India - Bharat - Tenjiku: One Reality, More Perspectives (Part 2)

April 21, 2008
Alin Dosoftei

Some personal opinions

Part 1

So, more words describing, obviously, just one reality. The first assumption would be that they mean the same thing, that Tenjiku shogi is, you know, an Indian shogi, or, in an alternative history with an East Asian prevalence worldwide, an Indian file is, you know, a Tenjiku file. How else, the common logic goes, when they describe the same reality? This is helped by the fact that, in most of the cases, a certain culture would have available just one such imagery. In this manner, it is not questioned its relation with the segment from reality it is supposed to describe. There may be many other names in other cultures describing their own segments from about the same area of the reality (most certainly the segmentations will not be the same in different cultures). But who cares? Usually they will not remain face to face, because they will ignore each other, trivialize each other, dispute each other, subordinate each other (8) or assimilate each other. Hence, it is preserved the appearance of the "one and only", the unquestioned identification between imagery and reality. These are perceived as the same thing and the reality's uniqueness is bestowed also upon that imagery. Obviously, as the time elapses, this relation will need adjustments and patchings to help the imagery keep the pace with the reality or to confront other rival imageries, hence the notions of truth and untruth.

This tends to obliterate the fact that, in practice, the relations between such words speak rather of the relations between the cultures that employ them. This may become more visible in cases like that from above, where the vivacity of Tenjiku, face to face with the contemporary almighty Indo, speaks rather of the successful integration of the Japanese culture in the Western framework, that "Tenjiku dream food, Indian restaurant" mirroring the slogan "Japanese spirit, Western techniques". In the contemporary context, Tenjiku is an established part of the Japanese spirit, while India comes as a result of the integration in the Western framework (of course, here I am writing about India as the Western imagery, not about the society from the contemporary state with this name). If that segment from reality itself is not very vocal, any description of "what everybody knows" about it ends up easily in describing instead the worldview of those who "know" (as you can see from this very article that says very few about the Desi people).

Another such example, from that article reminded at the beginning about Rom as reality and Gypsy as imagery, the only true Gypsies are only the non-Roma who have the Gypsy imagery established in their culture. It should be pointed out that the non-Roma who are vehement in imposing the Gypsy imagery on the Roma, they themselves can be characterized according to this imagery. They are some exotic Gypsies or some violent, destructive Gypsies who make no distinction between their personality and the Roma they encounter, therefore adulating or punishing the latter as a psychological projection (the defense mechanism that attributes to the others one's own unacceptable or unwanted thoughts). Through this process a matter of fantasy is used for interpreting the real life. It becomes normal and it happens this anomalous violence or adulation, the word Gypsy becomes a safe haven for such behavior. They need to accept the existence of their acquired Gypsy cultural features and then to deal with them. Moreover, those societies that have the Gypsy imagery as part of their culture, must acknowledge that they used the Roma's minority non-vocal status as escapism for otherwise unaccepted behavior, developing antisocial "Gypsy excrescences" in their people's minds. In order to create a functional broad society, instead of thinking how to get rid of the "abnormal Gypsies" that appear on their retinas, they have to aim correctly and deal with the Gypsy part of their own culture.

Back to the main theme, in this less usual case (9) when two such imageries remain face to face, for an outsider that belongs neither to the Japanese nor to the Western culture, having just an unexplored relation with South Asia (10), this looks like the right place to put a long awaited question: which of them is the reality, the "one and only", also which of them represents the truth (the usual human cultural connection with the reality)? Their successful cohabitation in the same framework, each with its own coherence, vivacity, makes clear that none of them is the unique reality, they are relative, there may exist an infinite number of such images about South Asia, also that the reality is not comprised by such frameworks of imageries. They shouldn't have met each other in such a manner if they would have desired to preserve the appearance that they really describe something from the real life.

What about Bharat, as an autochthonous image of this culture? Technically, its structure is no different from the other images, it is one of the infinite number of possibilities, but, obviously, it makes a big difference that it stems from the reality it describes. In such cases, this kind of image is different from the others as much as it is connected to its reality. Theoretically, nothing impedes an outsider to have a fine understanding of a certain segment of reality, but in practice the insiders have chances to know much better. Every instance (both at individual level and at the level of a certain culture) is a particular one concerning both the self-understanding and the understanding of the others. The difference between the self-image and the identity may be visible in cases, like the groups of people emigrating in other cultural areas, when, exactly because of clinging too much on their self-image they had back home, they lose the connection with their cultural identity (one of the most common ways of cultural assimilation).

