'So where are you from," is a question Indians love asking each other. If you answer Bombay - because that's where you've lived most of your life - they will persist, "No .. from where are you originally?"
The answer to such questions is sometimes complex.
I was born in Ratlam, a town in Madhya Pradesh which gained some sense of importance as a junction of the Indian Railways. Its only other claim to fame being a patent brand of extra spicy namkeen sev.
Ratlam was the town we visited during summer vacations, the place I considered 'native'. So technically, I guess I am 'Madhya Pradeshi'. But there is no such term, is there? So in response to the 'Where-From Question' (henceforth referred to as WFQ), I generally answer 'Marwari'. That's where my great (or is it great-great?) grandfather hailed from.
People pose the WFQ for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's idle train chatter. Often it's used to seek out some kind of connection with a stranger. Or even a potential client or business associate. It's actually something quite deeply ingrained in our culture, coz it even comes up in the playground. And kids will not hesitate to use the information with reference to their classmates.
I remember going home in tears at age 9 or 10, because I had been taunted as a 'kanjoos Marwari'. My mom said, "Just ignore them, bete. If you don't react, they will stop teasing you after some time." My dad added, "Do you know that Birlas are Marwaris? They have built so many temples, schools and colleges. How can anyone call Marwaris kanjoos?"
The combination of these two thoughts helped me tackle the schoolyard bullies with my head held high. And I am sure every child has gone through some similar episode. The takeway is simple: If someone calls you a 'chashmish' or a fatso - so what? If someone says you are a Sindhi papad or a Kashmir ki kali or whatever, so what?
Ek to, jo bolta hai usey hi lagta hai. Nothing anyone can say about you which is irrelevant or untrue can stick to you.
And even if I do wear glasses, or I am fat or I am Sindhi or Marwari - that is part of my identity. Accepted. There are other aspects - and there are people who will like you and respect you for those as well. Your own self esteem is in your own hands. No one can take that away from you - neither Jane Goody, nor a playground bully.
Which brings me to the current climate of political correctness. As human beings we need context for each other. Referring to someone's ethnicity or mannerism linked to place of origin is not necessarily a bad thing. Stereotypes do have more than a few grains of truth in them. As wikipedia puts it:
Stereotypes are ideas held about members of particular groups, based solely on membership in that group. They are often considered to be negative or prejudicial and may be used to justify certain discriminatory behaviors. More benignly, they may express sometimes-accurate folk wisdom about social reality.
I'm all for fighting discrimination, but let's not suffocate folk wisdom. Can't we learn to love ourselves - and laugh at ourselves?
Apparently not. Some of you objected to inferences in my previous post. Like security guards in CBD Belapur perhaps being 'fresh off the Bhagalpur Express.' Or that a Chinese businessman may speak less than perfect English. I should be more 'sensitive', they advise.
Frankly, I think each of us should be less sensitive. I mean sure, we should respect each other but a few gentle observations and ruminations do not undermine anyone. The world will become a very boring place if we start bleeding political correctness, every time there is an irreverent pin prick.