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Thursday, 2 April 2009

Where Are You Really From?

Growing up most of us have heard/ watched the famous "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara".  It is a beautiful number about national integration.  In a country with many different cultures and languages national integration is an important message. This song though inspiring and very well executed is a little too politically correct. The idea of national integration seems a tad incomplete without the idea of national identity. 

Living in a foreign country a national identity should be easy to stir. All things Indian are now dear and have fond memories attached to them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. What is a little strange is that despite all the distance we have traveled our identities still seem tied to rather small part of our country. 

 Which brings me to the title of my blog? A lot of conversations start with "Where are you from?”.  Since I bear a long Tamil surname with many A's “Delhi" as an answer does not seem to suffice. So I have taken to "I am a South Indian brought up in Delhi". For dinner conversation you would think this would be sufficient but that is seldom the case. "So what is your native place? Where were your parents from?" Again "My Dad was brought up in Delhi too and so was my Ma". Most polite folks stop here but some really persistent ones counter with. "Yes that's nice but you must have a native place?” 

To make things worse I am now married to a tamilian who was brought up in Bombay. So the questions continue. So where is your husband "really" from? What is your husband's "native place”?

Which leaves me to wonder why we obsess about where our forefathers are from. Is it our need to mentally put people into slots that we have in our heads? Just a need to keep our mind free from clutter? A mental equivalent of a filing cabinet? Maybe we meet so many people this trick is required to assimilate it all. 

In order to classify the people we meet (if we must do that) the questions about their hobbies, work, interests have now been replaced with tracing their genealogical tree all the way back to Adam. 

Do these questions give people an insight into my life that I have overlooked? I believed that my husband’s and my personality attributes were a result of our genes/upbringing/exposure. Perhaps it is not that complicated. Does "My native place" hold the key? 

To the person with this question it seems to hold all the answers. Despite my reluctance stemming mostly from the fact that I have no idea whatsoever where my native place is, the bearer of said question is usually quite persistent. As if I am withholding the one nugget of information that is the answer to all questions. The rest of the conversation might as well be -

Do you play tennis? Oh wait a second don't answer that. I know. Your native place is "XYZ". 

Do you like knitting? Oh I am sorry, why am I asking you this. Your native place is "XYZ".

Did you opt for biology in school? Pardon me, I am repeating myself. I know all the answers. Your native place is "XYZ".

Food for thought.....

While on food for thought. This Gujrati kadi was first introduced to me by my aunt - My Favourite Aunt :).

1 comment:

Charandeep said...

I've experienced it many times too - people not satisfied with my answer 'Delhi' and wanting to know my 'native' place! Lokesh gets it too - being a gulti from Chennai. Like your blogs, do it more often!