I wouldn’t exactly say I’m a walking talking Indian stereotype. I am 27, unmarried and have a white boyfriend. However, I live with my parents, work in an IT job and love cricket. Whenever I have travelled in India or abroad, there’s always been a good long soul searching session to figure out how Indian I am. The verdict, maybe a 2.5 out of 10.
I truly felt the guilt of not knowing enough about my culture when I was in France as a teen and had to conduct a 2 hour workshop on India. I drew a blank and my peers took over. I had spent so much of my youth trying to get out of the country that I forgot to take a look around.
Shame on me!
I spent the next few years growing to love the quirks that make India who she is. All communities in India are usually divided by language they speak, geography next. The language you do speak is usually an indication of the culture you grow up in. Despite how we are typecast, India is not of homogenous language and culture. We don’t all speak ‘Indish’ or ‘Hindu’. Those are not even languages. It wasn’t till I was at a work lunch that I realised people identify which community/religion you belong to by your surname.
Of course. I don’t have a surname.
And while most situations go like this –
“What are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, Kannadiga, Tamilian, Malyali …”
“Erm, I don’t know”
“What language do you speak at home?”
“So you’re Anglo-Indian?”
“No. I don’t have a single British ancestor”
“What is your mother?”
“Erm, I don’t know”
“What did she speak at home?”
“So she’s a Kannadiga? So that means you are a Kannadiga”
“No, she just grew up in Karnataka so they learnt to speak in the local language”
The conversation gets really, really confusing after that. If I were to sum up, we are a non-traditional family. Mum’s parents were from two different communities and spoke two different languages. But, they both grew up in the same state and so the local language of Kannada was their go to language. It’s the same with my parents. Their common denominator in terms of communication is English. So what does that make me? A cultural melting pot of South India with a hint of Malaysia? Or just plain old confused?
My despair at being a terrible Indian has gotten less intense after I started dating an Englishman. I notice everyday how some of our conversations start with me saying “In my culture …” and then I wax ad nauseum about things I’ve been told not to do (or do 3 times a day) because that’s the Indian way.
The latest in this string of conversations was about the Indian gift giving etiquette. I am visiting the UK this month and I was starting to make lists of presents to take for everyone to the sound of the boy’s great confusion. Apparently, I’m a weirdo for wanting to buy everyone presents because the gifting culture among the youngsters has a motto – ‘meh!’
However, we have very specific rules here. Everyone we meet after ages gets a present. If this everyone stays in your city or country, it’s usually a box of sweets or dried fruit. If it’s someone abroad, it would be something that screams India. If you are just returning from a trip abroad, EVERYONE gets chocolates. Even your colleagues whose name you don’t know.
We have this odd rule about gifting in evens. If you don’t want to invoke a butterfly effect type disaster, you have to make sure to gift in pairs. You can’t take just one cushion or throw, it has to be two. I think that this comes from a wish that you won’t ever be alone and that you will always have someone to share it with. So gifting in even numbers is a blessing of sorts. This rule does not apply to money, if that’s what your preferred present is. At weddings, birthdays and any big event, we always add a Rs. 1 coin to make it an odd number. So you would gift Rs. 1001 instead of the boring old Rs. 1000. There is a feeling that odd numbers in finances are lucky and will lead to your wallet being quickly filled up till you reach the next 100 and then another 100.
All this to say that I’m really confused – my Indianess dictates that I buy presents. I am in no doubt though that I am going to viewed as a total weirdo. So just in case, I’m looking up YouTube videos so I can blend in the rest of the time.
Oooh look. Already found one about pub lunches!