The native place of a nomad

I recently read this post by Bikerdude, and instantly identified him to be my kind – the kind that has lived in many different places, and speaks more than one indian language.

In India, I lived in 4 cities in 22 years, regularly visited one other. I liked all the places I lived in for different reasons, and therefore don’t really think any one place to be a favorite over another.

During the four years that we spent living in the ‘Kongunadu’ of Tamil Nadu, I was often asked a most baffling question – ‘Onga native ennanga?’, to which I wish I had a simple one-word reply, but unfortunately didn’t. This is how it would it go from there..

Me: Well.. I finished my schooling in Hyderabad… (and before I finished)..

They: Oh.. Teluguvaa..? You speak such good tamil though.. (already wondering how..)

Me: Oh..well, I am actually Tamilian..

They: Appdiya.. Appo onga “NATIVE” edhunga?

Me: I don’t have a native place. My father grew up in many places, but you could say he is a native of Bangalore. (Before they jump to the next assumption..), but he is not a kannadiga, he is a tamilian too.  My mother is from Salem, but I’ve never lived in either Salem or Bangalore, so technically, I cannot be called a native of those places.

They: Well, then your native place is Hyderabad… I guess..

Me: Um.. well.. we moved out of Hyderabad last year, and we have no ties with the place anymore. No family there anymore.

They: (By now utterly confused, at the prospect that there could be a person without a native place).. Appo.. Did your father work in a bank?

Me: No, he is not a bank officer. He just changed jobs (and not every year), just once every 8 years may be.

So, I spent 4 years in Kongunaadu, and then moved to Chennai for the second time. Realized nothing had changed since the 80s – still no water, still too hot and humid. I worked there, got married and lived there for a year before we moved to the US.

Now that I am not in India anymore, I am still asked questions about where I am from – and because I’ve decided that the last place I’ve lived in is to be henceforth my native place, I used ‘Chenna’ to anwer the darned question.

Other desis I meet here (including my husband), often reminisce about their favourite hometowns (chennai, bangalore, hyderabad, etc.). I have very good memories, but spread across all these places, and therefore there are times when I never feel completely Madrasi or Hyderabadi or Kongu.

The perception of ‘back home’ or India for most desis here usually means Chennai, Bangalore or Hyderabad (wherever they belong), but for me, it is hard to choose one place over another. For me India is, not any one city or place. To me ‘back home’ means just India where I will be closer to my family and friends, wherever in India that might be. It is the feeling of getting off a plane and smelling the myriad of smells, hearing the cacophony of porters and taxiwallas, feeling the heat when it’s hot and the cold when it’s cold, seeing the crowds of people going about their business (and others),  those gigantic posters of politicians and super stars, be it Pondy bazar, Commercial street or Oppanakara veedhi.

Hmmm.. India…

20 thoughts on “The native place of a nomad

  1. My3

    My husband talks about Jayanagar Ashoka Pillar! That is home even though there is no house anymore there, for him 😦
    And me, poor pathetic me, can trace my ‘native’ to Karnataka, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Buffalo, PA!!!! Now my children are following in my footsteps. We are true gypsies.

    Rekha: Haha.. Exactly my point! 😀

  2. Pradeep

    That way, I am a pakka Tamizhan. I spent nearly all of my life in Tamil Nadu save for a few years in Delhi – of course until I came to the US…
    I’m desperately waiting for that vacation back to India. I want to get out of Meenambakkam airport and take a whiff of that air, smell the autos and the taxi, the jasmine from the pookari’s basket, listen to the honking and “vootla solttu vanttiya?”… aaah!!

    Rekha: lol @ “vootla solttu vanttiya?” 😀

  3. i’d an instant like to the title of this post …. though i’m not a nomad (no mad) and spent my entire life (so far) in chennai. I still say my native is a village near karaikudi to someone who enquires about it (not sure why, though), just because we have an ancestral home there and a few relatives living there & have all the family weddings, functions still around the various villages.

    Rekha: You’ve had weddings, functions, anscestral home and relatives, and I suppose you’ve been there too. May be that is justifiable for a native place. I wish I had one like that.

  4. We are native of the that place that we hail from, where our nativity springs from and where our memories and nostalgia are locked-usually as we get on in years.
    The nomads are truly lucky. They have more native places,varied traditions to subscribe, less prejudices to hold on, fewer quirks and easier adaptability mechanisms and better approach to different people.

    Rekha: Yes.. lucky nomads we are ha?

  5. padmajav

    Usually, the question “What’s your native?” is posed as an ice-breaker. So your answer breaks down the awkwardness and ensures a steady stream of conversation, I’m sure!!
    Jokes apart, I’ve been a nomad myself till the age of 5(believe me, I’ve changed residences as many as 5 during that time!!) and now I cannot think of any other place than Chennai as home!

    Rekha: May be in a few years, I will say the same of some place. Who knows?

  6. have been dodging this question ever since I learnt to speak.

    Even now people ask me the same, and quite frankly I’m sick of answering it.

    I now ask them, “how do you define native?”. If its the city where either of my parents were born, or is it the city where either of them grew up, or is it where either of them have spent most time prior to getting married or is it a step higher and have to do with where my grand parents were from, or where they spent mos tof their lives? Is it where i was born or where i went to school, or where i went to coll?

    I have a diff answer for each of the above…

    My so-called-north-indian looks give the first impression that I am from the hindi heartland, but then supremely pronounced abuses in telugu may seem that I’m a telugu bidda, the use of tamizh words when I speak english to many suggests that I’m mylapore material, but the seemingly mallu influence in my tamizh and my love for banana chips pushes me towards palakkad.

    all said n done, i love the look on people’s faces when I nowadays give them the “I DONT KNOW MY NATIVE PLACE”…

    Rekha: You give them “I DONT KNOW MY NATIVE PLACE”? I give them “I DONT HAVE A NATIVE PLACE”. I am sure we both savor the same puzzled expression though. My bro looks very north indian (thanks to his fair skin and amul baby looks and his command over several languages), and people are very surprised he is tamilian.

