On a North Indian in the South

25 Feb

What happens when you’re from there but have spent most of your life here; where your so called heritage and roots lie in that part of the country you’ve barely grown up in while you embrace the sights, sounds and smells of that part of the country which is so diametrically opposite from where your lineage is from?

Going on popular instances, I’m thought of to be either from Bengal or Punjab. I’m neither a Bengali, nor a Punjabi. I have family members who are from these two communities though. I’m originally from Uttar Pradesh which is in the north part of the country but I’ve spent almost all my life here, in Bangalore which is in the south. So what happens when you’re a confused desi anyway?

  • You love the concept of a new rangoli pattern outside houses. You start learning some patterns. You then start buying rangoli powders of all colours for the house. You start by decorating your doorstep with a pattern on festivals. And then you get into the habit of having a new one outside your door soon enough.
  • You love boiled corn with chilli powder, salt and lemon. You love boiled corn from the cart so much that you yearn for it and feel boundless waves of elation when you see a cart full of steaming boiled corn. You also make friends with snacking on boiled peanuts. This is unheard of in the north. In the north part of the country you roast both corn and peanuts on coal and have them with either salt, chilli powder and lemon or a spicy coriander chutney.
  • You wake up to the wafting sounds of suprabhatam from at least one neighbourhood house and start mouthing kausalya supraja rama without knowing it, even while traveling.
  • You figure that it’s a massive deal to leave your footwear outside someone’s house, which is not necessarily the case back home. Then you witness footwear being left near the door eventually because at least one person at home starts imbibing that practice. And very strictly so.
  • You adjust to rice featuring at your breakfast table once in a blue moon in the form of puliogare which was made from last night’s left overs. It may never be welcome, but the thought of it doesn’t seem as bad anymore.
  • The combination of puris with chutney make an appearance in your worldview of what puris are usually eaten with and you give it a try even though the cells in the cultural part of your brain tell you to have your piping hot puris with aloo dum, chole or even meetha dahi if nothing else.
  • You learn the characteristic features of having more than one helping of rice – one helping for sambhar, one for rasam and one for curd – when you go to someone’s place, especially a Tamilian household. You also learn to take smaller helpings just so you can accommodate all 3 helpings because you never, ever, ever want to miss out on that God-awesome rasam! Ever! You also learn how to make rasam and pride yourself at such an accomplishment!
  • You discover the joys of mixing curd with everything in the one helping of rice you have even if it brings you blasphemous stares across the table initially. I’ve got blasphemous stares from both my south Indian and north Indian counterparts. Curdrice is looked at as food you have to consume when you think you’re dying. North Indians do love their curd but in the form of mattha/chaas (buttermilk), lassi, raita or with sugar at the end of a meal. Never with rice.
  • You discover the potency of random looking powders that sit pretty on dining tables which leave you red-faced and dripping from every possible pore and outlet your face has. You also discover the saviour that ghee is. And then you show off to your family that the amazing land you live in is blessed abundantly with these chutney pudis and gun powders; so much so that taking individual packets of every kind of powder back home for each and every family becomes a ritual without which you’re not given the welcome you otherwise are. Oh, and those dried curd chillies as well.
  • You learn that sometimes a sweet is to be had before you begin the meal, especially at weddings when the waiters serve you sweets before anything savoury.
  • You learn the importance of folding a banana leaf properly after eating on it. I still haven’t learnt. I never get it and think it changes every time I try and learn it.
  • Idlis and dosas become just another food and lose the Novelty Title that majority of north Indians give them. So does regular south Indian ghar ka khana (home-cooked food). So while your family drools and squeals at the thought of garma-garam crispy dosas, you sigh and stare into the distance or look at them and marvel at how much you’ve become a south Indian.
  • You start loving the taste of coconut in your food even if had occasionally. I love, love, love coconut and if I had a choice, I’d used it more frequently in the kitchen. It’s just that the food we eat at home and the way in which we make it doesn’t necessarily accommodate the use of coconut as much. Except if I’m making a particular south Indian curry.
  • You discover the boundless joys of filter coffee as its aroma fills the very depth of your soul and makes you love waking up in Bangalore. You crave to learn making the right coffee decoction with ground coffee. You learn that those special to the maker of filter coffee get fresh filter coffee with a thick decoction. But you still let that be a novelty and keep a jar of instant coffee at home.
  • You try the idea of having pani puri with matar (peas) and a thick gravy. Now this form of pani puri is an insult to the family of chaat in a huge part of the country. I’ve never seen this combination anywhere else except here. I’ve also not had it after the first time I tasted it. It’s not that it tastes bad. It’s just this combination to many a north Indian is like what instant coffee is to many a south Indian, I guess? It’s each to their own taste and preferences, but if you want to torture a true-blue north Indian, this would be a fine way to do it.
  • You learn that rice is cooked in a pressure cooker and not in a pot you would otherwise cook rice in. And that cooked rice grains which are stuck to each other are not a problem at all unlike how you’re trained to make the perfect khila khila rice dish whose grains are not stuck to each other, and fall off each other without being sticky or overcooked sometimes. It’s a big thing. Also making rice so that the grains are khila khila is not an easy task to master.
  • You realize with great trepidation, embarrassment and shame that you don’t know as much of your mother tongue as you ought to. It’s a terrible feeling to realize how horrible your Hindi is. It’s also an amazing feeling to know that you know enough of Kannada to save your life. It’s a beautiful bittersweet feeling nonetheless.
  • You feel apprehensive of going back home and walking around the city of your birth as you would in Bangalore. You always wonder if you’re safe or if you’ll get mugged or if someone will say something unwarranted to you because you look like a “foreigner”. However, the elation of stepping out of the train/plane back home is like none I’ve felt before. It’s a soul-stirring feeling that grips you and makes you ache from within because you’ve been away for ever and know close to nothing of your roots or place of origin. You crave it so bad that you want to absorb it all in as fast as you can. You feel complete in a very weird way.

