Sometime back, in January this year, we were in Bangalore ( for my son Joshua’s surgery), we interacted with several people, both from the hospital and those who were there to visit. Most of them were locally based, meaning from the state of Karnataka. My in laws had come down to be with us and being from the same state, they had no trouble communicating and fitting in. Shailesh, being thier son, by default kinda fit in .It was me, the sore thumb as usual (!), with my short, streaked hair, western clothes and non-Kannada speaking ways! Eventually they would ask my in laws from where exactly I was and they would say something very blase like from Maharashtra or Bombay.
Truth is I am from nowhere specific.My family is one big amalagam.If you are really looking for unity in diversity then my family is sure to be a good example.
My dad’s family is pretty straightforward. His parents followed Islam and were from Pakistan,which was not such a hardship until the Independance struggle and the Partition in 1947.So that explains my very muslim sounding first name ‘Rubina’.
My mom’s family is very diverse. My maternal grandfather comes from a family of Hindu goldsmiths in Bangladesh(Gopalgunj,near Dhaka), which again was okay until Partition and the bordering off of Bangaladesh. His father Shrikanto Poddar was converted to Christianity and later on became a stalwart of the Seventh Day Adventist Church in India, mostly based in Poona,Maharashtra.My maternal grandmother again came from a rural background and Hindu ancestors. She was from a place called Jalna in Maharashtra. Her parents were farmers and kept livestock. Her parents were also converted to Christianity and since my grandparents were belonging to the same church, that’s how they met and married! Confused yet?!! Read on..
So my mom has Bengali and Marathi roots and married my dad , a Muslim. We grew up hearing all kinds of languages being spoken at home- hindi, Urdu, marathi, bengali, but sadly we have only command over hindi and marathi.These also happen to be the more widely spoken and local language of the region.
My maternal aunt migrated to the USA and ended up marrying a white guy,who was third generation ‘old family’ and his father was serving the US Army( the dreaded Pentagon). My maternal uncle married an Anglo-Indian, Aunty Em and her brother Cecil is married to a Japanese girl.Go figure!!
My mom’s cousin brother is married to a Korean while his sister is married to a Punjabi. Thier mother (my mom’s aunt) is married to a Telegu (from Andhra Pradesh).I have another cousin married to a Goan.Another one of my mom’s uncles is married to a Malyalee.Another cousin who is married to an African American.
Closer to home,I married a boy from Karnataka and my sister,a Belgian national.So there itself lies a divergence!!
I could go on, but I am sure you get the gist of it!!! It is difficult for me to be close minded and non welcoming to people I come across. And when people ask me to state what my ‘mother tongue’ is (which is so mandatory in India), I have no response to give them, other than our national language Hindi and the universal language of English. Needless to say I am familiar with the language and cultures of my relatives. I haven’t travelled much but feel like the world is a small place and I have it within the circle of my arms- just a hug away!!
I am sure my son Joshua will have a better response to any questions regarding his ‘cultural’ and ethnic background.I pray he will be fortunate enough to never have to experience racism or bigotry or any form of segregation.
Or does it really matter,in this day and age of huge cultural crossovers?Do we dare hope for a ‘color-free’ future considering there is constant talk of how all human kind is one big brotherhood?!!I guess only time will tell.
Author: Rubina Coelho- UAE