I’ve been asked this question countless times during my 5 years of stay in Singapore. In most cases it’s preceded by, “where are you from?” or just “you’re from India, right?” served with varying degrees of certainty reflected on the interviewer’s face. It ranges from completely clueless to somewhat sure to ‘so sure I that can bet my life on this’.
For some, my one word answer seems sufficient. Whether they’re in the know or probably don’t care much, the conversation drifts to other things.
On the other hand, anybody who’s been to a yoga retreat in Himachal, read Shantaram or was gifted a miniature Taj Mahal would go a little further and ask which part of the country I’m from. ‘Kolkata’ or Calcutta, however I say it, would draw blank stares. It’s mostly downhill from there. I watch them plunge into the deep recesses of their minds, trying to find something that remotely looks, smells, sounds or feels like the word I had just uttered. The pressure of offering a quick rejoinder seems like trying to diffuse a bomb only seconds away from exploding.
You’ve got to act now and hope for the best. The first answer the mind contrives becomes their opening salvo. “Last year, my friends took a train from Delhi to Varanasi. Is it near any of those places?” No ; “Near Nagpur, maybe? I heard a lot about Nagpur’s oranges!” Nope, (also the orange part was irrelevant); “Goa, then? Goa’s in the west, dude; “How about …Kerela?” South.
It doesn’t bother me when people don’t know about the place I come from. I like them for trying to connect with me on some common ground, making suggestions, sometimes with pleading eyes because if I can give them one approving nod, they can finally attribute some definitive qualities (albeit oversimplified) to my being. They can identify, label and file me away in their memories.
But till they do, I enjoy this anonymity because in that short window of time you can be what you are without being overshadowed with what you should be. It doesn’t last long though, not in this day and age. Just the other day, standing under the shade of this huge tree (see the sketch above), somebody asked the question, and got really chirpy upon hearing my answer. “Man, you guys love your fish, don’t you? So is it the season for Hilsa yet?
See what I mean?
I thought everyonw would know Kolkata. Ah, well, it is better if we weren’t stereotyped anyway
Trying to change that one person at a time!