Tuesday, August 17, 2004

So, where are you from ?

Wanted to add this blog here for a long time now :-) So, here goes...

"So, where are you from ?" - thats one question i have dreaded to answer since donkey years. Some of you may wonder why, it does seem like a pretty easy question to answer . Well, the truth is that frankly there is no correct answer to this question. However simple i might make the answer sound, it never really does satisfy the person asking the question. ...Being in the States tho', I have figured that its so much easier to answer the firangs here when they ask that question. "So, where are you from ? " "I am from India". That usually satisfies most of them. Some smart alecs go ahead and ask you where in India coz they have read about a few places (read Taj Mahal here). Even thats pretty straightforward, as long as you give them some city and some proximity about where it fits into the map they are happy....The Indian quizzer is entirely a different ball game. I think we indians have these certain preconceived notions about people's whereabouts as early as even a glance. ...I am a person who has been born and brought up in Delhi. We moved out just before i started my graduation so which goes to say that I have spent like 17 odd years there ! That if not anything else, you might think, should qualify as an answer to "Where are you from? But no sir- we have lot of qualifiers for that answer. My parents hail from Delhi, both of them were born and brought up there as well, grandparents settled there very early in their life. You might think that at least should qualify. aha, think again.....Coming to the other part of this loop, i am a south indian by origin. Tamil iyer to be precise but believe me my knowledge of my so called mother tongue is really bad. I really do blame folks at home for this actually. We have never really been trained in one single language. Its always been a mixture of at least 3 languages. You might wonder why tho'. Well thats coming down in a bit. ...So anyways, continuing with the origin discussion. By the time people throw your answer (Delhi) into the bin and say "No, where are you really from" (thats something i still have not fathomed you know, whats that 'really' mean? Is it like swear and tell us the truth ?), you have the next answer ready, about being a tamilian of course. This again is very controversial as far as I am concerned. As this immediately to a lot of people means i am from Chennai. No offense meant, chennai people. If this was in north India then its almost like an unwritten law that any south indian irrespective of the native state is a "Madrasi" :-) Quite funny if you think about it. Anyways, by the time you explain to people that No, I am not from chennai of any Tamil Nadu state in fact, they are pretty bombed. ...Tamilian and not from Tamil Nadu, thats pretty weird eh ? Truth is, I am from this place called Palghat in Kerala, or a least my ancestors were. Wonder if ancestral origin=your origin. But i guess in India it does....Anyways, by this time poeple are quite sorry that they even asked me this question. language wise is even worse as my so called native tongue is a mixture of tamil and malayalam and i guess i kill both of them by saying even a sentence !My hindi i think is much better that my mother tongue. ...As I said before we Indians that this radar in our heads which senses origins by even looking at people. Its got a lot to do with your color and features as well. People when they look at me tell me that i don't really look very typically north indian (which i do btw take as a compliment) but wait till they hear me talk. I even talk in english with a delhi accent ! I really like to see confused expressions on their face :-) Its good fun at times. ...Settling in Bangalore has not helped at all. I think my language has become an even weirder mixture of everything....In the end i really do wonder what do people really expect to hear when they ask about your origin. I really have zilch connection with my so called native place. I have physically just been there twice in my whole life both in transit. Is it really about the culture that you follow ? If so then I think my family is really extremely metropolitan and cosmopolitan. We don't really have a typical south indian household so to speak but we have been taught how to read and write in tamil. ...I think it was my parents desperate attempts to pass on something to the next generation. I will not say they failed, but it has complicated things a bit. On the same note, I wonder what I could pass on to the next generation. ...I really can't think of anything else but courage , tolerance and patience to answer this question wherever they are - "So, where are you from ?"

7 comments:

Rajesh J Advani said...

Definitely the most dreaded question as far as I'm concerned too. You know, the worst thing is that recently they added one more twist, and that too right after I decided to start claiming to be "from Bombay".

Before:
Q: Where are you from?
A: Ummm... I was born in Kuwait...
Q: Oh so you are not an Indian?
A: No no. I'm an Indian only. Was born in Kuwait, and lived there for 12 years...
Q: Oh, that long?
A: Yes. And then I studied in Bombay for a few months before going to Surat
Q: Oh so you are Gujarati?
A: No no. My dad just works there.
Q: Why?
A: ???
Q: Why Surat?
A: My dad got a job there immediately after the gulf war started. So, I studied there for 4 years before I came to Bombay for my Engineering. After 4 years of doing my engineering, though, I got a job and was posted in Chennai.
Q: Oh, you work in South India?
A: Yes. And I've been there for the last 5 years.
(Pause)
Q: So where are you from again?
A: I guess I'm essentially from Bombay, but I've only lived there for four years of my life.

Which never left them satisfied, though it was completely accurate.

Now,

Q: So, where are you from?
A: Bombay.
Q: Oh, you're a Maharashtrian?
A: No, no. I'm a Sindhi.
Q: Sindhi?
A: Sindh is a state that is now in Pakistani.
Q: Oh, you're a Pakistani?

At this point, I generally burst into tears.

PS: I wish you'd add Trackbacks to your Blog (use Haloscan.com). That way I could comment to your blog using a post on my blog...

Rads said...

I did something with haloscan and it said all done successfully but somehow I don't quite think so :-))

Rads said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rajesh J Advani said...

And we're back in business :)
Now you can get the other comments back in.

dumbs said...

languages! ha ha ha. my mother togue is telugu. that is what i thought, then realized when i came here that it was not. actually my tamil is lot better; so these days i don't mention i know telugu.

Manchus said...

I just came across this blog. Felt this is so true and close to what I face in life.

By reading your blogs, was curious if you are part of WASE program.

Good luck with your blogs.

gr_ra said...

Me: Tamilian, palghat "origins", mom from Trivandrum (Kerala), dad from Tamil Nadu, spent 20 years in Mumbai, 2 in Chennai and 4 in Germany...go figure :-). Some of my gora friends here mention the "indian interview" thing a lot. How, when they are in India, people ask them their whole life story in the first 5 minutes of a conversation, and that is just the start of the conversation....

Nice blog. keep it up.