On Being Global and Indian

14th September 2021 Mrs Kala Pohl

I painted this scene because it reminded me so much of my heritage – Kerala in South India.  We spoke English at home – that is, my father, siblings and I.  My mother spoke to us in Malayalam, our mother tongue.  We responded in Malayalam, with a lot of English thrown in.


My mother tongue doesn’t come easy to me.  Though I could probably communicate well enough not to get lost in South India.  Growing up in a melting pot like Malaysia, it was easy to misplace one’s culture.  Or even better, to entangle it with the other cultures.  All of which was not bad actually.  I had friends who were Malay, Chinese, Eurasian and Indian.  My Indian friends came from North and South India, where we had different mother tongues, even ate different foods.  See, what I mean by a melting pot?  The English language was our common ground.


I grew up with a “global” perspective.  There weren’t any specific lessons about respecting other cultures, I just knew.  Perhaps it was the subtle messages like public holidays for every ethnic group celebration.  Or the food we shared with neighbors, educating us about respecting other’s choices.  Moving thousands of miles away in my 20’s to live in another melting pot, San Francisco, was a piece of cake.  I took to it like a duck to water.


Through it all though, like the Pied Piper, all it took was a small whiff of anything Indian to bring my radar up.  To follow, as if in a trance, the sounds, smells, visuals of India.  Perhaps that too evolved at a subtle level.  Like the old Malayalam songs that my father used to sing, making me a fan of all types of Indian music (classical and Bollywood).  The smell of incense that reminded me of the small alley way shops, incense that accompanies my meditation daily.  The sight of a shawl with an ethnic pattern to it, which becomes a favorite accessory, a security blanket laced with comfort. 


Notwithstanding my very western upbringing, there will always be a part of me that is so drawn to all things Indian.  Every time I visit India, I try to bring some part of it back with me.  Realizing that amidst all this westernization lies a true Indian at heart.

7 thoughts on “On Being Global and Indian

  1. Loved the story with the painting of Kerala. You captured the serenity of the place. I can imagine the boatman singing the typical songs while he goes about his fishing.

    You really have a vast cultural experience of living in many places. Not many would embrace cultures of others despite living in such a place. There are many types of personalities. When we except and embrace cultures of others, there will be more acceptance and peace in life.

    Would love to hear from others about acceptance in diversity.

    Once again a lovely painting. Loved those shadows in the water.:):)

    1. Thank you Beena. I often feel that my stories are an extension of the many conversations we have had. Yes, I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity of living in many different places in the world. I remember when we moved to Hawaii, how different that State was from the others within the United States itself. There is yet so much to learn:)

  2. Loved the story too… Once someone said to me “true to heart” when I couldn’t understand someone’s about turn on an attitude I never thought he was capable of having portrayed another global outlook throughout his life…
    Yes, we’re all true to our hearts where all things cultural and deeply rooted in our psyche are.. I love the good ones, which deserve to be adopted but, we do have to guard against the “bad” guys and throw them out of ours hearts and minds.

    1. Thank you so much for your feedback. I do agree that we need to keep the good and throw out the bad. Every place that I have lived in, every culture that I have had the opportunity to embrace, there is always some things I don’t like:) But such is life, isn’t it?

  3. I really love your boat and water with swaying coconuts and trees series. They are so serene.
    Malaysia’s melting pot is something we both share and had enjoyed. As the years go on, the pot is being rumbled somewhat. The invisible underlying rudder is sadly stirring up quite an unpalatable soup peppered with racism and religious fanaticism. I think Malaysia is not alone in this. It’s ironical that in our present world, when people are able to travel far and wide resulting in greater interaction of people and culture, the views and mentality of many seem to have narrowed. Like you, I will always identify with and be comfortable in my own culture but it’s so important to have the global perspective that you mentioned – of respecting, sharing and understanding. A person without that will end up building fences.

    1. Thank you Nyuk. Yes indeed, the world has changed and not in a good way. Politics, religion, ignorance, fear – all have played a role in creating distance between people. When I remember my childhood in Malaysia, it is always with such warm feelings:)

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