Jan 21, 2016

Of stereo-typing, labeling and roots...

Roots... this is something that has always had my interest. No, not the kind that trees/plants have. Or the kind that grow out of your head and show your age. The kind which makes you feel like you belong to something - a place, a human being, a time period , a culture group or anything at all.

Of all these categories, I feel I've had the most trouble being at peace with 'the place'. The question - "Where are you from?" always catches me off guard. Anywhere abroad, I can get away with "Am from India" and most people wouldn't ask me another question. But anything more granular than this, and I stumble... I have trouble telling where I am from.

[Image Courtesy - Google Maps]




Coz I feel I belong to more than one places, but I don't really belong to them all in the holistic definition of belonging. I don't know if anyone from my generation actually belongs to anything exclusively, thanks to the global migration patterns and the economic growth our country has seen during the 90's, when we were all children.

Where am I from, really? Am I from Andhra Pradesh? Well, I spent my entire lifetime here (at least, so far!). I used to think that all my friends speak Telugu, but that's not true anymore, I got friends from all over the place speaking a variety of Indian languages. I studied here, and I speak fairly good Telugu, and have always taken keen interest in Telugu literature. I am married into a Telugu family, and more often than not, we cook mostly Andhra food at home. I laugh at the quintessential Telugu jokes, and love some actors in the Telugu movie industry. Hyderabad is home for me, and I cannot imagine living anywhere outside of this city.

On the other hand, as comfortable as I am with Telugu, nothing can replace the love I have for Tulu, my mother tongue. I don't think I actually think in Tulu, and that I can express myself the best in Tulu (I think the English medium education has ensured that none of the native languages will do when we really have to express ourselves, no?, at least in writing), but I absolutely love Tulu. I believe my mother tongue is a truly special one, and needs to be protected because in a couple of decades there would just be a handful of people speaking good Tulu. I speak Tulu with my parents, if nothing this fact alone makes it special to me.
Well, I haven't really hung out with fellow Mangaloreans. In fact, outside of my extended family, I hardly know anyone who speaks Tulu. I jump with joy if I spot someone who does, but I noticed we quickly move to conversing in English or Hindi instead of Tulu. I noticed that I ache to speak to Tulu a lot of times in a week, which is when I either call Mom or speak as much Tulu as I can with the husband (with him responding in Kannada). And I also get nostalgic a lot about everything Tulu.

Though I don't eat it on a regular basis, I crave for Mangalorean food. I love the Saaru we make. I pine for Shavige, and I take pride in the fact that I make a mean Paji Masala Kodyelu. Rotti and Kodakkene is comfort food for me, Bisibele bath is what I turn to when I miss Mom (though I don't really remember Mom making a lot of it, for some reason). Huggi and Puli Kajipu are what I turn to when I want a hot one-pot meal. I enjoy the Tulu sit-down lunches, with all its beautiful desserts - kadle payasas, hayagrivas, mohan laadus and gasa gasa paramannas, and that feels like home to me. Idli with Hindi and coconut oil is what I eat for breakfast, every single day. In fact, I genuinely believe that a healthy dose of coconut oil on anything(only Mangalorean food, of course) will bring out the taste in that dish and act on it. (I also have a theory that the reason Mangaloreans have such gorgeous complexion is because of their extreme consumption of coconut oil :-) )

I haven't been able to appreciate Kannada movies, ever. I haven't followed Kannada literature too, though Mom had a large Kannada-only library (this woman also read a lot of Telugu books. Yeah, she taught me the pleasure of reading something without expecting anything out of it, you know, reading for the joy of reading! More on that later.), and that is how I know of some great movies based on some Kannada books. Dad obviously loved Annavru, so I grew up listening to songs he sang and the ones that P.B.Srinivas sang for him. But that's all that is to my brush with Kannada media.

Having lived outside of Karnataka my entire life, I cannot identify with anything happening there. Hell, I hate the city of Bangalore in spite of my entire extended family living there. I haven't felt a kinship to that city at all, in spite of it having literally everything I need - the art scene, the food scene, the weather, the weekend getaways. And I haven't spent more than one weekend till date in the city of Mangalore. The only place in Karnataka that I truly have been to is my maternal grandparents' place - Hidingala, a home which is a tiny village in itself in the district of Mangalore.

To add to all this, after marriage, I even changed my last name (if you are an unmarried woman, then please take my word of advice. Never change your surname. Forget all the romantic reasons, it makes the money and documentation matters extremely difficult, especially if you have had a career before marriage. No one asked me to, my father-in-law in fact, tried talking me out of this idea, but I went ahead with it. I found the idea of taking my husband's first and last name as my middle and last names very romantic back then, you see. )

The more I think about it, the more I feel that my confusion about my identity has become more after the change in surname. Either this, or the fact that I have started seeing more of the world and growing (in spirit and mind) in the past decade. Either ways, the thought of having a hyphenated surname is on my mind now. I know my maiden surname is too long and tongue-twisting to pronounce (Try imagining the words - Mu-ru-di-tha-ya if you were to announce my name in airports or anywhere in public. My current surname gets butchered as it is, in spite of it being only two syllables). I also know that another name change will only pronounce doom on all my financial and identity cards , but am honestly considering it. If it will make me feel any closer to my Mangalorean roots, am gonna do it.

Outside of India, I get away by telling am from South India if anyone persists with a second question on my origin. Among my fellow countrymen, this answer has been met with a surprise (pleasant or otherwise), coz apparently I don't look like one. No, it has never flattered me that I do not look like where I am from. What does that even mean, by the way? Looking like you are from Andhra or Mangalore or Tamil Nadu? I have always disliked it when anyone assumed that I speak Hindi only, and I go to great lengths to disprove that fact to them, and prove how much of a South Indian I am.

Given all these premises, where am I from actually? What do I identify myself with?
Well, I'd like to think of myself as a global citizen. I've felt comfortable in any city I've visited, both India and abroad. I identify with the 90's pop culture references, both Indian and otherwise. I enjoy languages, and have an aptitude at them. I enjoy stories of any kind which provides variety of talking points when meeting people.
Am also an Indian woman born in the early 80's who hasn't seen gender oppression in her entire life(so far, at least.) and has been loved and respected by her immediate family members (which isn't true for most women one generation prior to mine). Am not exactly a Millennial, more like a Gen Y. No one recognizes my non-fancy alumnus. Am a Gult and a thorough-Mangalorean too. Above all, I am an Indian, and I identify myself very well with everything Indian and most things Asian.

I know very well that these are first world problems weighed against the identity crisis children of this generation go through, what with their parents have migrated away from their homes, sometimes more than once... or as compared to the Army kids who would've grown up all over the place. But I am entitled to my own first world problem, no? :-)

May be this is why I detest labels. And try to stay as far away from it as possible (its a constant journey of learning - not labeling and not being labeled). Stereo-typing and labeling would constrict me and define me into something I am not. I am all of these, and a bit more too, I'd like to believe. And for those times that I feel a terrible sense of yearning to belong to something, I go all Zen and tell myself - "Why should one even belong to something? What will I achieve by belonging? Am I not existing as it is? What is permanent in this world to belong to? We all are just are. That's all. "
As douche as it sounds, it makes me feel good, and I move on to the next thought...

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