I wrote somewhere else my views about the relation between the unique reality and the existing images, about the ethnic minorities losing their identity because of too much confidence in their self-image, also about the historical cases when this convenient "one and only" view was questioned, opening ways for other relations with the reality. In the last case, for the scope of this article, I would like to write also here that the relation between the now acknowledged plurality of images and the unique reality became organized by absolute purity rules when only a part of a local society understood it or by relative purity rules when the entire local society clarified its view. As long as it does not appear a clear human understanding of the relation between the reality and the imagery, these purity rules are employed to keep this relation working (in the absence of the belief in the firmness of the images).

I named relative purity rules those rules that underline how every image is relative and absolute purity rules those emphasizing that there is just one reality. The different stress results from different contexts. When an entire local society becomes aware of the reality and of the infinite possibilities to interpret it through imagery, relative purity rules appear to permit further on the use of the images as the main known drive of the social life (and in the same time to keep official their relativity). The Desi society employs relative purity rules publicly expressed through the Dharmic religions and, more or less among non-Dharmic Desis, through some popular Desi peculiarities of their way of life. These purity rules found an important expression in the caste system, as an understanding of the infinity of simultaneously possible ideals/self-images. It is acknowledged that any ideal/self-image does not grasp fully the reality, emphasizing that there is a reality without attributes beyond such points of view.

The absolute purity rules are employed by marginal groups, parts of broader societies, which from a certain moment in history made the difference between reality and imageries. These groups do not assimilate, because their ethnic identification is not based anymore on self-imagery, but on the reality of their identity. The cultural relation between the reality and the images grows differently from the above case of the relative purity rules, as a result of their marginal status. Their public image may have an infinite number of shapes too, but, in practice, it needs to include assimilations of features from the self-imagery of that broad society's dominant culture. Thus it is possible for these populations to be a more or less coherent part of that society, without losing their identity.

This ubiquitous one and only local imagery is not a problem per se, but the way it is dominated and used by the mainstream requires continuous clarifications about its relative nature, about the fact that the marginal group and the powerful majority do not understand it in the same manner. Facing the way it is taken for granted by the others, it must be reminded every moment that it exists a lively reality and that "we stand by it", amid frozen imageries taken for granted. If the usual expression of the relative purity rules is the caste system, as a simultaneous plurality of self-images, the absolute purity rules make the difference between us and the others. Both "us" and "the others" are images, only that "us" is the safe area where any popular imagery of the moment may be considered according to its relative status. Further, as "we" consider any image as relative, we understand that any person or people among the "others" have too their own reality beyond their self-image. Hence we don't decide about who are the others, if there appear images and stereotypes saying that this is "this" and that is "that", they remain relative. We keep all the options open, the only limit being their reality, the same as we think about us. That neutral area from "Journey to the West" becomes permanent, it is not used just for a study of the own identity, for answering "who am I among the others" and then turning back to the realm of the self-imagery, but for remaining face to face with any other person/people we may encounter. It is us and them, all in the same space, in the same time, each with its own vivacity, in an institutionalized manner.

The people that I know employing such absolute purity rules developed this identity clarification: Yehudim (Jews) and Goyim (non-Jews), Nihonjin (Japanese) and Gaijin (non-Japanese). The Romani people has both relative purity rules (the Romani caste system) and absolute purity rules: Roma and Gaje (non-Roma). It is a long way from the concept of barbarian (the assumed or implied vision of the others, from a localized point of view) that denies the culture and the identity of the others just because it does not fit the self-image of a certain person/cultural group. In this manner it is possible to remain face to face with any other cultural group, to employ dominant imageries from localized cultural areas without becoming localized. In the case of the Roma, they even became the maintainers of parts of some other people's traditions. In Hungary, Romania, Spain and other countries an important part of the local folk music is continued and improved by Roma. The Romani music evolves in more layers, that aiming only at the Romani public, that enjoyed by both Roma and non-Roma (whether they feel the same thing or they ascribe different messages to the song) and that focused only on the non-Roma.

