment I want for him as well. I feel Tagore’s dream of India is lost.
Is your son happy with these friendships?
He is very happy and I am happy for him. Children are children. They are untouched by these ideas, and I don’t want to spoil it for him. I don’t enjoy the company of a group. But if I don’t go, his friendships will get affected.
This is a very parenting-specific problem too right?
Yes, but actually it is more than that. I will give you one example. This has nothing to do with parenting. I found a video – I don’t know how authentic the video was – of a Pakistani news channel talking about Lal Bahadur Shastri on his birthday. I was very touched by it, and I shared it on a school Whatsapp group of about 200 very nice people. In fact I feel very comfortable with them, so I shared the video on the group adding how nice it was for a Pakistani channel to do a piece on Shastri, and here we are fighting jingoistically. And not a single person in a group of 200 people responded to my message. If I had shared a video of my son, I would have received some two hundred comments from everybody. I don’t know if people are scared to bring up politics…
You have made a very interesting point. It is best not to discuss sensitive issues like politics in some friendships today…so in that sense friendships are not very organic or pure.
Yes, and this is what I have been trying to figure out in my mind.
How do you deal with this very unique problem of yours?
I have started taking my son on outings where there are no expectations and he is just having fun. I try to avoid hanging out with this set of people, at the same time I need to ensure that he doesn’t get affected by it.
You are trying to strike a balance between the two? (Aswathy and Poorva laugh)
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic. But we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
I feel there are no expectations in love…like you shouldn’t wait for something in return. I don’t do things for my son, my husband or my brother because I am getting things in return. I protect them in such a way that they don’t get hurt.