OUTSIDER…

Posted: January 28, 2014 in Personal
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“You don’t sound like a Bengali. Where are you from?” A middle aged gym friend asked me panting on a treadmill. By now, I am quiet accustomed to be lacerated with such remarks or queries. Although I abhor when the conversation harps to crass detailing of origin, very little can be done when your father has been an integral part of armed services wherein as a defense kid you had to relocate to new locations after every three to four years.  Of course, I have no complains to it! But, in the last decade –now it seems to me-I have dedicated endless hours in explaining people from where do I actually belong from.
If I indulge in deep analysis, it would not be wrong to say that I have always been an outsider; first an outsider to Maharashtra, followed by Rajasthan and then finally Punjab. In all the states, I was embraced with much needed love and affection. But, one thing remains common- I have always been an outsider to their culture. No matter how much you try to learn the language, it is difficult to penetrate deep into any culture, especially if you don’t belong to them and are supposed to reside there for merely 2-3 years.  The avalanches of uncertainties regarding your inclination towards a certain culture or language burgeon with every passing year. While you can dance in the Ganpati Visarjan, fast in Karwa Chauth or groove to Dandiya beats-it cannot be ignored that you do not possess significant knowledge about it despite being in the city for couple of years.
So, when I had convinced myself that I am a Bengali who is residing out of her city, and is serving the purpose of being a torchbearer of her culture to other people, my father gets retired and we settle down to Kolkata permanently. All this while, I went rah-rah about “my” so called Bengali language and culture in front of my non-Bengali friends. But, my world came crashing down when I got the flavour of truth. Upon joining college here, I was regularly pointed out and questioned for my typical “hindi style” Bengali accent. Yes, I couldn’t speak my language as fluently as others. Even if I spoke, the glare let me know that my accent was something different. To be precise, something of an OUTSIDER! It seemed everything I knew was just a figment of my imagination.
My mind indulged in constant emotional tug of war as I couldn’t even understand the basic Bengali sense of humour.  This is when the phase of identity crisis struck me. Was I a Bengali or a “Punjabi type” looking Bengali? How do I communicate to people? How do I survive in this city or any other city for that matter? Is there any city which actually belongs to me? No! This thought itself was rubbing me off.  One thought just occurred to me and suddenly all the jigsaw puzzles started falling in place. I realized that a piece of driftwood is may be an extension of several defense kids like me who do not stick to one place for a significant time.  Although we are masked as an outsider, we are able to adjust and adapt to anyone in minutes like a cog in the wheel. Unlike local civilians, we do not struggle with words to talk to people outside our state. I have the steering wheel in my hands and I can steer it anywhere I want.
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 I always had friends who had great things to say about their locality or state. Fortunately or unfortunately, I don’t have to go to the vindication mode ever because all the states are equal to me.  I can criticize or praise a city as bluntly as I want without sparking any hullabaloo. So, I can enjoy Dhokla as smoothly with Gujju’s as I can relish Aalo ka Paratha with large-hearted Punjabi’s; I can also invite my friends over to have scrumptious Mishit-Doi, and can have Idli when on a diet.  Yes, I am an outsider who can see through you and evaluate things much easily than others.  When my chips are down, I can read an intellectual Bengali detective book, and I can also dance to Amrinder Gill’s song. I always had something to fall back on. Not many people are blessed with such mental bandwidth. I am no more into the revolving door which was not taking me anywhere. I have learned to capitalize best on my strengths, which is frankly far more exotic than anyone! 😉
“I don’t know what qualifies as Bengali, but Ma’m I am a Bengali with multi colours.” I puffed with pride as I answered my fellow gym mate.
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