Sunday, October 14, 2012

Identity Tags

How would you define yourself? This is a question that has been plaguing me for quite some time. Do you answer it with respect to where you come from, what language you speak, what faith you follow, your traditions and beliefs, or are these factors merely incidental? Throughout my growing years, I have been conscious of these factors etched onto some forgotten recess of the mind, but I soon realized that they don't really matter.

As a case in point, I have always been somewhat sceptical of the phrase 'Proud to be Indian'. (Yes, this phrase is usually put up as Facebook statuses every 15 August/26 January). Now don't get me wrong. I cherish my 'Indianness' and my Indian roots, but I am sure I would have felt the same way had I been born on the other side of the Radcliffe line! What I mean to say is that whilst it is good to cherish your nationality, religion, or even something like caste, these are just circumstances of birth. These identity tags should not really define one's identity, since they could well have been the other way round. But it's really sad that we still stick to defining a person through these terms.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this blog post and realized that I have been in the same situation as the author. Apart from the similarity in our names (or at least a part of my name), I also hail from Kerala, Palakkad to be precise. However, my parents were brought up in Tamil Nadu, and I myself spent a significant portion of my childhood in that state. So it isn't all that surprising that there are specks of Tamil thrown into my Malayalam. The fact that I am a vegetarian, together with my dad's Tamil sounding last name is enough to make anybody assume that I am a Tam-Brahm. My question is- does it really matter? What difference does it make? Should it even be a question of importance in the first place? I was amused at an incident that occurred a couple of months ago. I used to go buy lunch at one of the numerous Indian stalls on campus. The uncle working at the stall is quite chatty with students who frequent the area. So the first day, having seen him talk to others in both Hindi and Tamil, I chose to speak in the latter. (Both my Hindi and Tamil are rather laughable, but my Tamil is subject to less ridicule, so...) Then a couple of days later, the friendly uncle asked me whether I was from Chennai or Coimbatore. Well, I did have family in Coimbatore, and when we returned to India for the holidays we always went back there, so I replied Coimbatore, but originally from Palakkad. All this combined with my being vegetarian seemed to confirm that I was twice born, and so one day, out of curiosity, he asked me what my full name was. I was rather puzzled, but I did tell him. And then came the next question - Yen maa, nee Iyer aa, Iyengar aa? (Are you an Iyer or Iyengar?) Aah, so that was why he wanted to know my full name! Resisting the urge to reply with 'Manushya jaati' , I laughingly said, 'What is there in all this?' And he replied, 'Very important, ma. All this very important.'

I couldn't really blame him, since I have seen instances of this amongst my own family members. When I forgot to wear a pottu that confirmed my identity as a Hindu, someone remarked that I looked like a Christian. Or there was a time when someone asked me whether I was Christian because I happen to wear a rosary ring. There was another time when a school friend saw me reading a copy of Our Daily Bread and remarked in surprise, 'But, you aren't Christian!' I found it futile to explain that whilst I am a Hindu by practice, I do believe in Christ, the same way as I trust in Swami.

Does it really matter whether I follow Christ or Krishna? Does it really matter if my dad wears a sacred thread or not? Does it really matter whether I hail from the north or the south of the Vindhyas? Does it really matter whether I speak Malayalam, Tamil, or even Tulu? Indeed, does it really matter whether I am coloured, black, or white?

Who am I? That is a question that many have not found an answer to, and if the wise ones are to be believed, finding an answer to this elusive question is the purpose of life. I am still searching for the answer, but I do know that these tags do not define me. Yes, I cherish them, for they bring about a great deal of familiarity, and thereby solace, but then I do know that I am much more than all of them.

6 comments:

  1. I can totally identify with this post - there have been completely isolated instances where I have been thought to be anything ranging from Arabic to Nepali to a Mexican ( Yes, you read it right :P)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Herr Atrocious, thanks for reading. Glad you concur! :D And Arabic, really?!

      Delete
  2. Krishna what started as a comment to your blog post became my blog post it self! :P

    http://chulbulisreverie.blogspot.sg/2012/10/casteism-vs-patriotism.html if you have time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for reading the post, Dhanya! I'm heading over to your blog right away :)

      Delete
  3. Yes unfortunately Labels in society have ceased to be labels. Labels should be just like company ID cards as they used to be ages ago. Imagine future generations being called Software Engg caste, Finance Analyst caste etc....

