One day I innocently mentioned that I love saibhaji, and the people I was with laughed and called me a wannabe Sindhi. Through the ancient mists of time I remembered how, as a child, my mother would have to threaten violence before I’d be convinced that saibhaji was good for my health.
Those were the days when I was an ethnic minority so rare that there were only two of us, my brother and me. It’s quite common now for young people to have origins in different regions of the country. But the trend was definitively set by my parents, and, as with any pioneer venturing new frontiers of existence, life was cold and lonely.
‘Cold’ and ‘lonely’, in fact, are words that well describe life on a tea plantation, where we lived in those days – although more positive attitudes might offer ‘enveloping magnificence of nature’, and opulent ‘quality-of-life’ (a concept yet to be defined) which were equally attendant.
It’s amusing to dwell on that social context, in which every fresh acquaintance would first inquire ‘what’ we were. In later years this evolved to a pleasant psycho-philosophical past-time resulting in self-defining moments-of-truth, but at the time, there was a sheer backdrop of pain and isolation when I was unable to shelter in any of the community niches of my compatriots.
There was no language into which we could comfortably slip – like pyjamas and slippers after dinner – and natter on with others who spoke the same idiom. It was always English, and English that brought amused smiles (or, worse, grimaces of pain) – on faces that politely turned aside to hide them – to genuine native speakers of the language. When the relatives met, they would most impolitely jabber away to each respective parent in their native tongue, words flung like unfriendly rocks over our heads, yielding but the occasional glimmer of meaning.
At meal times, we would eat what they now call ‘world food’, my mother even boasting in public that frog legs taste quite like chicken, and I bitterly envied all around me, whose staple was the formula Indian Vegetarian Meal (now revered as a coveted genre by all major world airlines).
We were always outsiders – but no one sang Paeans to our Plight or wrote Epics on our Experience. Over time, it became part of my consciousness to be constantly seeking a peer group, permanently striving to fit in: from zodiac sign, to old school tie, to IQ, waist-size and more; an insatiable hunger to find others of a common denominator.
Now, with my fortieth birthday galloping, giddy and relentless, towards me (a horrible cosmic calculation-mistake, I’m convinced), at last I’ve found where I belong. Through an inexplicable chain of events, here I am, deeply embedded in a close-knit group of intelligent, competent and highly ambitious IT professionals. A burgeoning population. Blood group? Simple. It’s C++.
First appeared as ‘Outsider’s place’ in a Times of India Middle 15 Nov 2001