Home » Noisy Contemplation » So, where are you from?

So, where are you from?

When I go to a new place, I don’t mind falling sick. I rarely fall sick. I’m quite adaptable. Communication has never been a problem either. I pick up languages rather fast.  I’m not even afraid of being stalked. The only thing I dread is the question, “So, where are you from?” I can never answer that in one word (or even one sentence) like most people do. I wish people would stop asking me that. I have tried my best to keep myself safe from it, but the question seems to find me somehow. Like it did, at an obscure shop in New Delhi a few years ago…

I was at my uncle’s place in Delhi for the summer vacation (a very very bad time to be there…in that case even winter vacations are equally horrible. The best time to visit the capital would be…wait…I’m not writing anything related to travel. I better not digress here.) I was out (I don’t remember for what exactly) and it started raining abruptly. Not the kind of filmy romantic rain that would make one want to get wet (pun intended). It was one of those annoying, nasty rains, which pour abruptly with the sole purpose of ruining light coloured clothes. Obviously, I was not carrying an umbrella. I wasn’t even carrying a bag. Just my purse. This was long before cell phones became a necessity. Not everybody could afford one. And back then, nobody could’ve imagined that some day in the future, children will be trusted with the device. The only thing I was afraid of was my white Patiala getting ruined. I took shelter in the nearest shop I could find. I don’t remember the name of the shop. All I can remember is that they were selling very ‘antique’ looking things. I was looking at the scarves there, while waiting for the rain to stop. The shopkeeper wanted to lure me into buying a sari.

“This is bamboo silk.” He said, holding up an off-white sari with a dark green border. “It will look very good on you.”

“I don’t wear saris.” I told him, in Hindi.

After that he got busy, trying to find something else that I might like to buy. And I was looking at the scarves again. Suddenly, a guy standing nearby walked closer. I was a little scared, but then, it was a crowded shop. What could possibly happen? (Again, this was long before Delhi came to be known as the ‘Rape capital’.)  He smiled at me. I looked away.

“You speak Hindi pretty fluently.” He told me, obviously trying to flirt.

“Thank you.” I replied. Just some harmless ‘flirting back’. I must admit he was good-looking.

“So, where are you from?” his next question.

“What do you mean?”

“Obviously, you are not from here.”

Yeah! I know. I wasn’t fair enough to be ‘from there’.

“I’m from Kerala. No more questions, please.”

“Oh! I knew it.”

And he kept talking for the next few minutes about how pretty ‘Malyali’ women are (Dude, it is M-A-L-A-Y-A-L-I! How difficult is it to pronounce a vowel between ‘l’ and ‘y’? ).

“Ahem! I live in Kerala, I’m not a Malayali.”

I was glad when he left me alone. But that was because he was a stranger (and an asshole) and I could afford to be rude. I can’t do that all the time. Most of the time, the statement ‘I’m not a Malayali, I just live in Kerala’ encounters the question ‘So what are you?’

The chain is usually as follows:

“So, where are you from?”

“Kerala.”

“But you don’t have the accent that Malayalis have.”

“I am not a Malayali, I just live in Kerala. By the way, not all Malayalis have that ‘accent’ you are talking about.”

“If you are not a Malayali, what are you?”

“I’m a Tamilian.”

“But you are not that dark!”

“Not all Tamilians are dark. My Dad is very fair.”

“So, where exactly in Tamil Nadu are you from?”

“Well, I have never been there.”

“Okay! That explains why you don’t have the Tamil accent.”

(What is it about south Indians and accents?)

“My first language was Hindi.”

“How?”

“The first person I communicated with was my maid and she was a Bihari.”

“How come you had a Bihari maid?”

“I was born in Manipur.”

“Then how come you didn’t have a Manipuri maid?”

“I grew up in a Punjabi colony and she was the only one available to take care of kids…By the way, I can speak Manipuri too.”

“What is that?”

“It’s the language spoken in Manipur.”

“Wow! So how many languages do you know?”

“Six.”

