Sunday, September 16, 2012

Where are you from?

When Indians meet, one of the first question is, "Where are you from?" Depending on the parties involved, the answer can have varying degrees of detail.
  1. Born in different states: the name of the city, if it is well known: "I'm from Madras". The name of the state if the city is not well known: "I'm from Assam" rather than "I'm from Duliajaan"
  2. Born in the same state: the name of the city: "I'm from Satara".  Perhaps a locality within the city if the city is popular: "I'm from Old Delhi". This is especially true if the locality has racial/religious connotations.
  3. Born in the same city: the region where you are from, but now you specify your mother's and father's place as well: "We live south of the Yamuna, but my mother's family is from Satara".
I hate this question. People trace your origin so they can find a familiar prejudice to apply. If you are from Madras: you are immediately perceived as a Hindu, most likely vegetarian, lover of rice and hater of wheat. Your Hindi is perhaps terrible, you enjoy spicy food and worship your Reader's Digest. This question finds differences without finding any common ground. It doesn't lead to any insight, it doesn't make you understand the person any better.

It is awkward if this question is quickly followed by total silence, as if your place of birth is the only noteworthy information about you.

I have always considered this question quirky. My parents were born in a city that I have never visited, and I have only visited the state once, many years ago. My parents traveled often, so the entire question makes little sense. I have grown up in five cities, and I am an alien to all of them. I'm not really from any city. For many people in my generation, this question is pointless.

I would rather discuss people's interests, their aspirations and their passions. It is our common interests that bring us together, not our differences.

(Image courtesy: Samaritan's Purse)