Trying to keep the text in the scope of this article, I did not add more information about the worldview of these populations. However I should emphasize that bringing them together in this context does not mean that any features of one group may be extrapolated indiscriminately to the others. Each of them has a unique identity, fact visible in the way they envisage their public presence. This position among a majority with an unquestioned focus on the public images supposes that any self-description needs to establish the reality as a coherent presence in the realm of images. In the cases when they came with a public position about their identity, they employed too identification symbols involved in localized threads of history. However, these symbols are non-imaginary; they express the effort of such groups to keep their focus on the reality, hence they have no attributes: the Divinity with an unpronounceable name of the Jews, the nameless Emperor of Japan.

The difference between the ways they appear these indescribable (through images) identities comes from their position in their relation with the others. In the Japanese case, the clear geographical difference between "us" and the "others", the homogeneity and the safety of our area does not request further clarifications about who we are. The symbol of the reality does not require being opposable to the others, it is for us to keep us meaningful among the others. Also it is not necessary to become historically involved in the decision making process. As long as there is this clear demarcation, any turning point is bound to keep further the contact with the reality. The Japanese society alone cannot take for granted images.

In the Jewish case, the context made that the official public presence was envisaged as involvement in non-Jewish historical frameworks. But how could someone become entangled in a worldview where the personal identity would be reduced to some rigid images? After some good centuries there appeared Moses' model of clarifying the difference between somebody's imaginary identity, as it is taken for granted by the involvement in non-Jewish history, and the lively Identity beyond any description. This separation (with the subsequent involvement in history and assuming of responsibilities by the latter) makes possible a decision making process considering the non-Jewish history, but avoiding being trapped by its localized perspective. This supposes also constructing a historical thread and identify with its details in order to be visible among non-Jews.

The Romani culture does not have yet a public position about itself and the rest of the world. It depends on the local communities and on the individuals the way they negotiate and adjust their position in the local frameworks, in an informal manner that must not limit the Romani identity by assuming some transient self-images. Devel (from Sanskrit देव-Dev meaning Divinity), the same as the other Dharmics' Bhagvan/Ishvar and the Japanese Kami-sama, keeps all the options open, does not become too specific, a "somebody", by getting entangled in localized histories. However, the Roma had neither a local central position as the Dharmics from South Asia (that would make possible a society according to our worldview), nor a clear and homogeneous geographic space like the locally marginal Japanese (that would facilitate a formal public presence without entanglements). As a minority, an involvement in non-Romani histories would require many self-limitations (as it can be seen in the Jewish case), it has to adapt to the others' "one imaginary thread" policy, by keeping a clear adherence to a single historical thread. The others' concept of the "one and only" (image) has to be transferred to the details that signal the presence of the realistic worldview in the realm of images taken for granted.

Roma, unlike the Jews, have also relative purity rules, we can't say that the details of one historical direction are true while of the others are untrue. All are true in their own realm (depending on the construction of that truth how much they are also feasible, connected to the reality) and ultimately all are simply relative. Their details are bound to keep them as mental constructions, distinct from reality. While I see the clear transcendental aspect of the Jewish Divinity's involvement in local histories (the view of the absolute purity rules), I can't overlook the relativity of this involvement's product, its historical thread (the view of the relative purity rules). Diachronically, it is all right, any change or novelty keeps counting on the lively identity, but synchronically, the details of the historical thread used for self-identification make it just one among an infinite number of existing or possible ideologies. And the necessity to regard them (these acquired details) as absolute, as the truth, creates undesirable self-limitations.

From a Romani point of view, the diversity of historical threads is too obvious. A Romani person identifies in an absolute manner as obviously Romani (the absolute purity rules, the diachronicity), but also identifies as just a part of the society, through the accumulated personal deeds (the relative purity rules, the synchronicity). Usually these deeds tend to evolve as the Romani caste system, a system that makes possible the simultaneous existence of all emerging historical directions. In the relation with the local spirituality, these relative purity rules manifest through the assimilation of features from all available religions, creating puzzling (for the non-Romani majority) mixtures in Abrahamic multireligious areas, like the combinations of features from Christianity and Islam in the Balkans, of the Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant branches of Christianity in Transylvania. This while the Romanipen (the Romani worldview) remains invisible to the image-accustomed non-Romani eyes. This practice of assimilating or experimenting features from any encountered spirituality is something normal in South Asia, as a result of the same relative purity rules. The worldview does not really depend on some ossified details. These can be helpful, but they are not absolute (and, because of this, people are also not afraid that they might lose their identity by knowing something new).

