A Lifelong Guest, Wherever I Go!

A little background information might help create a context to this. I am a Malayali who was born in Gujarat and is presently living in the city of Bangalore. This might not be a unique situation as there are many like me who might be blessed with a similar life. The reason I say blessed is because for a decent part of my life, I suffered from self-inflicted wounds of confused identity crisis only to later realize that I was living a life that a lot of people could only dream about.
Born in the cosmopolitan city of Vadodara in Gujarat, I did my schooling in a Syrian Catholic school where almost 60 percent of the students were Malayalis. Being a Malayali who didn’t speak Malayalam was not that much of an issue, most of the time, but every now and then there would be a situation that would arise and make me realize how I was a ‘non-Malayali’. One incident that has stayed with me was when a senior priest visiting our school asked all the Malayalis to stand up and identify themselves. When asked which part of Kerala I belonged to, my saying ‘Tellicherry’ instead of ‘Thalasseri’ turned out to be a massive mistake. The visiting priest and the 60 percent that understood my ‘gaffe’ had a good laugh and I was asked to sit down after being said that I was an ‘English-boy’! Being hardly 12 then, I assumed that this was a massively embarrassing mistake and that it would serve me best to never talk about it again.
Later I moved to the small educational town of Vallabh Vidyanagar to join design school. Through the eight years that I spent living there, I slowly but confidently mastered the language of Gujarati so that I would not feel like an alien in unfamiliar territory. But then this town was predominantly Gujarati in its essence and I was quite regularly referred to as a ‘Madrasi’ (a term that generalizes and refers to all South Indians as belonging to the erstwhile royal state of Madras!). All my attempts at explaining that south India today consisted of five different states and that ‘Madras’ wasn’t one of them went in vain.
In 2008, I moved to the city of Bangalore which is well known to be a melting pot of a variety of cultures and peoples. In the beginning it was all fine as long as I met and hung out with ‘migrants’ like myself having a great time in the city. But as time passed, there have been quite a few incidents which forced me to think of ways to make myself feel like a Bangalorean. I have had traffic cops talk to me in Kannada even after I had explained to them that I had trouble understanding the language. This would generally begin after they realized that the address in my driving license was from Gujarat. A lot of people I’ve met during my time here, some of them friends, have pointed out that I was part Gujju – part Mallu and completely origin-less!
When visiting my parents in Kerala and as a travel blogger, I make it a point to explore as many new destinations and experiences that the beautiful state has to offer. I have also slowly started learning and speaking as much Malayalam as I can every time I have to interact with a stranger whether it is while asking for directions or for simple tasks like buying groceries there. I admit my grasp over the language can at best be described as amateurish but I am trying. I have an immense admiration and affection for the absolutely stunning state of Kerala but even here I constantly am reminded that I am only a visitor.
From the experiences that I have mentioned here, it probably would be reasonable if you assumed that I hold a lot of contempt for these towns and cities or for the people who made me feel like an outsider wherever I went. This might come as a surprise though that I honestly harbour no such emotion. In the last few years, travel and reading about the travel experiences of others has taught me that I would rather be a part of the larger picture than be harrowed by these insignificant happenings. At best, these experiences have only made me want to know more about why people hold these beliefs and why there are so many lines drawn that separate us.
Over the years, I’ve learnt to enjoy being the guest. A quaint feature of the common man in India is that we really appreciate it when an outsider puts in effort to speak the local language or tries to adhere to some small cultural nuance that showed respect. The popular Indian belief ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (Guests are like God) is an absolute reality that is accepted all across this diverse nation. It has become obvious to me now that looking like a visitor putting in an honest attempt at learning the local way is better than trying to fake being a local wherever you go.
This realization has brought about an epic shift in the way I now experience new destinations or even the city that I live in. Exploring my own backyard has become an exhilarating process and surprises thrown up every now and then make it even better. I have even registered myself for a course in spoken Kannada while I try and improve my Malayalam. Everything now is an attempt for the sheer excitement of learning something new rather the result of some desperate need! Another absolutely fascinating development thanks to this realization is that I am now a traveller wherever I am or go and I now look forward to finding something new about every place. It is fantastic being a lifelong guest!

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One thought on “A Lifelong Guest, Wherever I Go!

  1. Pingback: S.T Stories: New Year Memory « Manu Kurup

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