Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Another Anglo-Indian Interview in Norwood

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

I awoke at 5. 45 am today to find light peaking through my bedroom blinds. The days are growing longer--that's for sure--and winter is slowly creeping away. It was nippy in the morning, though, and I had to close my window. In the past couple of weeks, I've taken to leaving my window open at night (so my room is not too warm) and wearing ear-plugs to keep away the traffic noises. It has worked well and I believe I am now sleeping longer.

After proof reading my blog, I began work on the pictures on my hard drive. I needed to edit and caption two sets of them and then back them up on CDs. All this took almost all morning--each set of pictures took an hour!

I then wanted to finish the Claire Jansen interview and after proofreading it, I sent it over to my office for printing. This left me just enough time to take a shower, eat a pizza lunch and leave my flat for my appointment with Neville Johnston, one of my Anglo-Indian 'subjects' in Norwood. He had instructed me on how to get to his house and after hopping on the Tube to Victoria, I took the Southern Rail train to Norwood Junction where he awaited my arrival.

En route, I began grading my students' essays and was deeply disappointed to find that I need to return most of them for redrafting as none of them has a clear thesis statement, a definitive argument, enough scholarly sources or correct citations. At the end of the day, none of them proved the points they were trying to make coherently enough. I do believe that they have too much work to do in every paper and since they must meet assignment deadlines, they tend to do shoddy work. Though, mind you, none of them writes badly. They are fluent and have an impressive writing style; but they don't realize that for a research paper to receive an A grade, it needs more than just a very readable style. So back to the drawing board they go.

Neville was awaiting me outside Somerfield's as planned. I have to say that it has been a rather frustrating week for me work-wise. Not only have my prospective Anglo-Indian subjects cancelled on me at the very last minute, but they seem to have done so for the most trivial of reasons. Granted, they are doing me a favor in giving me the time of day; but to talk to some of them, you would think they are running the UK. I swear it could be easier to get an interview with Gordon Brown than it is to pin one of them down. None of them seems to have the academic understanding to realize that my work is professional and that they need to feel committed if they are going to assist me. Someone cancelled on me because she is going out of town ten days from now and has to attend to chores, she says!

Given then that I haven't managed to accomplish all I intended to this week, it was a joy to interview Neville. A completely unpretentious man with not an air or a grace about him, he responded to me with candor and with sincerity and seemed to have lost none of the hospitable warmth and generosity that India tends to nurture in her sons and daughters. Despite the fact that he has had an unusually large number of challenges in his short life in this country, he has remained optimistic, forgiving and profoundly understanding of the people who made his life what it is today. I felt that there were so many lessons about compassion and forgiveness that I learned from him.

We met in his assisted retirement living facility in Norwood, a 'Council place' (as he described it) where he tried hard to make me feel at home and comfortable. It was the little gestures he advanced towards me that moved me deeply and stirred my own feelings of warmth towards him. And yet, when he spoke to me it was with perception and insight that so many of the other folks to whom I have spoken have completely lacked. Not only is he well-informed about his community and its history but he wears his learning lightly. This man has given so much and will continue to give for the rest of his life and has received so little in return--and asks for nothing much. He was certainly one of the most unusual Anglo-Indians I have met so far and yet one who has most deeply impacted me.

On the way home, while I was seated at Norwood Junction waiting for the train to return to Victoria, he called my cell phone to apologize that he had forgotten to offer me the snacks he had especially bought for me yesterday. I admit that I had started to feel hungry and was grateful for the biscuits that I threw into my bag before leaving the house as I now realize that I am often peckish after these long hikes into the distant suburbs to do these interviews. While so many of my 'subjects' have generously invited me to lunch with them as part of the interview sessions, others have told me point-blank that they cannot offer me too much time! It is this contrast in attitudes towards me and my work that repeatedly strikes me as I continue to plug away at it here in London. Few of them feel grateful that their community which continues to remain almost unknown in the UK is being made the subject of scrutiny through the support of a world-famous university. Perhaps it is their ignorance of academic research that makes them so oblivious to the need to be more co-operative and more committed. Only one of the many individuals I have interviewed so far actually wrote to thank me for the work I am doing and for the time, trouble and attention I am lavishing on a completely obscure and invisible ethnic minority in the UK.

OK, so I guess I have vented enough and hopefully the next crop of 'subjects' to whom I am introduced will make me feel less resentful. At any rate, I got back home and attended to email, had a chat with Chriselle, rebooked a flight to Lyon in May as Easyjet needed to cancel the flight I had booked way back in December and began to search the web for some plays that Chriselle and I might see together when she gets here in early May.

Being hungry then, I heated some pizza and ravioli and sat down to eat my dinner while beginning to watch Lovejoy which my new Anglo-Indian friend John Thomas left for me with my concierge yesterday. The series is set in the 1980s in Suffolk and John, who reads my blog regularly, thought that I might enjoy the series as I had recently visited Suffolk. I watched the first episode and just began introducing myself to the characters and the ethos of the series when my eyelids began to droop and I decided to respond and get to bed.

After writing this blog, I did just the end of what was a very productive day for me.

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