Inheritance of loss – loss of inheritance | Published in Permanent Bruises, Portland, 2017

 

Anupam Singh

My understanding of ‘inheritance’ has always been a significant one, not least because I physically look very much like my grandfather (which I inherited from my father), nor because I inherited my maternal grandmother’s cooking skills. Often other important layers are hidden in this word. I feel inexplicable joy when I see my dad in my mirror reflection or cook something delicious like my grandma. Inheritance is usually defined as ‘life after death’ – passing on wealth, objects, cultures, knowledge, genes, biological features and so on, that live throughout generations. But we also inherit other important aspects that often remain unaccounted or unspoken, like intergenerational trauma.

I grew up in a culture where I was forced to veil my indigenous identity so as to be part of mainstream society. While power dynamics can shift with the economic mobility of an individual in a stratified social structure, how does one retain cultural identity in a society that is fundamentally exclusive of other cultures?

Not deeply knowing the food cultures, costumes, languages, customs, rituals, or social functioning of my community, I feel an outsider within my own cultural context. Inheritance in my case is the struggle to revive the knowledge system that I have been detached from for generations and to bridge the gap between that and the knowledge I grew up with. The trauma of displacement of my ancestors and the loss of connection with my indigenous heritage is an inevitable part of identity.

Interestingly enough, I have inherited an album of photographs that have the only picture of my paternal grandfather. The photo has faded with time and is now unrecognizable. This feels symbolic of my relationship with my historical lineage and its knowledge systems. My skin color, body structure, and personality seem to be the only biological references to my grandfather who is part of a lineage that I see as being culturally infected over time. My interest in the natural world could be seen as a trace of indigeneity that wants to reconnect and reconfigure its relationship with its roots. My psychological body longs to return to where it was displaced from – the land, its people, and worldviews that have degenerated with time. Can this embodiment of loss be called ‘inheritance’? If yes, then what am I inheriting? And who is responsible for this?