Identity and culture
There are a million blogs on how North India is different from South India, stereotypes of both groups and a general lot of breastbeating on both sides. It makes you wonder how Indians ever became global citizens, when they have so many hangups about their countrymen.
This post is not about any of those stereotypes. Rather, I would like to look at how one assimilates into another culture. More
specifically, how my husband, a South Indian, born and bought up in the north, reconciled the differences. I dont know if this is true for
everyone, I dont know if this is true for North Indians who lived in the south, but here goes.
To start positively, he is someone who can genuinely straddle two cultures. He does not wrong foot anybody, no matter if we are in the
heartland of Punjab, or deep down south. He is mostly sensitive and aware of cultural differences. He is also at home in either mileu, and now that we live in the north (or at least live in a place along with a lot of north indians), he is quite comfortable in most social gatherings, whereas I still remain the outsider.
But along with this comfort comes an almost compelling need to conform. To conform, not only by speaking good Hindi or showing onself to be aware of North Indian customs, but conform to the north indian stereotype of what is expected of the south, by exoticizing even simple south indian food items. He does not try to hide the fact that he is from the South, but he simultaneously
highlights what he feels the North Indians value about the Southerners and tries to overcome those traits, which he thinks they
criticize or make fun of.
I know dosa and idli are the most popular South Indian items for a North Indian, but most people are getting more cosmopoliton and may even be aware of items like rava idli, or sevai. But if ever we are inviting North Indians home or cooking for a group which
includes North Indians, my husband immediately says make idli or dosa and sambar because that is what you are expected to do. Hey, I may not want to do that.I may want to go with a more traiditional recipe like upuma kuzhakattai (which even most south indians have forgotten probably). And why do I need to conform to their perception of what I will cook.
Similarly with Hindi. I speak passable Hindi for someone who has spent very little time in the North. I probably make grammatical
mistakes, but I make myself understood. The only person who finds fault with my Hindi is my husband.
Not just mine, he also finds fault with my one and a half year old daughters Hindi. Both of us have a policy that we will not intervene in
her language learning, and stifle her natural curiosity by constantly correcting her. She is free to learn through trial and error. But
while I see him allow her to make mistakes in Tamil, Telugu or English, he immediately corrects any mistake she makes in Hindi.
I wonder if this is tied up with a long held notion from his own childhood – that no matter what, he should never speak wrong Hindi,
because that will make him the outsider in the north And to end with a stereotype, considering many North Indians don’t even know the different South Indian languages and cannot even utter some South Indian syllables (try saying Kozhikode correctly), that really is a bit too much. 🙂