So, this is the (now a millennium old) Romani issue concerning the way to have a public presence as a minority, but without identifying with transient self-images. From the point of view of the prevalent non-Romani environment in the areas we live, it is expected from us to come with a selection of features and say "this is us" in order to become visible, otherwise we exist only at an informal level. If we don't come with a self-image, our place in their set of explanatory images about the world won't remain empty anyway. This is how it was born the imaginary Gypsy, filling the place of our public reality with non-Romani images. Expressing our informal status, until recently, in English it was written with lower-case, as gypsy. As different and non-assimilable as we may be, they could not see us as a distinct ethnic group. However, if someone cannot or does not want to see a segment of reality, this does not mean that segment cease existing. In real life we became parts of the local societies, the areas with long-term and strong Romani presence having important Romani influences (Southeastern Europe and Iberian Peninsula).

Until recently, the Romani people could survive more or less with this informal lifestyle, as some unofficial Romani social islands. However, the modernity creates a new perspective, a network of relations connects more and more the local and global social levels. Island or not, each part has to accept this network and work within it. Obviously, the issue of the Romani public formal presence becomes unavoidable. This is also the main drive of this article. The essay on the names and the images of South Asia was necessary both for elucidating what means India (and who are really our cultural relatives) and for clarifying some things about the Romani worldview.

It is necessary to address this misdirected relation with the locally available imagery of India. This constructed origin of the Roma with no correspondent in real life keeps us in limbo, preventing the connections with people sharing the same culture. It misdirects also the emerging Romani intelligentsia. This India is supposed to be that cultural area the Roma come from, but in reality the meanings conveyed by this notion are just a part of the Western culture. Without realizing it, Roma who want to become cultured on local basis think from the very beginning from a different point of view. Many times, this "Gateway of India" is the start of assuming the Western perspective, hindering alternatives. And, being void of any interesting Desi features, it either vanishes quickly from the horizon of the locally educated Rom or it becomes a fetish. Here it should be said that any connections with South Asia were lost in the turmoiled 11th century, right after the emigration, also that the emergence of locally educated Roma is a new phenomenon, of the 20th-21st centuries (mostly the last decades are significant).

Of course, the Western worldview is not a problem per se, it just happens to be the main cultural worldview of the areas inhabited by Roma. If it would have been useful for the Romani people, it would have determined until now some kind of synthesis or assimilation, there was plenty of time. But the Western educated intelligentsia remains sterile, no vision with a popular support appeared until now. And, as the time elapses, the lack of Romani public representation in the contemporary world only produces more disfranchisements. Usually, whether they identify with the other environment or they manage somehow to keep a personal equilibrium, they get some non-Romani eyes and then they try to "catch" the Romani identity in a selection of images (as it is the habit of self-expression among the local non-Roma). This is very appreciated by the non-Roma but it is not good from a Romani point of view, remaining effectless, only determining lack of interest, amusement, ridiculing or even marginalization of these "pioneers".

And here I arrive to the other thing highlighted by this article, the Romani vision of "one reality, more perspectives", of keeping all the options open (regarding the interpretation of the reality). Currently there is a widespread opinion (including among an important part of the Romani intelligentsia) that Roma have a backward mentality, they can't understand even simple things. It should be made clear that these non-Romani things are understood very well, but it is unacceptable to become limited by their details. They are employed only from their relative perspective. Hence many things that define in a very self-confident and limited manner segments from reality are not likely to be assumed in a local non-Romani framework, this would cause severe maiming of the personal identity.

I don't know why nobody questioned why these "backwards" resisted in the heartlands of the Western civilization at the height of its cultural influence, when any other cultural areas had to redefine themselves according to it. Some "backwards" with no territorial basis, totally involved in the non-Romani economy for making a living (as the Romani caste names show), employing in the communication with the non-Roma the local non-Romani mental frameworks in order to make possible some mutual understanding, even preserving for the non-Roma some non-Romani traditions, but still always keeping their own point of view. The populations that accept their "backward" status (compared to a "superior" population) cannot handle the novelties brought by the encounter with other culture(s), experiencing a crumbling of their worldview. Their survival is facilitated by geographical isolation, by the minimization of the contacts with the others' novelties, they have to remain alone for not losing their soul. In the case of the Roma and of the other populations employing purity rules, on the contrary, the constant checking of the contacts with the others is not for being alone, but for keeping safe areas where any novelty preserves its relative status, preventing the creation of an inflexible mindset.

