Nitin Sawney — Beyond skin

George Palladev

Nitin Sawney — Beyond skin

“I am Indian. To be accurate, I was raised in England, but my parents came from India—land, people, government or self—Indian what does that mean? At this time, the government of India is testing nuclear weapons—Am I less Indian if I don’t defend their actions?.. Less Indian for being born and raised in Britain? For not speaking Hindi? Am I not English because of my cultural heritage? Or the colour of my skin? Who decides? History tells me my heritage came from the ‘Sub’ continent—a ‘third world’ country, a ‘developing’ nation, a ‘colonised’ land. So what is history? For me, just another arrogant Eurocentric term... I learned only about Russian, European and American history in my school syllabus—India, Pakistan, Africa—these places were full of people whose history did not matter—the enslaved, the inferior.

This is an album with a time span that runs backwards—it begins with the Indian Prime Minister—Vajpayee—proudly announcing the testing of three nuclear bombs on Indian soil. Vajpayee is the leader of the BJP—The ‘Hindu fundamentalist’ party. These tests first took place in 1998. In 1945, two years before the Independence of India, Oppenheimer, creator of the atomic bomb, witnessed the first test of his creation. Afterwards he quoted from the Bhagavad Gita—the Hindu Bible—in condemnation of his own creation. His quote ends the album. He quotes Vishnu saying ‘Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds’ as he breaks down in tears.

The western creator of the bomb condemning it in the name of Hinduism, the Hindu prime-minister testing it in the name of what? Progress? Should India be thanking the West for donating weapons of mass destruction? If I ever have children will they discover their heritage through BBC news bulletins about radiation sickness? Or nuclear war with Pakistan? I wonder.

My mother and father are featured on this album. They speak with optimism of the future, while British Nazis like Combat 18 or the BNP run to claim responsibility for nail bombing Asians in Brick Lane. The BJP in India. The BNP in England. The first would define me by my religious heritage, the latter by the colour of my skin. I believe in Hindu philosophy. I am not religious. I am a pacifist. I am a British Asian. My identity and my history are defined only by myself—beyond politics, beyond nationality, beyond religion and Beyond Skin.” Nitin Sawhney, 1999

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