We live in a very confusing world and an even more perplexing county. India for all its diversity and unity shall forever (or at least for the foreseeable future) be divided in a manner that even the masters of “Divide & Rule” the Britishers hadn’t foreseen.
While attending college in Gujarat, I met a lot of people during my orientation and afterwards. Now, at a PG level, and that too in a fairly reputed institute, you would expect people to have a basic idea of their own country’s geography. Alas! I was sadly mistaken.
As is the case when you are meeting a lot of new people for the first time, we usually enquire their names and where they are from among other things. The minute anyone, me included, named a place from the south, we were classified as Madrasis. I was, to say the least, pretty surprised and earnestly tried to clarify that I wasn’t from Madras or Chennai or even the same state. As one friend told me then, everything south of the Vindhyas is South India. One big state, of which, Madras is the capital city. And all south Indians are Madrasis. I let it go thinking it was just a one off case, but a surprisingly large number of people in the North were of the same opinion. Some were actually thrown off balance when I told them South India had 4 separate states. Now I know where shows like “Paanchvi Paas” get their fodder from.
So, after many social interactions, at many cities, with many people, I was tired of being labelled Madrasi. I have nothing against the fine city, now known as Chennai, nor against being associated with it. I understand if a person from, oh, say Frankfurt, or Tokyo, or Helsinki does that. After all, for them it’s like a landmark in the world map with which to associate you with. But in India, with fellow Indians, it’s a different thing. You expect them to know a Bangalore or a Hyderabad or a Thiruvananthapuram. It’s like Indians in England being called a Paki. Sure they are next to each other. They were once the same country even. But calling an Indian a Paki, will sure get you some interesting reactions of the violent side.
Now I believe that everybody at heart is a racist. Some know it, some don’t, and the rest are in denial. Now racism by itself is not a bad thing. Just like politics is not a dirty word. We all have our prejudices and there is nothing anyone can do about it. It’s just a fact of life and we have to deal with it. Take my case. I resented being called a Madrasi. Now while I have nothing against that it, I have more pride in being associated with Bangalore, for all its faults. Call it regional pride, call it geo-affiliation or whatever other fancy term you might think of, but at that moment I didn’t like being associated with “Madras”.
So I decided to go on the offensive, by giving them a taste of their own medicine. So when this pretty Punjabi girl and I were getting acquainted, she made the mistake of saying “Oh! Madrasi!” and I said “Yes and you”? So naturally she said Punjabi. To which I said, “Oh! Sardarni”? And then the fun started. She shook her head violently and started explaining the differences between Sardarjis and Punjabis. I patiently listened to her, and at the end of her explanation, say “Oh, you are Bihari then”. Now she was really confused and I was beginning to enjoy this role reversal. She said “Punjab. Not Bihar.” To which I cheekily said, “Yes yes, I know, Punjab. It’s the North Western part of Bihar, your capital is Chandigarh and you are Sardar.”
And from then on, there were just 2 states in India. Madras and Bihar. Every person who called me a Madrasi was called a Bihari in return with the same earnestness. And they were all scratching their heads while the smarter ones who figured out what was happening, were laughing.
So for all future encounters with my northern brethren, every time I got called a Madrasi, there was a subtle re-arrangement of their hitherto familiar geography and they now belonged to the USB – United States of Bihar. And as an ambassador from Madras, I could claim Diplomatic Immunity and get away with impunity.
So here is my end-note :
- I have nothing against any state, north or south of the Vindhyas, or the people who inhabit them.
- There are 4 states in the south of India.
- Madras is not a shared capital among these states, unlike Chandigarh.
- Madras, incidentally, is now called Chennai.
- All South Indians do not talk and act like Mehmood in Padosan or Mithun in Agnipath, or was that Vijaypath?
- And as my good friend Chuck puts it “A mallu accent is nothing but a Hyundai made in Kerala.”