“How can you not like idlies da?’, catechized the Super Nerd, his mouth still filled with the rock-hard rice cakes that the Azad mess specialized in. “It’s something like ending each sentence with a ‘da’- it’s the very basic definition of a South Indian. It's what sets us apart.” I still couldn’t see what all the fuss was about. At any rate, United had just trounced the Toons in their own backyard, and I wasn’t going to ruin my mood over a couple of idlies. “Oh, I forgot,” he added, almost as an afterthought, “you aren't a true Southie anyway.” He looked at me with a part-apologetic, part-‘you deserved it’, expression; perhaps expecting to find me miffed. Maybe I should have been. For some reason, I wasn't.
There was a time when overhearing Matkas gossiping in Tamil was all it took to make my heart skip a few dozen beats. The mention of Bangalore was followed by an over-enthusiastic, ‘where in Bangalore?’ The poster of Trisha in the Ganga canteen was all it took to set off a train of thought that inevitably revolved around some place downsouth. Lately, though, like almost everything else I ever believed in, the idea of 'home' seems to have fallen apart.
As I near the halfway mark of my stay in R-Land, I can't help but wonder how much of all this I would actually grow to miss. I will miss the people, certainly, but what else? The library that I visit for the sole purpose of checking my mail? Or the Electrical Department, that has been ever so kind in awarding me more C-pluses than I could ever keep count of? Home, I've come to believe, is no more than an illusion- a mirage, if you like, of a place that promised a better life. For some, the mirage stems from their own memories of their halcyon days of youth. For others, it stems from the self-erected barriers of 'us-and-them'.
Even as I type this out, elsewhere in the country, Biharis are being stoned for committing the 'crime' of settling in another part of their own country. To make matters worse, similar sentiments have been voiced in the two other major cities of the south, though, thankfully, they have, at least so far, remained just voices of dissent. Being a part-maddu, part-kaddu, part-nothing who has spent a good part of his life abroad, the only language in which I can claim a reasonable degree of fluency is the lingua pura. My Tamil starts and ends with the knowledge of the Chennai argot and a dozen Superstar punch-dialogues that four years in Chennai are bound to endow one with. Bargaining with the auto-rickshaw wallah for a ride to 4th block is all I can manage in Kannada. Come to think of it, should the 'maratha manoos' syndrome spread to the rest of the country, I would probably get lynched in just about every single part of the country.
When will we realize that a language is only a means of communication and nothing more? That, at the end of the day you are who you choose to be, and the accident of birth in a particular place has little to do with that? It is sad that, in 1956, the government of our country chose to divide our country on a linguistic basis. What is even sadder is that, 50 years hence, we still haven’t got over those divisions.
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