I had a colleague at work tell me – ‘I watched your language’s movie.’ I was taken aback by the ‘Your language’ comment because I had to think about what he meant by that.
A bit of context: India is a small country with great variety. Every state has its language, culture, food, dress, festivals, gods – you name it, and they have a version of their own. And growing up, we crossed many states from all over – I am a South Indian (Tamil) specifically, but I lived in Delhi, Bombay and Nagpur. And each region, north, south, central – has many versions of the language.
I remember going to Delhi and my friends commenting – ‘Oh! so you are a madrasi (from Madras)’. And I realized for the first time that this is how north people view the south people. I would go to my hometown for marriages, and people would ask why I was wearing salwar kameez instead of a half saree. And the awareness that the salwar kameez is considered north Indian.
My life growing up has indeed been a mixed bag. My Hindi is more fluent than my native tongue. I love the rituals of the south more than the fun of the north. I have my favourite foods from all regions. I celebrate the festivals I want from whatever area they may be. I have something that I can associate with every region. And I married an American – so, I enjoy Christmas as much as Diwali. And some years, I celebrate one or the other. Here’s the punchline – since I pick and choose from everywhere, I do not feel the need to defend any item. What do I mean by that?
I was having dinner with an Indian family, and I talked about how Pixar has a constructive criticism process for creative ideas. And somebody chipped in, stating that this is what the old directors in India used to do. When he came to the US, my dad kept comparing India to the US – what is better or not. The need to compare and defend arises only when you identify with one thing. For people like me who identify themselves in bits and pieces across everything – the need to defend does not arise. Because if I defend myself, I am contradicting myself. And honestly, I do not care – I go with what’s best and makes sense for me at that time.
Sometimes I feel that my parents wish they had ingrained the love of the south more in us because it is ‘our heritage, our culture’ after all. And I cannot associate with that ‘Our-ness’ because I do not know how. And neither do I want to – I like the freedom and flexibility to see what I like and make it my own. For example, I like vegan food because that’s what I learnt, and I have no interest in proving that Indian food is the best as it is naturally vegan.
Through this blog, I am highlighting that there are people like me who are nomads – who do not belong anywhere, and we love it. Please be aware if you are talking to folks like me who are neither here nor there. There is no right or wrong, but diversity and inclusion are the lenses we need. What lens are you wearing?