A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post on the 5 things that you should never tell/ask a Singapore Indian. That post was written largely in jest.
Today, I would like to rewrite that same post, with a slightly different intention. To create a tiny bit more awareness of Singapore Indians and what makes us tick. Teaching in a predominantly Chinese school has made me realise that most Singaporeans who do not interact with Indians on a regular basis have very many misconceptions about Singapore Indians. So here is an idiot’s guide to us 🙂
We do not speak Indian or Hindu
Whenever someone asks me if I speak Indian, I have visions of some Indians tumbling out of my mouth as I speak. We are referred to as Indians because our ancestors hail from India. However, the language we speak varies depending on which part of India our roots are in. My ancestors are from Tamil Nadu, and I speak Tamil. Someone who comes from Kerala would be speaking Malayalam, and someone who comes from Punjab would speak Punjabi. However, since mainstream schools in Singapore mainly offer Tamil as a second language, many Indians, regardless of their state of origin, are able to speak in Tamil, in addition to their own mother tongue.
We do not all have accents, nor we do we shake our heads while speaking.
I have had many students ask me over the years why I do not have an ‘Indian Accent’. This is despite them knowing I am a 3rd generation Singaporean. I honestly do not understand why I need to have an accent any more than a 3rd Generation Singapore Chinese needs to have a ‘Chinese Accent.’ Having been born and bred in Singapore, It is perfectly logical that I sound Singaporean, as opposed to anything else.
Also, we don’t shake our heads when we speak. Whenever people try to imitate Indians, for whatever reason, they end up looking like their necks came loose, and also a bit ridiculous. In fact, I don’t understand how anyone can speak like that. I tried, and ended up just feeling really nauseous.
We aren’t all from India
I particularly get this question from customer service personnel and I find it SO exasperating. Firstly, I am as Singaporean as you are and don’t like you staring at me in shock and attempting to dispute my nationality. I also hate it when I get accused by Indians from India of disowning my heritage. I am a third generation Singaporean. This means that my parents, and my grand-parents are all from Singapore. I have not even had the opportunity to visit India ever before.
Why should I identify with India more than with my own homeland?
Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely proud of my ancestral homeland. For its rich heritage, for the beautiful architecture, for its revolutionary history, for it being the home of my religion, for the amazing food, and for Rajinikanth.
However, that is no reason for me to not be proud of being a Singaporean, or to not get angry when people accuse me of trying to negate my ancestral roots.
We do not eat curry everyday, and no, it is not unhealthy.
First and foremost, we actually have quite a few other options when it comes to food not involving curry.
Also, traditionally, curry is not an unhealthy dish. Turmeric, one of the important ingredients in curry has been proven to reduce the risk of cancer and heart attacks, as well as help with digestion. It also has strong anti-inflammatory properties.
Most curries also contain cumin, cardamon, ginger and garlic. These also have anti-bacterial properties. Studies show that garlic, cinnamon and cumin can destroy up to 80 per cent of meat-borne bacteria, while ginger can slow bacterial growth by 25 per cent. The only types of curries that are unhealthy are the ones that contain a lot of cream or coconut milk, and these aren’t the types we consume regularly, but rather only on occasion.
Deepavali is not our new year (Only applicable for Hindu Indians. Incidentally, not every Indian is a Hindu. As with every race, we could be Muslims, Christians, Buddhists etc.)
While we very much appreciate the well-wishes, Deepavali is not indicative of the transition to a New Year. Our New Year is actually dependent on the Hindu Calendar and is celebrately differently in the various parts of India. Typically, it falls around April each year.
Yes we have names that are difficult to pronounce…
For non-Indians. We think our names are actually rather pleasant and easy to pronounce.
And no, you may not shorten our names. Ask us how to pronounce it, and we’ll teach you. If we are in a good mood, we might even teach you short forms that actually make sense instead of being offensive. We are also not all open to the idea of adopting English names to make life easier for everyone else around us. It is our identity and we would like to stick to it thank you very much.
e.g. Suresh is not Shoelace.
Kalai is not Ka-laaai.
Kannan is not Ka-naan
I know of people whose names have been mispronounced to the point where it is offensive, and this mutilation of their names is unfortunately stuck with them for a long long time. Many of us, after a while, stop bothering to correct people, for it is too much of a hassle. But honestly, no one should have to answer to a severe contortion of their names.
We are not halal
It really is quite weird to have to tell people that I, a person, am not halal. With reference to food and drinks, the term refers to food that is permissible for Muslims to consume. So a person cannot be halal. Also, not all non-Chinese have to eat halal food. If an Indian is Muslim, then yes, he or she would consume halal food. However, if an Indian is a Hindu or Christian, they would be subject to restrictions imposed by their own way of life.
We aren’t smelly, nor are we kidnappers
I have encountered people who are shocked that I smell nice. This makes me wonder what they have been taught about Indians for them to be surprised that we actually do not smell like garbage trucks. Just like everyone else, we shower twice a day, sometimes more, we use perfumes, deodorants and all of that stuff. I also have people who have openly confessed that they were brought up being told that if they do not eat, the apu neh neh will catch them and take them away. Most of us actually have real jobs, and they do not involve kidnapping children who refuse to eat their meals. Please stop misappropriating our existence to feed your children.