These divisive times that we find ourselves in now, and perhaps because of my age and where I find myself in life - I have two growing kids, the concept of identity is something I have begun to examine closely.
Through many lenses, different angles, I’ve sought to answer, for myself alone, a question that I think needs to be asked : Who am I ?
I also think it is a question that may not have a definitive answer…it’s like a dynamic equilibrium, a moving target…you think you are that and then circumstances change, and you find that you are more. Or sometimes, you’ve been reduced to less.
One is also different things at different times.
In India, especially India, there is this whole Janambhoomi and Karambhoomi identity that kind of resonated with me.
Let me explain :
I am born a Haryanvi. Let us all take a moment of silence to digest that fact.
Yes. But for a long time I’d tell anyone who cared to ask me who I am and where I am from that I was a Bambaiyya.
That ubiquitous melting pot of various cultures where you are a bit of every thing. This was true when I was growing up. So I was a Sandra from Bandra, because I grew up in Bandra, I was a little mad like the Bawis - Parsis I schooled with. I was hindi speaking, but could converse in marathi, gujarati, french - yes, my education alienated me from my roots, but foreign language tick box - ticked, we ate vegetarian food at home but there too the Sindhi kadhi would be on the table one day and the next dal bhatti. Pizza was still alien food then…I schooled in Bombay, I went to college there and I worked there also.
Secure in the knowledge of who I was. I was a bit of everything that the maximum city is.
So I lived in Mumbai for almost 30 years before I moved to Bangalore - I mean Bengaluru. And then, for the first time in my life, I had an identity crisis.
To everyone who asked who I was, I would start with my usual spiel of Bombay, melting pot… only to be stopped short with a Oh ! Punjabi ! ( disdainful tone. definitely ) I’d tell them I didn’t speak punjabi…okay, North Indian.
So I was at the receiving end of the South Indian karmic revenge. We called them all Madrasi for long - admit it - and they call us punjabi. Or North Indian.
But I wasn’t one. I mean I am one - and as I get older a good haryanvi joke can be an instant pick me up, - but I don’t identify with being north Indian.
I was a Bombayite. A Sophiyaite, a television producer, a friend, a journalist...
But here I was just Anju. A “ punjabi" married to that good boy Ketav. End of identity.
I didn’t belong.
I remember when I was moving to Bangalore in 1999 I had thought of how romantic it would be living in the South of India after a hectic pace in Bombay, made almost frantic with working in television news.
I dreamed of hearing Carnatic music coming from homes, the tinkling of bells on the feet and the smell of jasmine flowers that women wore in their hair.
It was also the first time since I was a teenager that I wouldn't be working so I imagined I would actually be doing all that, learning carnatic music - I love to sing, wearing payals on my ankles and flowers in my hair, just relaxing and channeling all that is feminine.
Ya, right ! This is ME we are talking about !
Also, it seems I hadn't moved far south enough. This Bangalore ( and I moved into a condominium ) was full of IT geeks discussing java scripts, HTML, and wooing every .com they could.
Apparently Malleshwaram as a friend described it, "is the cosmic centre of the whole world" and I lived far away from it.
For the longest time everything I wanted done, was done in Mumbai - yes, by now Bombay had become Mumbai - I was getting used to speaking Mumbai and thinking Bombay - dry cleaning went to Mumbai, because Bangalore did not know how to dry clean well. Poha and sabudana came from Mumbai. Special treats came from Mumbai -
Mumbai was home. Bangalore was just the place we had moved to. Kannada gothila, dosa, filter kapi beku, and nanu chennagidde - I am fine.
Kannada reminds me, I went for a play to Alliance Francaise many years ago and there sitting in the audience it hit me so very badly that I did not belong. The play was about kannadigas and “ outsiders “ - and how the outsiders are coming in and taking over the jobs of the local Kannadiga. In an audience filled with outsiders and locals, there was a spoof played out on stage of a lady hailing an auto and the auto driver asking her where she wanted to go - much merry was made of the fact that she did not speak the language. Not new, not new to any of our cities today where battle lines are drawn on linguistic & ethnic identities.
It was the audience reaction that made me sit up. Loud cheering, wolf whistles for the auto guy actor.
I remember feeling completely alone in the crowd.
It was uncomfortable. But then, didn’t I feel like I was home when we crossed the Dharwad border NH4 and the car stereo caught Tomato red FM ?
Kolhapuri ishtyle !
So who am I ? Still trying to answer that question. By now I was Anju, entrepreneur, settled in Bengaluru - Bangalore changed it’s name too - cities I’ve lived in have had identity crisis also - still not home though.
But soon, after years of being in denial, came acceptance. To change. The resistance was being chipped away with servings of dosa and filter kapi and even rage mudde was now being enjoyed. That ID company made my dosas seem authentic and I was impressing my Mami neighbour with my south Indian cooking.
I began to meet the most interesting people through my work. Not all Kannadigas. But definitely Bengaluru.
A city is it’s people. And a city like ours is made up of people from everywhere. Literally. We have all come here to add new chapters to our lives.
I was definitely feeling like I was a Bengaluru native, but was I accepted as one ?
And then on May 10th, 2004, I pulled the ace from the sleeve...my daughter was born here, in Manipal hospital.
The act of giving birth apparently washes you of all the sins that you have carried from the past. Punjabi, loud, no culture…
It’s been more than a decade since my daughter was born. I have a son, but I went to Mumbai for his delivery :-) I’ve set up two companies, I now have a circle of friends I know I’d love to grow old with, I’ve cracked the "main and cross" geographical classification puzzle of the city, I’ve eaten at CTR, and I started the #100sareepact here. But that is another story for another day.
Now Bombay, when we visit it is too hot, or too dirty and we cannot wait to come back to home after visiting all our favourite haunts.
Naanu, Nanna Begaluru. I am Bengaluru.