Monday, June 25, 2012

'Homes' for Pyrta

I wrote this piece for the Winter 2010 issue of Pyrta, run by the admirable Janice Pariat. Cross-posting at last!

Homes

The other day the husband and I had (mild) words over the person he had married. He thought he was marrying a Bengali girl from Calcutta; I thought he knew he was marrying into the Coromandel Coast. I have lived for more than two-thirds of my life in Calcutta, all in all, but what with having a home in Vizag and another home in Madras, not to mention many friends and a cousin in Bangalore, I feel a pull to the south that that you would have be Southie to understand. It's not at all the same as the liking and interest I have for Bombay or Delhi. Those to me are places I would not mind living in -- those are places that I love to visit -- but Hyderabad, Vizag, Madras and to a lesser extent Bangalore are all homes already to me.

This fractured concept of a home is something that requires coming to terms with. After all, if a place is home you tend to adopt its prejudices however subconsciously. This can lead to several problems. Let me outline two from my own experience of growing up in Vizag when it was still a sleepy small town:

1. You are never very sure where you really belong. Do you belong to the Bengalis and their cuisine (which you love) and their language (which you speak hesitantly) and their cultural mores (which only occasionally make sense to you)? Or do you belong to these Telugus and their cuisine (which you love) and their language (which you speak hesitantly) and their cultural mores (which only occasionally make sense to you)? Life is further complicated by the regional parochialism which dictates that the Telugus poke fun at the Bengalis and the Bengalis lump them all as "Madraji" and refuse to take the barbarians seriously. Think about it. When the jokes are flying around, who do you laugh with? And more importantly, who do you poke fun at?

2. As I said, you tend to pick up the prejudices of the people you have adopted, which can cause major internal complications when your father shifts jobs and suddenly your base shifts to Madras. After all, as every self-respecting Telugu girl knows, these Tamilians are good for nothing apart from a wholly misplaced sense of pride. To further confuse the issue, I fell in love with Madras at first sight. The beautiful little Victoria Hall next to the pretty Central Station, the wide beachfront, the old-world courtesy, the delicious cuisines, what was not to love?

For fifteen odd years I had to shift homes over and over. I hated Secunderabad when we moved there when I was ten and I hated Vizag when we moved there two years later. By the time we moved to Madras though I had learnt that each move brought along new peoples and places I was certain to enjoy and that each new home would shape me irrevocably. So even though I didn't rate Calcutta too highly when I moved back here, I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt. And sure enough, the easy public transport, the food (oh my goodness, the food!), the people and University life stamped their imprint on to me. So much so that now when I try to understand who I am and where I am from, the answers are never easy.

Do I belong to Bengal because my husband and son are Calcutta born and Calcutta bred? Do I belong to Vizag because I find myself slipping into Telugu when I get off the train at Waltair Station? Do I belong to Madras because I miss it so heartbrokenly now that my parents no longer live there? Or do I belong to Secunderabad because two of the happiest years of my life were spent there? My family members don't make the job easier because my mother grew up in Pune and my father considers himself a Bihari at heart. My brother probably watches movies in Telugu more than in any other language. It is this merry medley that I try to explain to the husband, that I tell him that he married. This happy jumble of people and places that I try to keep alive even as I sink deeper and deeper into the Calcutta life... this tolerance for strange speeches and foreign foods that I want to share with our son. The husband, though, maintains that I am Bengali by birth. He rubs insult into my Ghoti injury by pointing out that I'm Bangal by marriage. Arguments like these made me serve him pongal with sambar last night. That will teach him.

Sunayana Roy lives in Calcutta with her husband and son. She has been a columnist at The Statesman (Voices), a professional actress (over Skype), a freelance writer, an SEO optimiser (for 3 months only) and an advertising professional. She fights an addiction to parentheses while she contemplates the next step.

15 comments:

MRC said...

Having lived all over the country, I can identify with this post on so many levels, even though I've never lived longer than three and a half years at any place! In my case, any cantonment used to look like home, and now that comfort extends to AF bases too! Strangely enough, Calcutta and to a large extent Bengali "culture" feels quite alien to me...

And what a lesson that was for your hubby! ;) Did it go down well?

Insiya Poonawala said...

Very nice article. Loved it. :)

Sri said...

Beautiful post!!

Always thought of you as a Bengali..

I was born at Chennai, brought up at Secunderabad and have now settled down at Chennai post marriage..

Ishita Shah said...

I like ur posts a lot, they are easy to relate with and usually brings a smile on my face!

Anusha Subramanian said...

Cute style of writing. I chanced upon your blog when I was desperately searching for some good writing! thanks- you answered my search!

devapriyaroy said...

Loved this post Sue :)

devapriyaroy said...

Loved this post Sue :)

devapriyaroy said...

Loved this post Sue :)

Sue said...

MRC -- He's not a big pongal fan. ;) I miss that moving around, you know.

Insiya -- Hey, welcome. I didn't know you read my blog.

Sri -- I suppose I am Bengali. Just not completely so.

Ishita -- Your comment brought a smile to mine.

Anusha -- Happy to oblige!

Dippy -- Thanks :)

jestingjousts said...

Excellent post! I believe that the more places that one lives in, the greater the window of the mind expands (Bidhu-jeta from Feluda "mon-er janla-ta khola rekho"). More insightful one becomes of the norms, the inside workings, the inside jokes; more conscious one becomes of the prejudices each community harbours. You come closer to becoming a more wholesome person.

Now throw in a different country in the mix and see how this goes to another level!

~ Krishanu

MRC said...

Somehow I'd forgotten to check back here after commenting, and ended up re reading this post. How could I have missed out on the "Bangal" - "Ghoti" argument!

Reminds me of the time when my in laws had come to visit me and the newborn son at my parent's place in Jabalpur. The FIL is originally from Bangladesh, and the MIL is a true blue Calcuttan. My folks, ofcourse are Probashi , although my dad has studied in Calcutta for most of his pre-Army life.

So here we are, a carful of assorted bongs, going back home ,python like after a heavy lunch (duly dissected and criticised), pointing out the sights of Jabalpur , when my mom points at a road and says in her best tourist guidy/local girl voice "That's the road to the High Court"

There was of course a ten second pause after that, before a sense of humour caught up with the car ;)

Sue said...

Krishanu -- I agree!

MRC -- Why was the court funny??? Sorry, I missed this one.

MRC said...

Sue,

Oh, I thought this was a well known one, something about "Bangal ke high court dekhano" ...

Ludwig said...

Gosh. I read your Bijoya post, remembered some Vizag connection, searched, found all the posts, read some, and now feel motivated to comment (modestly). Have you read my magnum opus? Is this the Vizag you knew? God, I miss it...

Sue said...

MRC -- :)

Ludwig -- I only knew the Vizag of the '90s but my father has known it from the '70s and your description reminds me of his stories. I'm happy my parents live there once more because now I get to visit it at least once a year.