Or “How do you feel about leaving HK/returning to Bangalore?”
I’m asked these questions with increasing frequency and risk a deluge in the dozen days ahead and perhaps beyond. So here goes with some answers:
Despite having spent more than 16 years in the city, I’m a foreigner in Hong Kong, whose authorities, political groups – especially the powerful pro-Beijing ones – and a lot of society make it clear we’re here at their sufferance: All foreigners, from domestic workers on strict contracts with no maximum working hours, to billionaires who each pay tens of millions in taxes.
To be sure, in HK, Foreigners do not suffer physical attacks or threats. European or North American style hostility isn’t at work here, NOR European/NAmerican style acceptance. Hong Kong society – most of it – leaves us severely alone. Hong Kong officials and society spokespersons for long pretended that racism did not exist. Cultural differences, they like to call it. And the Race Discrimination Ordinance adopted after decades of lobbying, is a highly watered down version of other similar laws – Disability Discrimination Ordinance, Sex Discrimination Ordinance and Family Status Discrimination Ordinance.
Not to worry, we have plenty of racism in India, along with
casteism, religious fanaticism, regionalism et al, not to speak of class conflict. I have several identities, each of which makes me a member of a minority – a South Indian, someone whose mother tongue is not quite Tamil and not quite Kannada, a non-native speaker of Hindi (which ought to have been a minority North Indian language but has been thrust on all Indians through official diktat, helped along by the predominance of the Bombay film industry) and a Hindu-born atheist (there are tens of millions of us and our numbers are growing, I like to think, but we’ll remain a minority for a while to come). Not to mention the castes and sub-castes, that not only divide us, but fragment us.
But I dearly hope we remain fragmented, though not on caste lines. India’s diversity is a great guarantor of our democracy. Attempts to foist a majoritarian Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan nationalism ought to be and will be resisted.
Back to Hong Kong: I’ll miss my large number of acquaintances – many are now among my dearest of friends – most in human rights, humanitarian and academic outfits. Not only shared political inclinations: these are wonderful, warm-hearted people.
Many great friends to (re)connect with in Bangalore and the rest of India: Again, mostly in the media, NGOs and related areas.
Hong Kong’s journalism scene is shrinking. When I moved to HK in late 1994, the golden age of its English language media was peaking, to mix metaphors. Three English language broadsheets – South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Standard and Eastern Express – as well as Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek provided good reading fodder and employed hundreds of hacks. Only the SCMP remains now, a ghost of its former self.
In India, the newspaper industry is still growing, but most are identical to each other, obsessing mindlessly over film stars and the game of cricket.
It’s convenient living in Hong Kong. Good transport and libraries and from an Indian perspective, water and electricity supply can be taken for granted. In Bangalore, we had that until two decades ago. Now, incomes have risen but the city has gone to seed. As footpaths (pavements/sidewalks) have been eroded, pedestrians have nowhere to go. Drivers of cars drive us mad by blaring horns. I’m for non-violence but have almost got into fights with Bangalore’s horn-blaring car drivers in the past and might need to tone my muscles hence forward.
In HK, the government is of the technocrats, for the tycoons and by the Beijing bosses. Monopolies, duopolies and oligopolies rule. In India, there still is a semblance of competition in many sectors but if mom’n’pop shops give way to the Walmarts of this world, who knows what’s in store.
Talking of mom’n’pops, in HK, there are still many retail goods and services they offer outside of the big grocery duopoly while competing with the latter in many other commodities. And many such shops, to my great delight, have resident cats. It’s heartwarming to come across these regal felines sometimes ensconced at the entrance, nonchalantly surveying their domain. But more on the cats of Hong Kong in a future blog, as well as of cats, dogs, donkeys, cows, goats and other non-human plus human dramatis personae in the Indian street.
Watch this space.