Thursday, January 21, 2010

Where are you from?

Four simple words.

Many people give a simple one word answer to this question. "Orissa", "Assam", "U.P."...and the list could go on and on. I, on the other hand, have extremely mixed and confused feelings about this question; regardless of how much I try to simplify the reply, there really is no straight answer to this question.

If I absolutely have to answer quickly in short, I say "I am from Tamil Nadu." That leads to three possible responses- 1) when the questioner just acknowledges it and remains silent after that (an extremely rare phenomena), 2) the questioner acknowledges it and proceeds to ask me further uncomfortable/unanswerable questions like "oh which part are you from?" OR 3) "Really? you don't look it!"
I love category 1)- they make life simple. To category 3)- On a good day, I usually smile and laugh at their stereotype. On days when I am feeling particularly aggressive, I launch into a bhashan about cultural stereotypes. But usually, it's category 2) who make life a little complicated with their persistent questioning.
Generally, I have a rehearsed answer- "Im a Tamilian, but never lived in Tamil Nadu; mostly been brought up in Delhi." But even that's not the whole truth. Because although my parents were born and brought up here and even I was born here, I didn't really grow up here, in the traditional sense. So when someone asks further and starts questioning "Oh which school?", I say "Oh my parents are in the foreign service so I sort of studied all over. But I did my 11th and 12th from Sanskriti." I add the last part, hoping that they would stop the tirade of questions...but I often underestimate the inquisitiveness which is so characteristic of us human beings(!) So then comes the next question "ohhh, where did you grow up?" (yeah, some people are pretty persistent) I proceed to launch into a mini autobiography (more like a mini-geography). Some people, overawed by the mention of so many countries, even go further and ask "How come you don't have an accent then?" or "How come you know Hindi so well?" I even got a "You don't look like you've spent part of your life abroad- you're not classy enough." The last one particularly cracks me up :)

On certain confusing, weird days, I feel like I am from nowhere in particular.
I am a Tamilian, but know nothing about Tamil Nadu, have never lived there, my parents have never lived there, and I have just a smattering of relatives there. I most certainly don't fit into the "Tamil girl" stereotype (at least I don't feel like one). I once got a "You're not dark, you don't wear glasses- you don't look South Indian." UGH.
I am a Delhiite from heart and soul; its the only city I know, its the city I was born in, the city I went to school and college in. But I guess I won't fit into the 'typical' definition of a Delhi girl- I have only spent 11 years in this city (and even thats not 11 years at a stretch).
I have been brought up abroad, but no visible part of me really supports that- i don't have an accent, i am apparently not classy enough.

Major identity crisis in the offing? Not really. The confusion, the complexity becomes me on most's an integral part of who i am. "Where are you from?" is just one of those questions (like this) for which I dont have a one word answer...

What a way to start the new year!


Nima said...

Aww..Thats sooo awesome ranju..I loved reading it.I think the blend of everything makes us such super awesome people..I get very hassled when I am asked that question too, I simply answer with "Well, my Dad was in the Army, so I have lived everywhere across the country" and then when I am asked to name the places, I give them the scary names "I dont know if you have heard of these places, Pithoragarh, Ganganagar, Mhow, Mamun, Nagrota" and skip the common Shimlaz and Hisarz out of the answer ;) If you cant convince them, confuse them :P

Runjoo said...

you lived in a place called Mhow??? lol...i learnt something new today!

after i wrote this...i realized many of my closest friends don't have a straightforward answer to this question either :) :)

a traveller said...

You know people think I look South Indian? And being in JMC, I got a lot of "oh but we thought you're a South Indian Catholic"!!! I dunno why!

I'm kinda in the same boat... Bengali, but probashi through and through. Only advantage I have is I've only ever lived in three places. :)

Unless, of course, you count the fact that I was born in Lagos.

creyzeee said...

hehe...i HATE that question!! If i say i'm from Delhi (and i AM), there's the u-don't-look-the-kind response. And saying i'm a 'maharashtrian' feels like...insufficient n unnecessary info!!

thanx :)

Life is Beautiful said...

simply d best narration of one of the most infamous question

Dominique said...

I have loved reading your blog posts, you write really well and you are a deep thinker. I can learn a lot of cultural info from reading them. I particularly related to this post as I get asked this question all the time! People can never place my accent and I always have to go into a rambling of all the places I have lived! Guess this is what all expat kids get! keep up the blogging!