The elections have just concluded. Much discussion has transpired on the various things politicians said to get votes and seats, from free laptops, to Activas at half price. But, for some reason, one election promise hasn’t been discussed in the mainstream as much as I would like: that of giving primacy to Tamilians in Tamil Nadu. This election slogan of “Tamil Nadu is for Tamilians” is neither new, nor entirely unexpected. What is, however, disheartening is the number of educated and seemingly sensible people who seem to think this attitude is acceptable.
I do not quite understand how someone can be so determinedly nationalist in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world. I do not understand how nationalism and exclusionism is not a negative quantity in a world where most products we routinely consume are produced outside of the geography that we occupy. How can someone who boasts an Apple iPhone, a Fossil watch and a Ford car think that only people who “originally” belong to a state/region have the right to live there? How can anyone, in the same breath speak with great pride of Satya Nadella and Indra Nooyi, while simultaneously wishing to deport all non-Tamils from Tamil Nadu? What does nationalism or regional pride even mean in today’s world?
Questions of identity are extremely complex and difficult to resolve. This questions is one of special personal importance to me, as I have spent the better part of my life trying to give myself a single identity. And failed. Am I Kannadiga, when my knowledge of the language is limited to the dialect I speak at home, and that of the state limited to my few visits to Bangalore? Or am I a Tamilian, when my mother tongue is a language other than Tamil? Who exactly am I and what is my relationship with this place I call home?
When someone asks me where I am from, the first answer I give is, “Chennai”. Because, it is true. I am from Chennai and this is home. I certainly do not speak Tamil as a first language or mother tongue. I belong to a tiny community of Kannada-speaking people who migrated into this state several centuries ago. I am married to a member of an even tinier community of Marathi-speaking people who also migrated several centuries ago. If someone asked us to go back where we belong, where do we go? To Karnataka, whose language and people are so alien to me that I return from each short trip to Bangalore with the joy of pup returning home? Or to Maharashtra, which I have barely visited except for a few times for official reasons? For me, home is Chennai. Even if I were to go a few generations back to trace my origins, they would go no further than Coimbatore and Theni. Then, who am I?
If mastery of a language is the criteria for qualifying as a “Tamilian”, then would millions of my co-inhabitants of Tamil Nadu qualify? How many native speakers of Tamil actually know the language they call their mother tongue? How about this generation of urban youth, which is more comfortable in English than in their mother tongue?
These are questions that are extremely hard to resolve, or even attempt a resolution at. Yet, we do not hesitate to call someone an “outsider” just because we feel entitled. Can we try, at least, to build a more equitable world? A world that, in Tagore’s immortal words, has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls? Try?