I have always unsuccessfully tried to evade the question surrounding the details of my ethnicity. India a country with a lot of divided hostile states, boasts superficially of a ‘Unity in Diversity’. A question effortlessly answered in one word, by many people who I envy, finds me at the end of a ten minute speech. The question I am talking about is – Where are you from?
Culturally I belong to Assam as I speak the language, eat the food and my parents, relatives, and my extended clan back to a couple of generations called this place home. I have grown up celebrating Bihu as the main festival and adore the Mekhela chadar (Assamese traditional silk wear) and Assamese Gohona (Jewellry).
I never stayed in one place of Assam – courtesy my dad’s job. I changed three schools to pass my 12th boards. All in different regions of Assam. Everytime I changed schools I mentioned the last region is where I belong to, but then, people generally are not satisfied with that answer. They probe further and I in my innocence reveal my father is from Jorhat. With a flabbergasted expression of someone who’s seen an infant drink vodka instead of milk they ask – If your father is from Jorhat why did you do your schooling all over Assam?And with the looks of someone who has met the early woman or a dinosaur dressed in school uniform comes the inevitable – Where are you from? My answer – The ten minute speech.
Years passed with me editing and modifying my ten minute speech. After my 12th I relocated to Delhi. I was confident I can give up my ten minute speech here. So I answered, keeping my fingers crossed and hoping this will be the first time in my personal history that I answer in one word – Assam. The reaction was not quite what I expected much to my disappointment. Touching a benchmark of triumph seemed a far cry. I was met with the same flabbergasted expression and this time the reaction was –
Probing they: “ Ohh!! but you look Indian and not an Assamese!!”
Poor me: “Well, I am an Indian you see, Assam is a state in India situated in the North East.”
Probing they: “That’s what!! You do not look like a Mongoloid”
Poor Me: (starting my new ten minute speech discarding my edited one I start)Assam has two races. One the Mongoloids who are part of the royals of the state and the non-Mongoloids.I being a Brahmin therefore do not fall in the Mongoloid race. My ancestors were brought from Kanauj by the royals to work in the royal kingdom as diplomats in an era when even God did not think he will send me to earth. Over the years the kanuajian Brahmins settled and started calling Assam their home.
Probing they: Ohh you are from UP!!
Poor me: Uh, yeah. (In my mind – Hell No!!I am an Assamese don’t you dare play with my identity!!)
Well, I passed a decade in Delhi and took up its culture as a natural process. People very often did not bother me as I passed easily as an Indian. I grew up completely to love Delhi, taking in its culture, loving it’s food and the various opportunities that it provide to its people unbiased where they come from. My colleges, first job, first love, first heartbreak, my best friends, all are gifts from Delhi and I have fallen and still am in love with this fascinating city which I started calling my second home. Delhi free from regionalism and quite metro in its culture do not discriminate outsiders as belonging to another territory, and welcomed all with open arms. A cultural feature you do not find in any other state in India. If you are in Dilli well you are a Dilliwala.
Well, I had the occasional discomfort of giving my speech. A later development in my career however found me in Bangalore. I passed off easily as a Delhite and people did not question much until I spoke in Assamese. Very often people stopped me and asked –
I answer with a startled – Sorry? You talking to me?
Probing people – Yes, you are a Bengali right? I heard you talking in Bengali.
Poor me: No, that is Assamese. Heard of Assam North east? I am from Assam.
Probing People: Ohh, but I thought you are a Punjabi from Delhi, then I thought you are a Bengali settled in Chitaranjan Park, so a Bengali from Delhi. Where are you from?
Poor me: Ohh you can call me the Indian Version of ABCD.
Probing They: ABCD?
Poor me: Assam Born Confused Desi.