These purity rules prevent also the development of a history only determined by a momentary mindset and external circumstances, the history won't simply go in whatever direction may appear available (especially when there arise image-related issues). Every turning point has to stem from the lively identity focused on the reality, otherwise it won't happen anything, there will be a deadlock. During such a stalemate there appear many opinions, there are many theoretical solutions that look available, but any proposed direction will remain sterile, it will not have popular support unless it is obvious that it counts on the lively identity. In the other cases, there were even some Jews that went to Birobidjan in Far Eastern Soviet Union or to Uganda (some of the proposed locations of Israel), in the years 50s-60s of the 19th century there were many trends in the Japanese society regarding a response to the end of the seclusion, but the history started to move on only when it was obvious that the relation with the reality was not lost.

Hence, these contemporary attempts to "civilize"/"modernize" the Roma, in a direct or veiled manner, do not earn support at a popular level. Anyway, besides disrespecting the basics of the Romani culture, they are only pushing and keeping the Roma in a second-class citizen status. They result from giving credit to the current public image of Roma as "backward" and "exotic", becoming focused on interpreting elements of the Romani culture with locally available non-Romani cultural tools. For example, a few weeks ago, in Rumania, it was proposed (by the local Roma's Party) a law aiming at punishing the parents that organize the marriage of their underage children. In practice, this would target only the Roma from some castes (that use to follow this Desi custom). Their reasoning was that it is necessary to become "civilized", to come with a clean image of "civilized" Roma, in order to become a functional part of the modern world. "We are not from Congo", said Nicolae Pǎun, the leader of this party (Congo being in Rumania a popular epitome of backwardness).

As well-intended as they might have been as a theory (from an assimilated point of view), in practice, such initiatives have the opposite effect. They imply that now Roma are abnormal and they will become normal by impersonating the non-Romani neighbors (with the alternatives of assimilating, of becoming an "exotic" clown or of making official the second-class citizen status). It is obviously necessary to do something about the underage arranged marriages, but this should come as a continuity of the Romani culture, it should have a meaning from a Romani point of view. The fact that this practice exists does not suppose an overall inability of the Romani culture, this is certainly not the end of the world. Such opinion is just the result of thinking from the point of view of the local non-Romani majority, which perceives itself as the "normal" one (by employing a "cleaned" self-image), while rejecting the others as "backwards".

The local non-Roma should understand too that the current attempts of "civilizing" the "backwards" are not the first in the Romani history and, the same as in the previous ones, most of the Roma will evade them, especially in areas with high Romani presence. Instead highlighting those assimilated, the "good Roma" who see the Romani culture with local non-Romani eyes, they should be aware of the majority who (unless the Romani culture will have an official presence) will have available only the social positions of "exotic" clowns or officially second-class citizens. Even from a pragmatic point of view, keeping millions of Roma out of the broad society is increasingly inconvenient nowadays. There should be a New Deal that would consider the existence of the Romani worldview and would turn into something positive the multiculturalism of the overall local societies.

The package of measures for ending the current gap the Roma are experiencing should be a clear and popular expression of the Romani worldview. The idea that impersonating the others would solve all the problems only produces dimness and dysfunctional social groups, as it may be seen in so many clueless populations worldwide. However, at a popular level, Roma are not at all amazed by this perspective, we are already civilized and we have a very strong worldview. Moreover, from a Romani point of view, there is no such distinction suggesting there is an antonymy and not a continuity between "traditional" and "modern", a distinction implying that a population sees its identity changing according as its knowledge about the world changes. With such a mental framework, the Roma would have been assimilated few generations after the migration out of the Subcontinent.

This concept of "civilizing" would only make official the current "backward" and "exotic" status, barring any attempt of cultivating the personal culture. It would make permanent the inefficient interpretations of the Romani culture from local non-Romani points of view. For example, the Romani musicians do not use sheet music, a Romani song develops as an improvisation on a certain basic framework. The contemporary "civilizing" attempts would only make official the "exotic" status of this music, with no possibility to cultivate it. The fact that they "do not use sheet music" (the local non-Romani perspective) will continue to define this music, instead beginning an official cultivation of the improvisations on the basic framework.

