When I was watching “Chak De” a long time ago (one of SRK’s films in which he actually acted well :)), I couldn’t help but nod my head in the segment where he talks about how we always seem to first belong to our states and then our country. Perhaps because India as a country is really like 30 countries in one considering the diversity in language, culture, physical characteristics, cuisine that borders on the astounding. Yet, most of us, it looks like, are still not used to knowing/seeing people from other states. And stereotyping is the name of the game. A North Indian is fair skinned, most often the “loud” Punjabi eating chhole and maa ki daal and doing bhangra all the while. A South Indian is dark skinned, lungi-clad person speaking in a funny accent and eating idli and dosas. Maharashtrians either speak tapori lingo or are fish-catching community. Bengalis eat fish and speak with rounded consonants. Biharis are abuse spewing hooligans. Gujaratis eat sweet food and are known for dandiya. A parochial stereotype exists for every single region in the country.
As a UPite, born in UP, I don’t remember ever being asked, “Where are you from?” Perhaps with my surname, they already knew where I belonged. But, when dad was transferred to Bombay in the mid-80s, I had my first rude shock. After joining a high-profile school on the tony Pedder Road, when it was time to get introduced to my classmates, invariably the questions asked were, “Where have you come from?” Lucknow, UP!
“Where is that?” Patiently explaining the geography.*scratching my head and wondering about the level of geography in 8th Standard*
Still drawing blank looks.
And the next question was, “What is your caste?”
Really I had never been asked that question in my life. I stared back wondering what it was. I remember coming home and asking my mother, “What is my caste?”
She told me, “Kayasth!”
So, I went back and vomited that answer the next day again drawing blank stares. They wanted familiar answers like Marwaris, Gujaratis etc. Those were castes, I wondered? It was very confusing why that question was asked in Bombay and how did my caste matter? It is another matter that I went on to make some really great friends in school but that initial memory stayed with me. Those were the days when doodhawala bhaiyas were still not equated to all UPites. And when the normally well-educated UPites were not associated with driving taxis and creating nuisance. Yes, the SS had still not turned their attention to us.
Now, years later living in Bangalore, I still find that question sometimes amusing and most times annoying, “Where are you from?”
And, just like the movie, I feel like turning around and saying in a very clichéd way, “Indian!”
Are there still people who belong to one area, one city and one state all their life? What is the big deal about finding out where the other person originates from or as they say here, “Where is your native?” I can relate to so many regions in this country, as I have lived in many cities. And frankly, it doesn’t matter a damn thing to me where you belong and what language you speak. And I don’t do a merry dance when I chance upon a UPite. My heart only does a merry dance when I meet a like-minded person.
Does that work in this country anymore?
Pic courtesy: Freedigitalphotos.net
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