“You’re very beautiful, dear,” she said, “what nationality are you, Indian?”
“No,” I smiled, “I’m Aboriginal.”
She looked at me in shock. “You can’t be,” she said.
“Oh, you poor thing,” she said, putting her arm around me, “what on earth are you going to do?”
– Sally Morgan, My Place
We live in a delusion. Reading this phrase again makes me realise that we are stuck between a rock-hard bottom and a clear blue sky. In the era of mass media, entertainment business, WhatsApp forwards, etc., we are never permitted to question our beginnings and the future of our journey. This age has not only produced lazy followers but has also controlled every means of dissent.
It was too late for me when I realised where I came from and how important it is to know one’s ‘place’ in the world. The only memory I have of my place is that we dance, wear ‘traditional’ clothing, live in hilly areas and speak a language starkly different from the ones we’ve been conditioned to reproduce.
Last month I got hold of My Place by Sally Morgan, an autobiography of an Aboriginal Australian woman whose inquisitive take on her origin and her family’s past reveals the hidden warfare that dominant and imperialistic ideologies run to fuel their means. Honest testimonies by the writer’s uncle, Arthur, her mother, Gladys, and her grandmother, Daisy, not only acted as a Bildungsroman for the characters but the author herself started to accept her state of being and gradually comprehended the importance of individual tales.
Sally acknowledged the fact that libraries all around her are filled with stories from the point of view of an eye-witness and therefore are prone to biased observations. From the complexities of a world run by men to the acceptance of non-normative skin types, Morgan not only dictates her individual story but is smart enough to let others speak for themselves too.
Each and every character reminded me of someone from my past who has either attempted to escape their culture or revive it – from my great-grandmother asking me to pierce my nose to my uncle requesting me to cherish my long hair. While these attempts failed, they gave birth to a curious child in me.
Since that day, I recognised how important an autobiography is. Not only does one witness an individual’s self-written account of their life, but autobiographies also gives individuals the freedom to mould and edit the parts that they wish to.
In India, with its 1.3 billion population, so many lives have suffered or are suffering different kinds of injustice. So many riots from the past still haunt the lives of thousands. Numerous tragedies, experiences of caste-based oppression to unemployment – each and every citizen deserves to speak for oneself, for the ‘I’ in them. Even though it may seem difficult to narrate.
But we must trust the magic of individual testimonies and let them strip the false tableau that rules the day.
‘Can’t you just leave the past buried? It won’t hurt anyone then.’
‘Mum, its already hurt people. It’s hurt you and me and Nan, all of us …’