I want to make clear that I don't disapprove the basic intentions of Roma's Party, on the contrary, it is very necessary a political representation, but it is important to say that their question after every election ("why don't Roma vote for our party?") does not have the answers they propose. This focus on "civilizing"/"modernizing" (thus implying that Roma are abnormal and they have to assimilate), instead coming with a clear Romani point of view, is very unappealing and disrespectful. A century and a half ago, the Japanese too were considered some isolationist backwards, also they accumulated a technological gap that nobody was imagining they will get rid of. If they would have really believed in that public image, becoming ashamed of themselves and accepting their "backwardness" and "exoticism", most certainly they would have remained a Third World overpopulated and hungry country, caught in the vicious circle of the "civilizing" attempts without visible results, with corrupt leaders able to think efficiently only about their own welfare. Instead, the post-seclusion times are the best part of the Japanese history (from a synchronic point of view).

In the contemporary context there is no other way but to work on a public framework of the Romani worldview. It is necessary to cultivate the Romanipen and to become cultured from its point of view, instead of inventing (with the help of the easily available local cultural tools) the same square wheel with no use in the real Romani life. Of course, this would not imply a rejection of other worldviews, there is nothing to reject, only that they should be considered as they are, as one of the many relative worldviews, and employed considering the limits set by their imageries (plus, it should not be overlooked their practical importance, for communicating with the local non-Romani majorities). It should be said clearly that mastering any local image-based cultural worldview does not necessarily make a Rom literate in the personal culture.

It is necessary to turn the tables, to come with a Romani type of history, to put the Romani worldview in an appropriate public framework. Anyway, this would be comprehensive and respectful enough to consider any other known type of history, permitting us to connect with the rest of the world. It would be much more adapted to the "modernity", with a potential of becoming prestigious, of opening new ways for the human development, and it might be also interesting and inspiring for the others. In this sense, it is necessary a focus on becoming literate, cultured from the point of view of the personal culture, then it comes naturally the formal cohabitation with the other cultures. Here, a problem that needs clarification is this Western image of India void of any Desi features, misleading any attempts to clarify the features of our culture. For example, not even a simple thing like the Romani caste system was recognized until now. The notion of India includes the concept of caste system, but this does not share too much with the real Desi life, being focused on an interpretation of the four varn from the point of view of the European counterparts from some millennia ago. It is mostly oblivious of the jati as the meaningful unit of the Desi caste system and of many other features that may be observed also among Roma.

If some feel like, they may consider reinventing the wheel, expressing publicly the Romani culture as exclusively a diasporic endeavor. But I doubt the feasibility of this approach (and what happened until now makes clear that I am right), as a marginal culture with no territorial basis there is no room for such an attempt. Also, it is important to know how it works an entire society that keeps all the options open, in order to understand and cultivate it. Otherwise, the marginal status would only permit comparisons with the majority, once going publicly. Even in the Japanese case, with their clear and homogenous geographical space, as they don't have a local central position, they have no choice but to compare with the others. Hence there appear self-descriptions of the Japanese society as a tree that grows from a pot (as a result of the purity rules), its roots do not touch the Earth. As long as the local broad society praises certain vegetative and inflexible aspects of the social life, such peripheral people cannot help but to think of themselves as an unusual population. This, as long as they cannot come with a decisive public explanation of the fact that from a broader perspective they are in touch with the reality, not living in a self-limiting worldview. That "Earth" that is not really touched by the Japanese roots is just one of the infinite possibilities of interpretations of the World with vegetative cultural tools, one of the "planets Earth" created by any of the existing or possible worldviews.

