I was thirteen when I moved to Delhi, thanks to my father’s transferable job. Like every other kid that lives in tier II cities and lesser, I had heaven-like visions of Delhi. I had lived in the same town all my life, and the capital city, no less, seemed to be the perfect answer for change. I bragged all about it in my school and screwed up the final exam of the 7th class just for the heck of it. I was probably already getting into the character of the place I was moving into.
The transition from a town to a metropolitan city has its own share of woes. But if you also don’t know the spoken language of the city, things can only get worse. The written and spoken versions of a language can be very different, and my knowledge of written Hindi when I moved from Coimbatore to Delhi was lukewarm at its best. I’ll leave the spoken part to your imagination. In case you can’t judge my Hindi skills, I didn’t know the meaning of ‘beech me’ (‘in the middle’. I know now.) I got admitted in the eighth grade in a public school, the nightmarish experience of which I usually try to forget.
Apart from a couple of good friends who have helped me with Japanese (it was a compulsory course) and have stuck around till now, most of my other schoolmates teased me for being a south Indian (they didn’t know the various kinds of south Indian). Some asked me why I was fair; others wondered if we had any job other than devouring idlis dipped in sambar and muttering incoherent words; almost everyone mocked my Hindi.
Now, I’m not claiming that north Indians do not get mocked at in Tamilnadu or anywhere else- I have north Indian friends who claim to have been called chapati, startlingly similar to my being called idli-sambar. Neither am I decrying the extent of the discrimination that is faced by people of the north eastern states or whomsoever that has similar racial features. Russell Peters once remarked, very rightly, that “Indians don’t have time for racism because they hate each other”. This joke was more informative than his usual brand of racism. The usual quip about a south Indian in a north Indian household and vice versa would be on the lines of how ‘dark’ or how ‘uncultured’ the “other” is. For people from the north east, it is worse- their character is often questioned because ‘they’ don’t look like ‘us’ and hence they are somehow inferior.
I’d not have a problem with out-teasing each other had there been a level playing field. I clicked the above picture in a famous restaurant chain. It has two distinct categories- ‘South Indian’ and ‘Indian’. I’m sure some of you would be wondering why I’m taking an almost funny mistake this seriously. You see, they’re saying south Indian food isn’t the same as Indian food, which means south Indians aren’t really Indians, and also propagating this belief to the casual viewer. This ‘mistake’ is the result of ideological underpinnings about what being ‘Indian’ really means. “Hindi-Hindu-Hindustani” is being taken to the next level by homogenising the idea of a real ‘Hindustani’ to be a Hindi-speaker (and most probably a Hindu, but let’s not get to those issues here). And had there been north eastern cuisine, it would have probably been called ‘Chinese’.
In India, there is no unity in diversity, but we are diverse in our unities. Let us just accept our diversity and not compete for some non-existent position of dominance.