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April 23, 2011 / Rohit

You are from where?

You are from which … which television? — T. Rajendar (video — Tamil with superb English.)

Every time I meet a fellow Indian. I get asked this — “Where are you from?”, “What is your native?” … sometimes even … “What are you?”

It’s something which us Indians do all the time. I guess it’s a way to connect with people. Ask where they are from and if they happen to be from the same place where you have lived or been, you have something to talk about. This particular question though, is not something I look forward to answering. Reason?

My ancestors were Tamil Brahmins. They happened to settle in a town called Palakkad (also known as Palghat). This small unheard of place was once a part of the Madras presidency. After India gained independence it became part of the state of Kerala.

So my forefathers come from a place which is now part of Kerala, but they were Tamil. They happened to speak Malayalam. But they still loved their filter coffee.

Now my father, when he was young, came to Delhi and started a family which included my mom, brother and me. My parents made it a point to talk only in Tamil within the house. So both me and my brother know some form of Tamil.

After 18 years of staying in Delhi, I went to an engineering college in Kerala called CUSAT.  There I learned a bit of Malayalam. I could speak, understand and even read a bit.

When I graduated, I landed up a job in Bangalore. In four years, I made enough Kannadiga friends but learned only a shamefully small amount of Kannnada. It’s not much, maybe enough to negotiate an auto fare or order a by-two filter coffee. But it’s something.

Figure 1: Places of India which I claim to be associated with.

So when I am asked the question “Where are you from?”, I really don’t know what the proper answer is. I have been giving the long winded answer of how I studied in Delhi, but am Tamil who happened to also live in Kerala and Bangalore for equal portions of time. And now lives on Levering Avenue.

But that answer is tiring and boring. And no one believes me anyway.

If I say I am Tamil to the Tamil folk, they get offended, because I said “Tamil” and not “Tamizh. Pardon me for not doing yoga with my tongue.

When I tell people from the north that I am from Delhi, they might show their skepticism, by saying something like “You don’t look North Indian.” Where looking North Indian translates to “you are darker than the typical North Indian and hence are a Madraasi.” Or they might counter my reply with something like “Yes, but originally where are you from?” To which I am forced to reply “Tamil” or “Kerala”, satisfying their curiosity.

The Malayalis and Kannadigas refuse to accept me as their brethren because I can’t speak their languages that well.

So there it is. I am from nowhere. Or everywhere. Pick your choice.


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