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://technicalphilosopher.blogspot.in/
    check my post "See No Label"

    ReplyDelete

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Identity Tags

How would you define yourself? This is a question that has been plaguing me for quite some time. Do you answer it with respect to where you come from, what language you speak, what faith you follow, your traditions and beliefs, or are these factors merely incidental? Throughout my growing years, I have been conscious of these factors etched onto some forgotten recess of the mind, but I soon realized that they don't really matter.

As a case in point, I have always been somewhat sceptical of the phrase 'Proud to be Indian'. (Yes, this phrase is usually put up as Facebook statuses every 15 August/26 January). Now don't get me wrong. I cherish my 'Indianness' and my Indian roots, but I am sure I would have felt the same way had I been born on the other side of the Radcliffe line! What I mean to say is that whilst it is good to cherish your nationality, religion, or even something like caste, these are just circumstances of birth. These identity tags should not really define one's identity, since they could well have been the other way round. But it's really sad that we still stick to defining a person through these terms.

A few days ago, I stumbled upon this blog post and realized that I have been in the same situation as the author. Apart from the similarity in our names (or at least a part of my name), I also hail from Kerala, Palakkad to be precise. However, my parents were brought up in Tamil Nadu, and I myself spent a significant portion of my childhood in that state. So it isn't all that surprising that there are specks of Tamil thrown into my Malayalam. The fact that I am a vegetarian, together with my dad's Tamil sounding last name is enough to make anybody assume that I am a Tam-Brahm. My question is- does it really matter? What difference does it make? Should it even be a question of importance in the first place? I was amused at an incident that occurred a couple of months ago. I used to go buy lunch at one of the numerous Indian stalls on campus. The uncle working at the stall is quite chatty with students who frequent the area. So the first day, having seen him talk to others in both Hindi and Tamil, I chose to speak in the latter. (Both my Hindi and Tamil are rather laughable, but my Tamil is subject to less ridicule, so...) Then a couple of days later, the friendly uncle asked me whether I was from Chennai or Coimbatore. Well, I did have family in Coimbatore, and when we returned to India for the holidays we always went back there, so I replied Coimbatore, but originally from Palakkad. All this combined with my being vegetarian seemed to confirm that I was twice born, and so one day, out of curiosity, he asked me what my full name was. I was rather puzzled, but I did tell him. And then came the next question - Yen maa, nee Iyer aa, Iyengar aa? (Are you an Iyer or Iyengar?) Aah, so that was why he wanted to know my full name! Resisting the urge to reply with 'Manushya jaati' , I laughingly said, 'What is there in all this?' And he replied, 'Very important, ma. All this very important.'

I couldn't really blame him, since I have seen instances of this amongst my own family members. When I forgot to wear a pottu that confirmed my identity as a Hindu, someone remarked that I looked like a Christian. Or there was a time when someone asked me whether I was Christian because I happen to wear a rosary ring. There was another time when a school friend saw me reading a copy of Our Daily Bread and remarked in surprise, 'But, you aren't Christian!' I found it futile to explain that whilst I am a Hindu by practice, I do believe in Christ, the same way as I trust in Swami.

Does it really matter whether I follow Christ or Krishna? Does it really matter if my dad wears a sacred thread or not? Does it really matter whether I hail from the north or the south of the Vindhyas? Does it really matter whether I speak Malayalam, Tamil, or even Tulu? Indeed, does it really matter whether I am coloured, black, or white?

Who am I? That is a question that many have not found an answer to, and if the wise ones are to be believed, finding an answer to this elusive question is the purpose of life. I am still searching for the answer, but I do know that these tags do not define me. Yes, I cherish them, for they bring about a great deal of familiarity, and thereby solace, but then I do know that I am much more than all of them.

6 comments:

  1. I can totally identify with this post - there have been completely isolated instances where I have been thought to be anything ranging from Arabic to Nepali to a Mexican ( Yes, you read it right :P)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Herr Atrocious, thanks for reading. Glad you concur! :D And Arabic, really?!

      Delete
  2. Krishna what started as a comment to your blog post became my blog post it self! :P

    http://chulbulisreverie.blogspot.sg/2012/10/casteism-vs-patriotism.html if you have time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for reading the post, Dhanya! I'm heading over to your blog right away :)

      Delete
  3. Yes unfortunately Labels in society have ceased to be labels. Labels should be just like company ID cards as they used to be ages ago. Imagine future generations being called Software Engg caste, Finance Analyst caste etc....

    ReplyDelete
  4. http://technicalphilosopher.blogspot.in/
    check my post "See No Label"

    ReplyDelete