Anyway, when we will succeed to express publicly the Romanipen, there will come out the same basic features of the other Dharmic religions, when we will manage to cultivate the Romani music, there will appear something similar to the concept of rāg and so on. Obviously, a good understanding of the cultural tools available in contemporary South Asia makes a big difference; it is not necessary anymore the Sisyphean attempt of self-explaining by comparisons with the local non-Roma (otherwise this article would not have been possible). This besides the aspects of the Romani culture that would always remain as a potential, they can't be expressed in diaspora. The diasporic perspective remains important as usually, this clear view of what belongs to the personal culture and what does not (otherwise this article would not have been possible either). If I would think again about the tree symbol, in South Asia there are sacred trees venerated on local basis. However, as a society that keeps all the options open, the wish is to preserve the relative status of the social life's vegetative aspects and even to go beyond them, fact presented in the Dharmic literature as a tree that has to be cut down. This is understood as a theory, as something that has to be done somehow. It is not applied in the social life (only experimented by individuals), such a direct action would only continue a cause-effect chain, offshoots will sprout again. In the homeland it is almost impossible a collective self-uproot from a localized view. Diaspora is the place where one has to stay true to its own reality, where it is clarified what is the personal reality and what is the self-image. If a tree is still growing, it needs to stay in a pot, otherwise it will get rooted in another "planet Earth", another worldview, following soon the assimilation. Further on, the roots will touch neither that "planet Earth" of the homeland, nor the others encountered elsewhere (the moksh of the Dharmic religions). And then the homeland's society that keeps all the options open becomes again important, because in diaspora it is almost impossible a thoroughgoing public self-expression by keeping all the options open.

Such a future direction of the Romani public popular presence would not necessarily imply the "Israel" model, a massive and planned Romani migration in Bhārat. The first half of the 20th century were different times, now the people are increasingly mobile, the communication becomes easier day by day (also the major political players are interested in maintaining the stability, they are quite interdependent (11)). The focus would be on assuring the rights of the Romani minorities everywhere and the freedom of traveling. Once it becomes obvious that it exists an interesting Desi reality beyond whatever imageries may appear, the broad Desi environment would emerge naturally as the adequate space for expressing and cultivating the Romani culture. In this environment, the state of Bhārat/India comes out as the main political system (without neglecting the other South Asian states and the rest of the Desi diaspora). This not only because it comprises most of South Asia, but for being grounded on the basic Desi cultural features, not on particular groups. For the intermediary years of establishing popular relations between Roma and the other Desis, it should be said that the former would not be just consumers of social resources but also suppliers. The Romani worldview will enrich the Desi cultural area. The cultivation of the Romanipen is bound to produce some prestigious and efficient public expressions (very necessary for relating to the rest of the world as a non-territorial minority). Also, in the perspective of an increased South Asian presence worldwide, we have an intimate knowledge and understanding of an important part of the world, which may foster inter-cultural communication. In a millennium of living in diaspora, we always had a non-violent approach in relations with the local people, always promoting the mutual respect. In the perspective of a normalization of the relations between the Roma and the local non-Roma, with the help of the public presence of the Romani culture, this knowledge would be beneficent for both Desis and non-Desis, a lively expression of the millenary non-violent Desi relations with the rest of the world.

For the reasons detailed above it appeared the habit of favoring the use of the words Desi and Bhārat(i), instead India(n), among the Roma who learned about the real Desi people, once it was opened the way by affirming the reality of the Romani people and dissociating from the externally imposed Gypsy imagery. Probably the Roma are currently the only population that pays attention to the word India, is interested in what it really means. The people from South Asia have a local central position, it doesn't matter too much what the others think about them, while the rest of the world just takes for granted the meanings conveyed by India and other locally developed imageries. However, for the diasporic Roma, the situation looks different, determining the deadlock described above. Hence, for example in Rumania, among Roma, it is employed the female name Indonezia (the Rumanian spelling of Indonesia). On the one hand, Indonesia is a different cultural area, on the other hand it is notable that at a popular level it was perceived this word's connection with India (in the usual speech, this is mostly ignored, it is perceived as a full-fledged word). Or Indira, another female name, mostly from the 1970s-1980s, when Indira Gandhi was the prime-minister of India. At a popular level it was assumed that it had something to do with India (while, in fact, it is a Sanskrit word meaning "splendor", "beauty"), this illustrating also the lack of opportunities and of progress in knowing more about the other Desis, folk etymologies are the best thing many can do. Or an interest in the Native Americans, because, at a popular level, they are also Indians. And many other side-tracks "supplementing" India's lack of Desi features.

