At a lot of Traditional functions such as weddings and sometimes even over a casual encounter, when I meet new people who don’t know me, I get asked a lot of questions, which I almost always answer politely while at the same time wondering in my head, hasn’t this person ever stepped out of this geographic state?
Here’s a bunch of the inane questions I get asked and my answers to them.
Where are you from? I’m half South Indian and half North Indian.
Which parts? Tamil Nadu and Kashmir. Oh that’s why you look like that, kashmiri.
Do you speak Tamil? No, not a word.
What kind of culture is that? How did u never learn how to speak in Tamil? Because I never needed to.
Ya but still, it’s your culture no? Isn’t Kashmiri my culture too. I don’t hear you asking me if I speak that. Isn’t my moms language as important too?
What do you speak at home? Depends on who I’m speaking with, my parents, English, my grandmother hindi to which I promptly get a very unflattering and sympathetic look accompanied with an Ohhhhh. I see (but they really don’t)
But your hindi sounds very Delhi. Brought up there? Nope, been there only twenty days my entire life and I;m not sure what Delhi sounds like other than the blaring horns.
My culture, is a topic of many conversations and I’m constantly looked at, as though the cat brought me in, for not being madly in love with dosa, idlis, Tamil or Chennai with me constantly fending off the judgement by thinking to myself, if only they could really understand what culture I follow.
As I post today, this series shot in this army cantonment, this place that brings me closest to my roots, I announce loud and clear, my culture is what the culture of the nation should be. Undefined and across boundaries. My culture, is the army and that is the life I know and their teachings are what I follow.
To me, British English makes as much sense as local slang, hindi is the most fun when spoken in a Punjabi twang and my preferred choice of dessert is still the halwa from the gurdwara. My food isn’t of a state but whatever we learnt along the way, my home, well those have been far too many and each with their own stories and traditions. We eat with our spoons and forks everywhere except the confines of our home and only sometimes, because you do not eat with your hands at a social formal gathering in the army, and the army is my culture. We also eat Buttered Toast and scrambled eggs with a cup of tea for breakfast and foods like poha, paranthas and upma have never figured on anything more than an occasional snack menu.
This lifestyle doesn’t make me any less Indian. If anything, it makes me a lot more Indian than anyone else I know, for I’ve seen more cultures in a few years than most have in their lifetimes. From knowing what a Punjabi proverb might be, to understanding the vibe of a Bengali household, from eating the food of classmates in Nagaland to visiting classmates tiny but happy homes homes in Cunoor, I’ve experienced opposing portions of the Indian culture, thanks to my own.
So when I’m asked about why I don’t come across as traditional, my answer will always be, because I’m not traditional. I don’t believe that I should worship what I’ve been tagged into rather than actually feeling it first hand, or living with my roots. But culturally sound I am, don’t be mistaken of my knowledge of the people and the vibe of this country. For my culture has taught me that. It has taught me that watching your mum do the gidda is beautiful, just as it is equally beautiful to watch her ballroom dance with a junior officer while my dad sips his whiskey and refuses to move. It has taught me that you should judge a person for who they are, well before you judge them on where they’re from and why thy don’t act like it. It has taught me that we can all get along so well, as long as the barrier of state and caste don’t exist.
If my Tamilian father can be loved and be a part of The Punjab Regiment where he picked up Punjabi and the famous banchod, then I might have picked up at least enough to go by the length and breadth of this country without feeling like I don’t belong.
That’s my culture. The army cantonment with it’s weekly get together of officers and families across states, the sports we played and the sportsmanship, the temporary accommodation, our batmen (helpers, but we don’t call them that because they’re family) the no-barrier common language, the no-barrier common food, the no-barrier common lifestyle and the no-barrier common income range. My culture is ill-defined by state or city societies and I think I’m safe to say, so is every human’s from a defence background.
Photos by Kanika Narang
Wearing: Top by Noble Faith, Denims and sneakers by Koovs.com
Take A Bow