This question is not new. People have questioned each other and themselves before. My wife asked me where I am from this week. My coworkers weighed in. Their opinions about where I am from differed from mine. I couldn’t change their mind.
Our marriage was arranged. My parents wanted me to marry someone in our own community. Here’s how we think of ourselves. My community is rabidly vegetarian. We eat no onion or garlic. People I know won’t eat jackfruit or mushrooms because they look like meat. There are festivals we celebrate in addition to Holi and Diwali in a very traditional, and to me, very dear way. Our roots lie in Agra district. And can’t really tell you what other badges and sashes I think we wear.
Two generations separate me from Bateshwar, the village which my grandfather left behind for Indore. Papa left Indore about 15 years before I was born. Papa is fond of Indore, rather of what Indore was. Amma grew up in Lucknow and doesn’t speak fondly of it. She speaks only of Hyderabad.
My wife grew up in Delhi. She never left home for college or work. It is only in the past year that I see some assimilation into Bangalorean life, but it’s two steps forward and one step back. She can understand some Kannada now and will chat with clients and rickshaw drivers equally animatedly. On bad days though, she uses regional epithets to curse the people around her. It’s as if Bangalore and all people south of the Vindhyas conspire against her. I’ve felt similar things myself. I think it’s part of maturing and growth.
At lunch, my wife brought up this question out of no where. She takes offence at my saying I am South Indian. She asked me what I like for dinner and what language I speak at home. My colleague piled on and asked me what language I pray in (?). I felt a little hurt when Andhrites refused to say I am from Andhra in the past. Although, they were right. I am from Hyderabad, more specifically Hyderabad Central University, not even Lingampally which is a few kilometers away.
I can put myself in the fishbowls they have lived in all their lives and how they have come to define their identities. Their hostility to challenging or even re-examining their definitions astounds me. Strangely in India, it’s not enough to say I’m Indian. Everyone is looking for clans and tribes. It’s just as true for me. “Indian” is too broad a VIBGYOR colored stroke. Everyone wants one specific smidge of the spectrum and looks for others of the same hue.
Frankly, I can’t explain why I think I’m South Indian. Like people like to point out, I don’t speak Telugu and South Indian food is not my staple. My parents “aren’t from” there. But they feel to see, apart from the glee of Indori expressions, I have no association with Indore. I get understand why people in Hyderabad and Bangalore feel about certain issues. I like how the courtesy with which they treat each other. I wonder, if you’ve spent more than half your life somewhere, do you not belong? More importantly, if that’s where you feel at home, if that’s the hue you like now, why are your genetics even an issue?
Of course this a minute facet of this human experience, this otherhood. Differences have stewed over generations and boiled over into genocide this way. This was a thought. This was a quandary. I’ll live I guess.