Alex is a standup comedian and an actor. Besides this, he has strong interests in Tamil, Music and Yoga.
Something significant happened to my two year old standup comedy career this February. I went abroad, to Singapore to perform. And now, something more significant is happening by end of April. I am heading to UK to perform. Why is UK more significant? Because it is UK. And UK is so further away from home. There is some feeling that I have now arrived in my new career. I am expanding to next level and so on. While I am excited about these abroad trips, I am also wondering what has changed? How is my career reaching a new point with these trips? In Singapore, there were no Singaporeans in the audience. In UK, we are not expecting any English folks to check out my show. Only our folks (Tamil/Indian diaspora) are only coming to the shows. Since it will be difficult for all of them to travel here to watch our shows, we are going there. That’s all, no? Why are we feeling extra happy about these abroad trips? Where is that proud thingy coming from?
I feel that, in our culture, more than what you do and how well you do, we care about ‘where you do’! It may be the colonial residue still haunting us. Our PM is going all over the world telling every foreign country to come to India and make it (whatever that ‘it’ is)! Modi is calling all, “Just come!”. But, the rest of the country is still thinking that unless you have gone somewhere outside the country, you have not made it in life. Most privileged folks who go to best colleges, living in best places in the country are all going abroad only to make “it” further. The country is yelling “Just go!”. Richer or whiter the country you go to, the better obviously.
I lived in the US for eight years. (Ahem! Yes. I too made it in life, once, for about eight years). During my US days, I discovered my passion for Tamil, Indian music and Yoga and I was pursuing and performing very actively. I used to get accolades for everything, especially from folks here in India: “Living in America, you are performing Tamil plays. That is amazing! Sitting in San Jose, you are learning Indian classical music, Wow!”. My classmates living here doing the same things didn’t get that much encouragement. When you are abroad, you get appreciated for just talking in your mother tongue: “America la irukkeenga. Arumai yaa Tamil la pesureenga? Epdeenga?”. So, this is what I mean. For us, it is not what you do, where you do only matters!
My parents live in Devakottai. When they are asked this question “What are your sons doing?”, the way they answer is interesting. The question is “What are your sons doing?”. My dad’s answer:”My elder son lives in Singapore”. The reaction “Oh Apdiya? (Is it?). Very good sir”. No one asks back what my brother does in Singapore. Because, if you are abroad, you have made it! That is it. They move onto the next question, the next person, that is me. “What is your second son doing?”. My story of being a software engineer abroad, then living in Bangalore, and then in Chennai and then quitting job to standup is a harder story to tell. But my Dad handles it with ease: “My second son lived in America earlier. Then in Bangalore….(after a pause). Now in Chennai”. He will play the America and Bangalore a little higher and louder than Chennai. As people hear that I live in Chennai, only they ask further questions : “what really happened?” “Why did the American company send him back?” “Can’t he go back?”.
You can see this even in our generation. For the question ‘What you do?’, the tone of the reply from local software engineer is different from the NRI doing the same. The local dude answers: “I am a software engineer” . NRI’s reply “I live in UK”. No?
During my US days, I have interacted with Indian performing artistes travelling abroad. I realized how much they cherish performing abroad. You ask about someone who is pursuing performing arts full time “How is she doing?”. One type of reply: “Performing arts is hard you know. She is performing locally here and there”. Another kind, the abroad kind. “Oh, Very good. This year abroad la paadraa (she is singing abroad). Things are good”. Apparently the local opportunities pick up better after an abroad trip! Singing abroad seems to have a magic spell on an artiste’s career. I have heard artistes spending their own money, travel abroad and perform, to beef up the profile!
You can read in the profile of many performing artistes (soon in mine), performed in Singapore, UK, US, Australia etc. Profile will say things like ‘..has performed in Royal Philharmonic Albert Hall, London’. That place is just a venue, isn’t? Why does it deserve a mention? Performing there would not make someone a symphony artiste. Not that symphony is any higher or lower than our art forms. But how can the venue make you proud? Performing standup comedy in Madras Music Academy would not make someone a classical musician! (By the way, performing standup comedy in pubs, would not make me a drunkard).
On the other hand, however, I am also thinking that, may be, may be, the place matters. May be, where you do, does matter! You can practice yoga at home, but going to a good studio does help (ping me for my yoga teaching schedule :). Seriously. When BKS Iyengar took Yoga to the west, he would have first started with teaching to the Indians only. But soon he got the attention of others. Yoga is now worldwide phenomenon thanks to BKS and a few other gurus. Sitar maestro Pandit Ravishankar went to the west, first to perform Indian music to Indians. Soon he found himself jamming with Beatles and Indian music found special place in the west forever. May be going abroad is worth celebrating as it kick-starts new beginnings. In my Singapore show, I was surprised to see a few second generation Indian kids who said they connected with their roots in a newer way through the show. A bunch of English colleagues from ex-employer are coming to my London show. These new beginnings perhaps will make way for something good and something big. So may be, may be, performing abroad deserves an extra-little celebration! Therefore, wish me good luck for my upcoming abroad trip :). Pass on this URL to your friends in UK OYtourUK.eventbrite.co.uk. If you have read this far, leave a comment..to celebrate this :)