Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Outsider

Yesterday, I found myself on a picturesque, breeze-caressed campus by the sea near Pondicherry, attending an outbound learning programme with a batch of colleagues. The programme began with introductions -- each one had to stand up and tell a bit about himself or herself. That's when I realised two things.

One, travelling is the new interest. There was a time when you asked people about their interests, and the answer would automatically and predictably be "Reading and listening to music." Some would add gardening or cooking. That's about it: the lay Indian's hobby was always confined to home. He never thought of looking at the world beyond. But yesterday, about 50% of the people who sat in a large circle under a thatched roof said they wanted to travel, or travel more. That's good news for travel writers.

The second realisation was rather a reiteration, of the fact that I am an outsider. As part of the introduction, we were also required to mention our native places. A large majority of the people, I noticed, had a native place, and they all still lived well within the radius of its magnetic field, almost like the brand ambassadors of those towns or cities.

But I have no native place to speak of. Technically, my family hails from a village called Panchthupi in Murshidabad, the capital of pre-British Bengal, which lies very close to the hamlet of Plassey or Palashi, where the decisive battle between the forces of Lord Clive and the nawaab of Bengal was fought way back in 1757. But my father's generation never lived there. They had long migrated to other places to study or find jobs or do business. My father came to Kanpur, in Uttar Pradesh, in 1966 and settled there. He has lived in no other city since then. I was born in 1970.

So: Bangla may be my mother-tongue, but I am not a bona fide Bengali considering I was neither born in Bengal nor spent considerable time there during the first three decades of my life. I was born in Uttar Pradesh, but I am not a UP-wallah either because I am a Bengali. When I moved to Delhi, Kanpur was 'home', not my 'native'. And then I came to Chennai, and on January 15 will complete 10 years in the city. But that does not make me a Madrasi. Here, I am a 'North Indian' or a 'Bengali'. When I visit Kanpur now, am more outsider than ever, having lived in Chennai for so long. When I go to Calcutta, I am introduced as the man who works in Chennai but hails from Kanpur.

I am the permanent outsider. I belong nowhere, but every place belongs to me. I can make any place home and still write about it with the outsider's eye -- the primary requirement to be a travel writer.

11 comments:

MaihoonDON™ said...

Severe identity crisis people like you and me face.
To the South Indian, I am a North Indian. To the North Indian I have now become a 'Madraasi'.
And to my native place, a definite outsider.

Deepika Munot said...

You are truly global then in the true sense of the word!! you should be happy to have a kaleidoscope of homes!!

Janani Sampath said...

congrats on completing a decade in the city, buddy :)

primarily, ur a Upite.. but u can also call yourself a madrasi :) oops chennaite.. lest somebody gets after me !

Anonymous said...

What about emotional connectivity?-home synonymous with emotional connectivity.

Desi Babu said...

Don't feel too bad about it. Home is where the heart is...
And, we are all desis anyway

Neha said...

Keep heart. That's the case with so many of us now! I am a UP waali who is now referred to as the Dilli-waali!

Janani Sampath said...

reminds me of a raj kapoor - mukesh number .. cheen or arab hamara.. hindustan hamara... koi ghar nahi hai sara jahaan hamara :)

ahmed said...

Nice post..you're a Madrasi Dada ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey.. Came to your post through one of the other blog which i read.

yes very common issue, I have been living outside my hometown for past 10 yrs, lived in various cities for education/ Work.

I asked myself few questions the answers came out in a fraction of a second:

Can i say i belong to a place. i dont think so...
Does that bother me... ummm "no"..
Does that change my personality.. Yes do find myself different from people who stayed back.
would i go back to my native- NO
would i stay wherever i am forever- NO.
Do i miss sense of belongingness--- NO i dont think i was attached to the place where i grew up.
is there a question of IDENTITY CRISIS- absolutely no...

simply because i have learnt to find a home wherever i am there at the moment.

these are constants in life, I am a wanderer, "my space" ends as soon as i step out of my home... but i do have the luxury of carrying my Home around :)
having stayed in Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, chandigarh, HAryana, Singapore, Canada... People call me punjabi, Haryanvi, Delhite, Mumbaikar whenever i have hailed in any of these cities...
i have stopped counting now,, because i am just 28 :D and have atleast 30 yrs left to live- DO i know where i will Settle NO :D..

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Anubhuti said...

Is't that what you aspire to be a traveler, so you are one. The "native" and the "village" reminds me of our stay in Bangalore, whenever I said I have no native so to say, people would stare at me in utter disbelief. My father was all over the state due to his job, so how can I belong to one place ?? Incidently all through my school and college ppl thght I was bengali or "madrasi" for my name and my face, I chose the easy way out, I just smiled. In today's times I guess there are many like you & me.
Cheers to kanpur !