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Routes to Roots By Arvind Bhatt

Updated: Apr 4, 2018

This post is one of many to follow, by a series of guest writers who are interested in and are in some way engaging with the concept of identity and sense of place. Arvind Bhatt has written extensively on Language and identity and has conducted a specialist study on Alexander Kinloch Forbes. (Forbes was a Scottish administrator and academic who helped to establish Gujarati into a significant written and literary language). Mr Bhatt is a linguist, Mathematician, Engineer and one of the first generation of Ugandan Asians that came to the United Kingdom in 1972 after the forced expulsion of the Asian minority by the president of Uganda Idi Amin.

Routes to Roots

In our day to day lives, we do not think of our identities, we just get on with our lives. At times of change however, we suddenly become aware of our identity, we look back to our sources of our values, attitudes, expectations and aspiration; we tend to take stock and use this retrospective to inform and aspire our future actions. Now I am at one of these turning points in my life as I leave my professional life and begin my retirement. I stop dead in my tracks and ask myself: who am I, what is my identity and how can it help me to shape what remains of my future?

Identity is not one thing, however; it is multilayered. As we progress through life we take on new identities, willingly or by forces of circumstance, wittingly or unwittingly. Some identities are foregrounded whilst others are pushed back into our minds. They are shaped by experience, geography, language, religion, social class (and caste) and culture generally. In my own case, I am, at different times, an Indian, a Ugandan, British, Gujarati, vegetarian, middle class professional, socialist, researcher, teacher, activist, father and grandfather, atheist - and so on, in no particular order. Sometimes my identities collide: Indian or British? Hindu or atheist? Socialist or bourgeoisie? Gujarati speaker or English speaker? Collisions sometimes create compound identities – I become a code-switching bilingual instead of just using one language. I identify myself as British Asian in formal situations. I compartmentalise and conflate my identities in a constantly changing and challenging world.

But through all this storm and stress I retain a core value, a fundamental sense of being an individual with existential angst, longings and fulfillments. The core value, though not solid like a mango stone, is much more resilient than my shifting identities. My core is my root that feeds my negotiations of identities. It informs my morals and ethics and my relationships with others. While identities say what I am the core defines who I am. So, how is this core formed and how do I tap into it, specially at critical moments in my life, such as the one facing me now of retirement and what I do with it? How it is formed is too large a question for this short essay, routes to my core root is what I want to address.

Having artists and musicians as friends has indicated to me a route to the core values; to be able to express and share these values through these media is enviable. Teaching, doing research and advocating linguistic rights have been aspects of my activism, but now I need to continue, perhaps in other directions. So though I am struggling with my new identity as a retired activist, I am returning to my core values and finding new ways of expression and sharing, with a little help from my friends!

Arvind Bhatt

2018 for the Focus on Identity Project Blog

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