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Identity clash: born in Ethiopia, raised in Britain, Kumar Raval has one foot in the East and one in the West.

God made the Universe complete, within it he made me complete; even if I am removed from the Universe I will remain complete.' This is the translation of a 5,000-year-old Vedic aphorism which I was taught to recite as an infant. It was only in adulthood that I understood its meaning and direct message to my identity--that it too is complete.

I am an Ethiopian-born, British Indian. In Ethiopia my upbringing was wholly Eastern. Although I lived in Addis Ababa, the early values and traits I formed were typically Gujerati.

At the age of six my world changed. I swapped the Ethiopian heat for the English grey and my status as part of an empowered minority in a rather respectful land for that of a member of a comparatively marginalized minority in a seemingly indifferent state. Yet Britain became home, and I've grown to love it.

Growing up was nonetheless an uncomfortable ride. During adolescence I felt as if my identity was being stretched from opposite ends. In one direction was the powerful tug of Western `freedom' and materialism, in the other the unrelenting wrench of Eastern selflessness and restriction. Britain's imperial past was also a goad. How could I live amongst people whose relatives only a few generations ago ruled over mine?

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna, `I am the cause of all causes.' Thinking about this phrase one day in my early twenties, it dawned on me that God perhaps wanted me to have a foot in both camps. Maybe the clash of two traditions inside me reflected the tensions that exist on a much larger scale between East and West. By finding healing for the wounds within me, I would possibly be better positioned to address the wounds of others.

I did not entirely welcome the realization that I owed as much to the British Raj as did the typical descendant of a British imperialist. Yet it is a truism that much of Britain's current prosperity is derived from the power and wealth that it accumulated during its conquering heyday. I am a beneficiary of that prosperity because I have taken advantage of British schools, universities and other facilities and services.

It is true that my minority has contributed overwhelmingly to Britain's economy and increasing living standards and that, in spite of this, we continue to suffer the indignities of racism and of subtle and physical abuse, because of our difference in appearance and culture. But it is still right for me to acknowledge the countless ways in which my country, Britain, has benefited me.

This means that I can never rest on my laurels and feel self-satisfied because of what Britain did to my forebears. Rather, I should work with others to repair and apologize for the bad that my country has done and continues to do.

By recognizing the rifts in my own heart and in society and by conscientiously acting to heal both, I am not only able to feel the wholeness of my identity but also to catch a glimpse of my contribution in the much larger plan of God.
COPYRIGHT 1996 For A Change
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Kumar Raval
Publication:For A Change
Date:Jun 1, 1996
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