This is an opinion piece I’d written previously for an online publication. I am reproducing it here with a few changes.
Since I penned my anguish about the Dadri lynching incident in India, I’ve been receiving a few endearments from some of those who have been kind enough to read it — presstitute, sickular, libtard, commie were some of those. This led me to introspect deeply and ask myself some existentialist questions — like ‘Who am I?’ ‘Where am I from?’ and most importantly, ‘Where was I when…?’
Well, it all goes back a long way. Perhaps to the time when somebody first threw the seemingly innocuous question my way: ‘Where are you from?’ Now, this bouncer can be trickier to handle than you imagine.
I think the conversation went somewhat like this:
Excuse me, hope you don’t mind me asking, but where are you from?
– I’m from West Bengal.
Ah! A Bengali.
-Quite, but not quite. I’m very Bengali but only because I’ve lived in Bengal for most of my life.
I see. So where are you originally from?
-You could say I’m from Assam, though I haven’t really lived there.
Ah! An Assamese, of course! I knew it from your features! Lots of similarities between the Assamese and the Bengalis, no?
-You are so right again, but I’m not exactly an Assamese, I’m a Bodo.
-It is one of the many tribes of Assam. (Me, trying to help).
Yes, I know I know. The Bodo militants. Fighting for statehood and all.
-Er…not all of us are militants, fighting for statehood. Most of us are quite peace loving and content with the current state of things, as long as we get our glass of ‘jou’ (rice beer) after a hard day’s work.
Interesting. Most interesting…..
The good thing in all this, was of course the fact that others were absolutely certain of my identity even when I wasn’t.
Like the time in Kolkata, when a lady exclaimed, overhearing my Bengali, ‘Wow! These Nepalese have started speaking such good Bangla these days!’ — never for a moment doubting that I was a Nepali.
Or the time, when I visited the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary in Rajasthan, with my husband, and the ticket seller demanded Rs. 450 — 50 bucks for his ticket and 400 for mine. When my stunned husband wanted to know why there was such discrimination, he was told, ‘Madam coming from Korea. Different rate for foreigner.’ Needless to say, this was nothing short of a revelation! While I’d been under the assumption that I was an Indian, turned out that I’d actually been a Korean all along! Good to know, and better late than never, I thought. At least the question of my nationality was now resolved.
But then, on the first day of my job as ‘Announcer’ at All India Radio, Delhi, I was asked by one of the Duty Officers, ‘You are eating everything in China, no?’ My new found Korean nationality was already threatened. Was I from China in reality, after all?
New Delhi is of course the US of India — the world begins and ends with it and there are no geographies beyond. So it came as no surprise that Delhiites confidently gave me whatever identities they liked — Thai, Burmese, Japanese –anything that would suit their fancy. If I tried to explain that the North East actually consisted of several different states, with their different cultures, I would be promptly dismissed with a ‘Chill yaar, all same to same.’ I was glad to know there was no need of specifics. So then I could just say, ‘I am from the North East’ and be done with it.
This seemed to be working well, until recently, when it was revealed to me that I was not from the North East – my address was actually Left of Centre. Sickular, leftist, presstitute, communist were some of the identities I was given, leaving me with the even more confusing question, ‘Who, really, was I?
From belonging to an endangered tribe myself, somewhere along the line, I had turned into a dangerous species, a lying, scheming traitor, capable of great harm to the country! In short, my transformation into an ‘anti-national’ was now complete!
Before I could wrap my head around such an evolution or mutation, depending on how you look at it, another googly began to be frequently thrown my way — the dreaded, ‘Where were you when.. ?’
For example :
-“Where were you when Kashmiri Pandits were being driven out of their homeland?”
-“Where were you when Mohd. Ghori invaded India?”
-“Where were you when the milk was boiling over?”
-“Where were you when…
I don’t mind these questions in the least — if not from the North East, I am happy to be from the Left of Centre (isn’t that where the heart is supposedly located?).
But then, I might just be offending some people by refusing to take offence. These days, I’m told, you are not a true nationalist unless you are easily offended.
I see that I am testing your patience and can already sense the next question coming: What are you doing here?
Indeed, as pointed out by some honorable ministers, I and the entire beef-eating North East better be packed off to Pakistan without delay.
But will they accept us, pork-eaters, as their own? Perhaps not… and so my quest for nationality will continue.
This post is the 15th in a series of 26 posts that I am writing throughout the month of April as part of the A to Z challenge 2016.