As I said before, this issue determine uncertainties among Roma who want to become more involved in the local broad societies, many times resulting in either hiding or fetishizing the cultural background. In the former case, the tendency is to impersonate the local non-Roma, to interpret the Romani culture through a local non-Romani worldview, hoping that this identity twist will give them a public and personal stability. In the latter, it is the same tendency of impersonating the local non-Roma; assuming the imagery of the "Indian" identity, in spite of what may think some clueless people, supposes assuming the same local non-Romani worldview. In this sense, I find evocative that special episode "Back where they came from" of the sketch comedy show Goodness Gracious Me. In this show, focused on the contemporary issues of the Desi minority in UK, among the recurrent characters there are the two families of Rabindranaths (referring to themselves as the "Robinsons") and Kapoors (the "Coopers"), who refuse to acknowledge their background, becoming very upset when somebody names them Indians. Well, it is true that they, the same as any other Desis, do not fit the Indian imagery; however, lacking a serious alternative for a public presence, they claim to be English, trying to impersonate stereotypical English families, with humorous results. In the special episode they arrive by mistake, to their dismay, exactly in India. They keep distance from the local people and are relieved when a Western person is offering to help them. However, this guy doesn't consider himself really a Westerner, he assumes the stereotypes of the "Indian spirituality" (that makes this imagery so suitable for fetishization). He becomes their guide, while all along the episode, in the background there are integrated sketches with issues from the contemporary Bhārati social life or with Western reporters at work enforcing the Indian imagery. The same as in the creation process of "Journey to the West", the "Englishmen" and the "Indian" go somewhere in the desert (to an ashram), away from the Desi social reality, in order to find the true India. Here a "cultural clash" follows soon, the Western "Indians" and the Desi "Englishmen" telling each other they live in a fantasy.

The fact is (besides the specific Romani issue that determined this article) that in the contemporary society it is increasingly odd to take for granted such imageries. In the times of writing "Journey to the West", the author(s) didn't have other choices, they really had no idea about the Desi society. In this sense, it is not much to reproach in the image of Tianzhu from this book, this is largely a polite one, inspired by the only image they knew (of their own society). When the characters arrive there by the end of the book, they say that "the country is mostly like our Great Tang Empire, only that the merchandise is cheaper". Even the religious spectrum is the same: Buddhism and Taoism. However, nowadays the reality of whatever cultural area is more and more available and unavoidable. And in the contemporary increasingly multicultural societies it is more than ever necessary to have a viable alternative for a public presence, other than impersonating prevailing local imageries.

Hence, in this particular case, it should be made clear that saying that Roma come from India is as accurate as saying that Roma come from the Moon. The meanings conveyed by the word India have no correspondent in real life, they comprise one of currently available imageries about South Asia, created in other cultural areas. Yes, there is a state known by this name and it is no problem to use this word when it implies it only as a state among others. However, when there are implied the cultural meanings of this word, it is necessary to say that the reality of its society is different. On a relative scale of accuracy, it makes more sense saying that Roma come from Bhārat. Only the imaginary Gypsies came from the imaginary India to settle in the Western imagination.


8) By establishing a hierarchical relation between the "strong" one and the other "backwards" (this when the "backwards" themselves accept their status).

9) Cohabitations between more such images occur also in other areas of the world (just to remind the rest of East Asia or the area of South Asia), but they don't remain face to face; usually they are composed of various degrees of ignoring, trivializing, disputing, subordinating each other or by diverse stages of assimilating each other. Hence they tend to be hazy, unlike this practical contemporary demarcation between what is Japanese and what is not. A demarcation that does not imply rejection or overcoming of the others, on the contrary, self-respect tied with recognition of the other, permitting cohabitations of more images.

10) Here I am writing about the entire group's cultural level, where it does not matter too much what individuals know or know not, do or do not.

11) Of course, there is no guarantee that the international largely peaceful status quo will remain forever, but after some decades the situation of the Roma will not be the same either, there will be other terms, other issues to discuss.

Alin Dosoftei is a Romani writer, currently working on a presentation of the Romani people and on some ideas about a public modern Romani identity.
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April 21, 2008
04:35 PM


this is the final conclusion

Only the imaginary Gypsies came from the imaginary India to settle in the Western imagination.


ps: just one beef: do you think this point could have been made in a short poem ..er...article?

Alin Dosoftei
April 21, 2008
05:24 PM

I see...

thanks too for the comment

I guess this short poem of my brother, summarizes many of the issues presented here.


I'm wasting time

Looking for details

For a start line...

But I found out

That I have to claim

And that I'm not allowed

To let somebody rule me.

You're wasting my self

Seeking for details

Inside me...

April 21, 2008
05:36 PM

good to see you have a sense of humour:)

the poem speaks!


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