“That’s a strange thing. Tamilians never learn any other language.”

Stereotyping again!

The chain goes on, till the interrogator runs out of his/her stupidity. Sometimes, I wish I had one place to point out as my own. But then, that would be too ‘normal’. I’m glad I don’t have a regional identity. I don’t have to give an explanation. I can choose not to answer the dreaded question and continue being ‘mysterious’…

The first time I started talking with my boyfriend (long before I knew he would become my boyfriend) I asked him something in Malayalam. His response was, “I didn’t know you could speak Malayalam.”  That was it. He never asked me where I was from. He got to know about my complicated regional identity (crisis) eventually. Not many people wait that long. I think the next time somebody asks me “So, where are you from?” I’ll just say, “Well, it’s complicated.”

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11 Comments

  1. Manu Kurup says:

    Its the hunger in people to form an idea about the person they encounter that makes them ask these stupid questions. The stereotypes that they have stored in their DNA will make sure they’ll form a picture of you as soon as they hear where you are from and what language you speak and all… from these seemingly harmless questions, they’ll try to understand what caste you belong to and what was the original caste profession of your ancestors from five or six generations ago. What is even more horrible is the mentality behind these questions and sometimes, the people who ask these questions can’t even hide this stinking curiosity from appearing on their pathetic faces. As soon as I realize that I’m talking to one of these people, I smile a lot and start fixing my eyes more rashly on the book I have.
    India, Indians and their all-the-time-wrong-Stereotypes!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Manu Kurup says:

    My comment is strictly based on an encounter with an Aryan race theorist in a superfast train to the ‘Rape Capital’ of India. He wanted to know what my original caste profession was. I simply said, “a 100 years ago, my ancestors used to kill people and bury them right in our courtyard so that there won’t be any evidence.”
    He did not talk to me after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. theodorazheng says:

    The insane desire to fit people into easily recognizable categories really diminishes a person’s worth by flattening out their personality and humanity into a single adjective. Thank you for posting this! It must be awful to get so many questions about your identity and culture every day, especially when you’ve already tried to dissuade them. I really like this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Witch says:

      Thank you for stopping by.:) And, yes, it is AWFUL (everything in caps) to get these questions in a supposedly ‘modern’ world. I guess you must have faced them too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • theodorazheng says:

        I don’t face them as often, but it does get incredibly annoying when people try to play “Guess Theo’s Heritage!” Because they will name every Asian country except Indonesia, and then they’ll insist that I’m lying. I think it would be more difficult for South Asians because there are so many different subgroups within the larger blanket ethnicity, right? Whereas in Indonesia, many of the small subgroups are pretty isolated. (It probably also helps that I do not live in Indonesia).

        And you’re so welcome! Your blog is lovely 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • The Witch says:

        I was once talking with a European guy. He was good looking and I was kinda flirting till he asked me, “Are you really Asian? You don’t look like one. I mean, don’t all Asians look like the Chinese?”. That was it. It put me off!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • theodorazheng says:

        That sounds terrible! And that’s so incredibly racist oh my goodness that is such a provincial comment. HOW AWFUL…

        Like

      • The Witch says:

        The the universal plight of wise souls! *sigh*

        Liked by 1 person

  4. KadSing says:

    Great post! I can somewhat relate.. usually I will just curtly announce I’m from Bombay and end eye contact. It mostly works and even aligns well with the rude Bombayite stereotype. Sometimes it doesn’t. It is common in Bombay to ask what your ‘gaon’ is, however much I don’t like that question. The real problem started when I moved out though. In Singapore, the original Indians who moved where the ‘darker Tamilians’, so a lot of people can’t wrap thier head around the fair Indians. Then there are questions about if you’re Muslim, you must be from Pakistan? Sigh! My kids seem to have inherited some latent Iraqi/Afghani genes from my moms side of the family who moved from there as well as from my husband’s Turkish ancestary. So now we keep getting asked about their looks.. its getting a bit tiring!

    Liked by 1 person

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