So what happens when you’re neither from here nor there? What happens when you have a home and you have a home home? What becomes a part of your identity and what doesn’t? Who moulds it all? What do you keep and what do you leave behind? Most importantly, what do you fall back on? Which culture, which way of life, which mix and how much of it?

I have no idea. These are questions I’ve always had because I didn’t know what I was made up of. After much introspection and deliberation, I call myself a north Indian who is an honorary Bangalorean. There are no tight compartments when it comes to culture. There are, however, deep questions that reside in your soul when you look inside and try to figure your identity out.

I know I’m a north Indian who loves rice, curd rice, papad with her meals and filter coffee. I’m indifferent towards dosas and idlis. As am I towards having mustard as a seasoning in my food. I can adjust with curry leaves in my food when required. I cannot, however, tolerate pani puri with peas and that gravy. Also I love ripe jackfruit and am the only one in my family who loves it. I’m not too fond of boiled peanuts. I love rangoli patterns outside the door. I like guests’ shoes to be at my door, not outside. I like my footwear to be inside my room, however. I despise having rice at breakfast. I love that I can read, write and speak some amounts of Kannada. I love that I can commute around Bangalore, Karnataka and even Kerala by myself if need be. I don’t like that I’m not as tough a cookie as I should be, by north Indian standards of course. I love that tandoori chicken and butter chicken will always be special to me irrespective. I love hot chips. I don’t like gold. I don’t like heavy kanjeevaram saris even more. I love both the north and south so, so much. I love that I can’t choose. So much so that if given a choice, I’d prefer being outside the country. It’s a dilemma but that’s that.

So what happens at the end? You pick the best of both and thank your lucky stars for knowing, seeing and being a part of what can only be the best of both worlds.

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8 Responses to “On a North Indian in the South”

  1. bala chauhan February 25, 2013 at 3:43 PM #

    you are culturally rounded babs..

  2. Romy February 26, 2013 at 8:57 AM #

    I so know what you mean Babz! :)

    • Babushka February 26, 2013 at 9:01 AM #

      :) It’s so, so good to see you here!

  3. Chai February 26, 2013 at 10:13 AM #

    LOVED it :D :D SO MUCH.

    And the convention with banana leaves is that you fold them towards you on happy occasions, and away from you on unhappy ones.

    • Babushka February 26, 2013 at 10:43 AM #

      :) hehehe…

      And yes, I shall remember it this time! It calls for many a meal on banana leaves, ok? :)

  4. The Girl Next Door February 26, 2013 at 12:32 PM #

    I always thought you were a Bengali, too. :)

    LOvely post! Could relate to a lot of it – because I am both a North Indian and a South Indian, too. I have thought of this many a time. I feel I am lucky I got to experience the cream of both these cultures. I adopt a mix of both cultures in my food habits, daily life and dressing style.

    High-five on the chaat with green peas! I can’t take that too – for me, chaat has to be with sev, sweet and sour. :)

    • Babushka February 27, 2013 at 6:49 AM #

      Pani puri for me has to be with aloo and the pani; nothing else can ever substitute! :D

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