  7. People sternly believe that you need to have a native. I have seen couple of my friends though born and bought up in chennai, call some southermost/north part of india as their native .I feel that a person’s native is the place where he/she has spent his life. Hmm though we speak Telugu @ home I call Chennai as my native 🙂

  8. Vanthu Pogiren

    So true…When I tell people that I am from Chennai,they go like -born in chennai aa?’ and I need to clarify -‘born and raised in chennai all 23 yrs before I moved to the US’.
    But my husband would always give a different crowd pleasing answer each time he is asked the whats your native place question.
    it would be Bangalore or MaduraI or Chennai or Tirunelveli based on who asks him the ‘?’ …and his reasoning is that he has lived in all these places and loves them all equally !!!

  9. Me

    I was born and brought up in Chennai and I don’t think that is my native place and consider my ancestral place as my native.

    Just like Vanthu Pogiren’s husband I do change my native place depending upon the crowd. If someone who has no clue about South India/India asks the question I reply with Chennai and for the rest I give the name of my kukgramam.

    Rekha: Vaanga sir vaanga. Enga da “Me” kitaendhu comment kaanomaenu parthaen. Adhu enna kukgramam?

  10. Another gem of a post. Same here for me. Spent my time equally between amma appa gramams, Coimbatore, Chennai and Bangalore and now rural PA. I usually have no clue when asked where are your from. I say Chennai and leave it at that. But Kovai is where my heart is I guess.

  11. Spacejunk

    This post only reminds me about the places of existence section of my homepage -which I will translate here as –

    The commenter – born in Bangalore, having ancestral roots in Trichy and Karur – town cities of Tamil Nadu, studied in and around Pune and Nashik, spent most vacations in Mumbai. While in college, had lots of friends from West Bengal / Jharkand, and traveled across Hyderabad (AP) and few cities in Kerala, Gujarat and Rajasthan. Worked and stayed in Chennai for about a year – after hating that city right from childhood. All this has helped the commenter to be more multilingual and adapt to different cultures easily, and also to know few bad words in most languages!

  12. BR

    I can totally relate to this post. My dad’s a retired cop. Being the rare honest kind, he was transferred no less than 2 times every 3 years (sometimes multiple times in one year) leaving me with 14 yrs of education (counting from LKG) from 12 schools in 8 cities! (not to mention 18 different addresses)
    Everywhere I’ve studied in Tamil Nadu, when I first join a class, someone would try and speak to me in Hindi because they used to think I was a “Settu veetu paiyan.”
    I’d say that I don’t know Hindi.
    So, then people ask me where my “native” is – it goes this way:
    “I don’t really have a native place”
    “oh – where is ur dad from?”
    “He was born in a small town near Bangalore”
    “Oh – so, you’re a Kannadiga”
    “No – I haven’t even been to Karnataka, ever! and we speak Tamil at home. Matter of fact, none of my dad’s family even lives there anymore”
    “Oh – I see, where is your mother from?”
    “She was raised in the Tirunelveli dist but her family doesn’t live there anymore either”
    At this point, the person either loses interest or starts a “20-questions” session.
    I did this routine religiously when I was younger, but now I have no interest in spending 20 mins explaining the details of my origin. In the States, when desi people ask me where I am from, I just say Chennai – despite having lived there for only 1 year of my life!

    Rekha: Poor you.. I have to admit that your situation is a lot lot worse than mine was. Thank God for Chennai. You can claim to belong there, even if you have never been to Moor Market.

  13. Tell me about it! I too am Bangalore educated, speak Tamil and Kannada with equal fluency although otherwise quite uneducated in the literature of both languages. I speak a combination of Tamil and English at home, and I don’t know what all this makes me. What makes me estranged from my Tamil friends who are “born and brought-up” in Tamil Nadu is a combination of the following: I am a tamil brahmin, I don’t look like a Tamilian, I don’t speak like a Tamilian, I surprise them by speaking Tamil really well, often even more fluently than them! All these things together seem to confound most of my Tamil friends.

    Another strange thing is that the North Indians don’t identify well with me either – they don’t seem to be able to reconcile that I could at all be from Tamil Nadu and give me strange looks when I tell them I speak Tamil as a mother tongue. These days, I have eschewed my Tamil heritage with those who I communicate unless prodded, or unless they share my position of being a Tam brahm brought up in Bangalore!

    Rekha: Haha.. Nammakku eppdi elaam identity crisis!

  14. bumbaimaami

    Naanum un galattum daan.
    From Bombay,but parents tamilian,not just tamilians but iyengar tamil.
    so got teased incessantly for my brahmin dialect(vaango,pongo,yeppadi irukkel) when in Chennai for holidays.

    Rekha: I don’t understand why people make fun of our brahmin tamil. Drives me mad when they do it badly in movies.

  15. Hey!
    Nicely said…I also had the same problem in India.

    Now, I just stick to Chennai because I am a tamilain, although I have hardly lived there.

    To the americans though, I am from Bombay. It seems that is the only city they have heard of in india

    Rekha: For the americans, India is usually all of Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta and probably sometimes Madras.

  16. nice post! i could have written the same thing about myself and only changed names of places! being a tamilian from kolkata, delhi, mumbai, trivandrum, bangalore, chennai, kharagpur, lucknow, charlotte, stamford, pittsburgh … i can completely understand!

    Rekha: Apparently, your case is worse than mine.

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