17 Feb 2008

More thoughts on being an Outsider


Wikipedia enlightens us that an Outsider

often refers to one identified as on the periphery of social norms, one living or working apart from mainstream society, or one observing a group from the outside.

In this sense I have always felt like an outsider in Delhi. Growing up, children around me used to find my surname funny. (Even today many give up half way while writing it down like the travel agent I met today.) They would often question me about where I really came from and how my family got this name etc. In social situations this would consume a lot of time.

Next was my first name. Apparently, you can only be a woman or a Maharashtrian if you are named sudhesh. Thankfully the first notion died a gentle death when I started sprouting small facial hair in my teens.

Then in my teens I felt like an outsider when I wore specs for the first time. Other kids would look at me with curiousity and then pity. Initially they would keep me out of serious sports till they realized that I was too bull headed. (It is a different matter that I would end up with many broken specs each year.)

Later it was during the Mandal commission. I seriously had no idea what caste I belonged to. Most guys in my college refused to believe that. They assumed that if I was from south, I must be from upper caste (therefore he is on our side). Some who knew that my parents were from Kerala assumed I was a Christian(so therefore not part of the Mandal equation).

Added to that since my community was matriarchal that discussion would really get confusing. As people tried to grasp the real meaning of this their eyes would keep widening.

"So if the eldest daughter gets the property, what do the sons get?"
"Nothing."
"How is that possible?"
"Well that is how it is - when we talk about our village we are normally talking about our mother's village"
"What do you mean? What about of your father's family?"
"They are not that important"
"What ????????????"

And so on...

When I moved to south delhi - the same questions - where are you from? Also if you are a south Indian you will make a good tenant since a south Indians do not fight.

And all this time I was an Outsider to "south Indians" too. I wasn't a south Indian at all. At least my cousins never thought so when they met me during the summer holidays. I have lived in Delhi all my life. I talk in three languages but mostly think in English. I do not have any doubt that I belong to Delhi, but even within the city there are several groups, some into which you fit, but actually you never fit in all the way.

But then is it such a bad thing? The Outsider is always defined not by the outsider but the Insider - someone who is already there - who feels insecure, irritated that you are not like him or worse you do not fit into any of the compartments of his mind. He is not able to resolve this and therefore the definition - Outsider.

I think I will irritate and tease the Insiders for some more time....

1 comment:

t thomas said...

the word is matrileneal in this case...there are no true matriarchal systems in india...the nairs and some north eastern tribes have a matrilineal system whereby land and money is transferred through the female line.