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Never had I sensed the feeling of being home until the age of 22, not that I have found one yet.

The necessary conditions to such a state had to be my education away from home from the age of 4, wrapped into the hill station of Kalimpong where time at boarding school passed like water flowing within the confines of a peaceful dam, full of swirling flanges ready to downpour despite the appearance of calm on the surface.

A hill station is where the British used to go, after temporarily quitting on ruling India, during the summer heat waves that particularly overwhelmed the vast plains of Bengal. So the hills with its endless stepped paddy fields and canals on steep slopes, was a place that welcomed and kept visitors. I too was a resident for a period of 9 months a year for 11 years.

But as soon as the monsoons came to crash on the hillsides deepening its green and reddening its flesh of iron flowing into the Teesta river, a brown river swelled and raced to the Ganga. Historically, the British used to wheel back to Bengal just in time to clutch their paper empire, whilst in my time I was returning home for holiday naps and frequent pampering. Some welcomed the monsoons and worshiped the mighty rivers in their backyard. Others would curse the constant dampening of air, mind and landscape. I was pretty divided on this because as much as wearing a raincoat to protect my uniform in the wild weather seemed futile, there was no question about raindrops hitting tin roofs, reverberating a meditative and constant chant that could put entire villages into deep sleep.

Meanwhile my parents lived and toiled as teachers in neighbouring Nepal, living initially in a town close to the Bhutanese refugee camp and later in the capital. So Kathmandu became another pit stop to the west of Kalimpong. To the east of Kalimpong was Thimphu, Bhutan, where I was born but never went, and to the west was Nepal where I never grew up but always went for holidays. So I grew up somewhere between country and home, between exile and travel.

In this corridor of confluence of many things such as western rock ‘n’ roll at every concert, a bit of proselytization within incredibly pointy churches, Nepali folk singers busking through the village sides, Hindi movies full of commercial breaks about detergent powders, Indian nationalism and independence day marches in August when it was wet, and Ghurkha Nepali reclamation marches during good weather conditions, and Tibetan lamas wherever I went, amongst native Lepchas, who I now see with redefined memories created of the past by further reading in later life. It is strange how education steals away our innocence and fools us into seeing all these questionable yet vital distinctions between people. I continue to grapple with an obsession for uniformity and distinction, because I doubt whether I have arrived at that point in language where my individual perceptions about history is fair, or whether it matters in the first place.

Who was not fooled in these hills? Those mighty eagles and hawks hiding perched on deciduous fir branches were never fooled, neither by their coming of age nor their lack of place, and knew exactly when to spread their wings, surge up to the sky, hover in the wind, and swoop down on scrambling chooks. At the time these birds meant nothing. This leads me to what impressed my young mind the most. What really grabbed my attention at that age were bigger faster birds or low flying Russian MiG fighters at 400km/hr that crisscrossed the valleys, banking on the hills so close you could even see red round pilot helmets bobbing out from inside cockpits. We used to notice this from deep within bushes, momentarily looking up in awe only to return back to that luscious taste of yellow raspberries. Berries that tasted like a mix of oranges and raspberries.

As an adolescent I went on to live in Nepal, but never had I questioned my lack of place. Predictably I was confusing movement as home. I never went where I was born, and only visited where I never grew up. Fast forward to 2010 on my return trip back to Adelaide, it finally occurred to me what it meant to return to a place without immediately feeling lost again. It was strange not to relive another fleeting horizon. Nearing 30, I am yet to find home but since that experience I feel like I am getting closer.

 

Free the Expression


Butter does not come out of a jar with a straight finger, so they say in Nepali. What this actually means is without conflict, without commotion, without resistance, without action there is no reaction.
In recent times in Australia, politicians want us to believe that an inability to express a racist opinion is limiting our freedom of expression. My reasonable guess is that most Australians have never personally experienced real deprivation of this freedom. I can only think of one story where an individual’s implicit freedom of political communication was severely restricted. In 2016 just before the Federal election, Duncan Storrar a motivated individual and a father, drove all the way from Geelong to Melbourne to attend a QandA, the popular television program, and asked a question, “I’ve got a disability and a low education- that means I’ve spent my whole life working off a minimum wage. You’re gonna lift the tax-free threshold for rich people. If you lift my tax-free threshold, that changes my life. That means that I get to say to my little girls, ‘Daddy’s not broke this weekend, we can go to the pictures.’ Rich people don’t even notice their tax-free threshold lift. Why don’t I get it? Why do they get it?

Now he struck a cord with the audience and the masses. Some media channels followed up, praised him and called him a hero. Others saw him as a villain, so ridiculed, and later smeared him for not paying taxes. No one knows how corporate media was able to get his tax records. Duncan had noted during the program that he pays taxes through GST and duties. Despite these responses, the dogs of war were unleashed upon him to tarnish his reputation and prevent his view from becoming an election issue in 2016. And the dogs were very successful at it.

On the other hand everyday Australians are highly unlikely to deprive another’s right to freedom of expression- in fact there is encouragement to speak your mind with volume.

So my real problem with freedom of expression is that in reality it is not restricted enough. In other words my environment hardly creates conflict that I can feed off. If my freedom of expression was taken away I will probably voice an opinion to protect it without external influence. But in the absence of conflict, I feel paralysed and formulating an opinion becomes a chore. Coming up with one takes incredible effort and organisation. So how can I free my expression? It appears that I need a plan.

I have a cunning plan to generate this conflict, not only for myself but also for others who are interested. This is because with more conflict, more resistance, we might opine more frequently. That’s right, with more conflict I hope to free my expression.

I propose that we introduce a fine for not expressing opinions. If one attends a public forum and voices an opinion once a month, their name gets ticked off a list. I say this because in Australia we already get fined for not voting. And voting is only another form freedom of expression. Voting converts a busy Saturday into a proper BBQ once every three years. That’s not enough. They say 93% of communication is body language, but what percentage of it is actually communicated through votes. And then we complain how politicians don’t get our message when our communication is passive

On the other hand an obligation to make a speech on a weekday once a month sounds like proper conflict to generate opinions. Forums particularly at local councils will appear everywhere due to this initiative or at least memberships at current forums will increase. And we could even print “How to make speeches cards” just like the politicians print out “How to Vote Cards”.

If the option of fines only, does not work, then I have a second proposal as part of my cunning package. My second proposal adds a reward over the obligation to opine so that there is a positive trigger: a carrot not just a stick.

An individual who provides receipts for 12 speeches in a year receives a 10% income tax cut, and 5% for 6 speeches in a year. Even Duncan would be pleased with that.

If all these measures do not work then there is a third option. Provide a wage indexed on the Consumer Price Index, directly into our bank accounts after we have voiced an opinion at our local council on a burning issue in the community. This is not far fetched because politicians get money from the Commonwealth to run election campaigns all the time. Why can’t an everyday Australian get paid for speaking up?

In conclusion I would say we need more conflict or behavioural triggers in our day-to-day lives to free the expression rather than hope for high levels of motivation. After all we are human, and prefer BBQs over lazy Saturdays, and prefer them once a month over once in 3 years.

Butter does not come out of a jar with a straight finger.