A couple of days ago, I came across a facebook group telling people to get an atlas if they can’t recognise country names. And, I remembered my first experiences in France. The first time I told someone outside of Sciences Po that I was from India was at the residence where I live. This guy insisted on starting a conversation with me when I was doing my laundry. Wanting to be polite, I replied to his question on my nationality by saying I was Indian. And voila! He says, “Ah! Tu es indienne? Donc, tu parles indien?” To translate, asked me if I spoke Indian. It made me want to turn around and tell him to be a little more precise. Which one of the 21 official languages and more than 500 (I may be wrong here) unofficial ones is Indian? I refrained from unleashing my sarcasm on the unsuspecting character and decided to be polite. I explained that there were more languages in India than in the whole of Europe put together. Which one did he mean? To that he replies, with a tone of great sincerety, “But, all of them must be comprehensible to everyone right?”

Uh oh…problem here. Tell me, is French comprehensible to someone who speaks only Romanian? Or English to someone who speaks Norwegian exclusively? Then how the hell does he expect a native Bengali to understand Tamil? I dismissed the incident as a freak accident of fate. But no, I had overestimated the intelligence of some people in this place. Since then, I have met people who have asked me the same dumb questions. “Is there internet in India? Do you speak English? Do you have electricity?” Haven’t they heard of India ever? Haven’t they followed the furore that outsourcing created? Have they not ever heard of Amartya Sen? Do you have any idea how many Indians work at Microsoft? Do they even know that when they call Dell to troubleshoot your computer, they are probably talking to an Indian named Maragathavalli with the nickame Maggie, or one named Sambasivam a.k.a Sam?

For the last time guys, I am not from the tip of the world. I come from a country that is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It is many times bigger than France or Germany and is home to one-sixth of humanity. And also for the last time, a language called Indian does not exist. It is Hindi, Tamil, Kannada, Bengali, Gujarati or even Tulu, but not Indian. Get it right! Indian is a nationality, not a language!

Get it right! Indian is a nationality…

One thought on “Get it right! Indian is a nationality…

  • July 14, 2008 at 5:24 am

    You would not believe how many times I repeated to people in different parts of India that I did not speak ‘South Indian’. A good number of people in our nations’s capital, thought that Tamil was the only language in all of South India. To make it even interesting, they held advanced degrees. I can recall similar misconceptions in South as well. I had these experiences in my traveling days in the early 90s. Hope, there is a change by now.

    I did some part time technical teaching in US. One of my Indian students complained about a similar issue. Some of her friends do not know where India is!. This was before the days of massive outsourcing. I calmed her down by asking a question. I will leave that simple question to your imagination!.

    Yes! There are so many ignorant( educated according to certificates!) people in all corners of the world regarless of their nationality. I do not excuse them, but I do understand them. I guess, that is also an education.


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