“Where are you from?” is possibly the hardest question for me to answer, and I do get asked that a lot.
To try to answer that, I am supposed to be a Bengali, although I’m anything but a typical bengali. Even if I can converse fluently in the dialect, and read and write the language, and even as an non-religious-believer-in-the-universe, I religiously celebrate Durga Pujo; I’m against everything the “typical” bengali seemingly stands for, for I do not support communalists, I do not love fish, I can not stand milk based sweets,and I sure as the roundness of the earth cannot sing or dance. And I do not owe my love for literature, or my artistic side to the Bengali culture.
My “culture”, my heritage, and where I come from, will never be this city or that one. For it is and will continue to remain, the Indian Air Force; I wasn’t raised a bengali or a Bangalorean or a maharastrian or a gujrati or any of the countless (11) cities I’ve grown up in, I was raised as a typical Air Force officer’s kid. And not to brag, but that is the best childhood you can possibly hope for.
Growing up in the Air force bases did give me a ling list of privilege: endless parks to play in, any and every sports facility you can think of (I chose books), huge libraries, and the liberty to start your life over every two to three years. New cities, new houses, new schools and new friends. The itnerate life is one I seem to have been born in love with.
But among the many boons that the Air force life presented to me, the one that I’m most grateful for, are the tinted glasses when it comes to communal discrimination.
Once I moved into the “civilian” life is when I realised how much the “where are you from” mattered to the people. When I say mattered, I don’t necessarily mean they chose to discriminate you. I mean, they would, many a times, innocently, want to know. And once you told them, they would subconsciously project of their preconceived streotypes onto you, it was inevitable.
Growing up, in all of my 9 different schools, noone ever asked me where I was from. Nor did anyone care. And don’t get me wrong, it was school, so you were judged, scrutinised, without a question. But you were judged based on who you were, not on which side of the boundary you came from, or who you chose to worship, or the languages you know and converse in. Every festival was celebrated with equal vigour and enthusiasm. Noone was looked at as a girl with a head scarf or a boy with a turban, they were looked at as individuals, with flaws and virtues, but as individuals.
We talk about about being the most diverse, secular country, but are we really so? Do we really ever function as a wholesome country? As opposed to north India and south India? The borders are many, just as many as there are diversities, races, religions, languages; and it is us who makse these borders into solid walls, while we sit comfortably on our high horses, inside these walls, and boo Trump for his. Atleast he’s openly discussing his wall, which is a lot more than we can say for ours.
And as we idle on, playing boundary games with our own people, the state (political, environmental, educational, social, economical) of the country, not just the north or the south, but the whole country, deteriorates by the bits. And then we crib, and whine, and blame.
We are the second most populated country on the face of the planet, you would think if we all came together as one, we’d be able to accomplish just about anything, wouldn’t we? Ofcourse it isn’t as easy as it sounds, but sometimes I wonder, maybe, just maybe if everyone had these tinted glasses on, it’d make this plan a little easier, a little more achievable.
Let’s try to get ourselves some “United we stand, divided we fall” shall we?