Hindi Imposition. The topic of the decade here in Chennai.
I guess you could say it started when a popular stand up comedian came up with a sketch about why we ‘Madrasis’ don’t feel the need to speak hindi. All I could think were two words. Vicarious Cleansing. That’s what I felt. Like all the pent up feelings, in relation to being labelled a ‘Madrasi’, had finally been released. It was almost orgasmic!
I grew up in Delhi. For the most part, at least. Moved there when I was about seven and stayed till 16. When we first relocated, it was a nightmare! My sister was in her 12th grade. I was in my 4th. The worst of the two years can be encapsulated by one word – racism.
When I first walked down that hallway in South Delhi, I was juvenile. I hadn’t quite reached that chapter in life, where consequences were a big part of my decision making – I was a child. Overthinking was a word I didnt know! Yes, Me. *Sigh*
As I walked into that classroom, I remember 30 pairs of eyes, scrutinising me up and down. I had jet-black oiled hair tied into two perfect little pony tails, my socks pulled right up till my knee (to those of you who don’t know, the length at which the sock rested on the leg, was inversely proportional to the number of friends you made – thereby indicating your level of ‘coolness’ in school). Adding insult to the injury, was my colossally attractive backpack.
It was a huge horizontally ‘designed’ rectangular bag, held together by two rusty steel buckles. Rubbing salt on the wound was the way it looked when one put it on! The two giant buckles, coupled with the overflowing backpack can be paralled with my face when I intensely enunciate – Fucckk! (:-O)
So yes, I was doomed.
Well it was my first day, so a few kids came up to me during the break and asked where I was from (in hindi, ofcourse). I said that I was from Tamil Nadu (In english). You can imagine what their first reaction would have been.. “Oh, tum hindi mein nahin bolte? Idhar hindi mein hi bolna hota hai.” I think, now, that it might have been because that was the first time they had heard of another state in India which was not Haryana, Punjab or Uttar Pradesh.
My limited knowledge of the ‘sacred language’, was enough to understand that they implied I needed to talk in Hindi. In my head I thought the words and phrases I had picked up while watching Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit romance in Dil Toh Pagal Hai, was enough to get me through. (Another proof that I hadn’t quite started overthinking my decisions yet…) The rest of the times, I used my head. No – not USING my head – just merely nodding yes or no was the way to go.
Over the course of the next few months, I managed to scroll along school. During the particularly bad days, I would go visit my sister in 12th Grade. There again, I met with a class full of northies, looking me up and down, wondering which planet I hailed from. Upon reflection I now realise, the immigration officer in a certain European country was a lot more sociable than these hoity-toity dilli waale.
That feeling of alienation usually went away when I saw my sister’s face, basically because I knew that if she could tolerate me at home, she had to put up with me at school too! But a part of me felt like there was a certain reluctance there. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was for the longest time.
Then one day, it suddenly made sense to me. My sister came back home without eating her lunch, carrying a note in her lunch box. The scene is still vivid in my memory. Like any other day, my sister and I came back home by bus. As we got ready for lunch, she had recounted what happened to my mother. I don’t quite remember if there were tears involved. But I remember my mother handling it like a pro. Somehow, she always knew exactly what to say in such situations.
Here’s what happened – Someone at school had stolen her lunch (Yummy, hot, molagai podi idlies) and replaced it with bread sandwich (in my tam-bram world, dog food – kaanja roti). It didn’t just end there – there was a note which demanded her to eat that instead and thanked her for her food. Fucked up right? Well, that’s what being a Madrasi in Delhi is.
When I asked my mum, she told me this – Akka is going through a bad time, we should support her. That’s the day I decided I should probably leave her be.
As she was trying to secure her food from these dimwits, I had another thing coming. Kids started to steal my things in class. When I actually caught one of them, she put on her smug smile and said to me, holding my pencil box in her hand, “Maybe you should learn to speak in hindi first before you ask me to return your pencil box.”
For those of you who don’t know me, confrontations are a thing which frequent my nightmares. For 25 years, I have always been a huge supporter of – if you foresee a confrontation, run the other way. So with a sense of foreboding, I decided I should let her keep it. Just for a second. But my mother’s face flashed before my eyes – Yenga di vittutu vandha, She would ask. So, I did the next best thing, because I undoubtedly wasn’t going to master the art of Hindi in the next ten minutes. “I will complain to ma’am”, I said. (See. I told you I always sucked at this.) But before I could be labelled complain box, I remember the teacher walking in. Jestu miss.
Over the course of time, I did manage to learn hindi. (out of compulsion, rather than choice) I managed to make ‘friends’. My sister buried herself in studies and proved to these dolts that she was, in fact, a class apart. The day she left school was probably the happiest she had felt in Delhi.
Eight years later, we moved to Chennai – the best thing that ever happened to us.
Of our triumphant 8 years, these were the best two most impressionable experiences. If I went on, there would be more to tell. How we were ridiculed about our dark skin tone, how we weren’t cool enough because we weren’t ridiculously pretty or incredibly sexy. But you know what – It isn’t even worth it!
So forgive me, if I am a huge supporter of #stophindiimposition. I just happen to understand the necessity behind it.
On the one hand, we walk around talking about how proud we are to be a country with so much diversity – so many languages, so much culture and so much heritage. And then on the contrary, we have one part of the country forcing the other half to learn and speak one language, that is certainly not required for survival.
So, you can’t really blame me if I say I am proud to be a part of the southern peninsula. Because I firmly believe that we are a superior race of humans. Want to know why?
- We are well aware of the existence of different states in the north. Unlike up there, where they think “Oh tum so(aaauu)uth se ho? Madrasi? Keral me rehte honge naa?” “Dosha aur uppam achcha banate ho na?” (If only I had a dollar every time I heard that!)
- We respect and appreciate the diversity amongst our states. We dont ask a mallu why they don’t speak tamil. Or a kannadiga why he likes Rajkumar. We celebrate the diversity. We can sit and enjoy watching a Dulqur Salman or Nivin Pauly twirl his sexy veshti and talk the musical language of malayalam to melt our hearts. We can appreciate how hyderabadis can make the best biryani and the Kannadigas can make the best neer dosai with kai bella.
- We believe that people should be rewarded for their intelligence and not for their looks. We get turned on by good humor, intelligence and poise. Dont deny it.. you see a guy reading a Vladmir Nabokov – ovaries explode. Hell, if I see a guy at a book store – ovaries explode.
So if you guys have grown up in the north, struggled with all of this in your own little ways, fear not! Because there is more of us out there. And those of you who feel like not knowing hindi has left a huge void in your life, fill it up with some donuts. Because that would be more gratifying than learning hindi. Lets raise our glasses to our superior intellect and humanity! Fear not, for survival is for the fittest and fittest we always will be!