We were a group of five, three Tamilians, a Bengali and a Keralite, sharing lunch and a frivolous chat when the casual conversation veered towards the varied cultural differences and similarities across the expanse of our country. Someone put in a word about how each state in India has an identity of its own and how, even Kerala and Tamil Nadu are different in so many ways, even though they cuddle together at the bottom of the map. I remarked how true that is, and indeed that Kerala has a lot more in common with the geographically distant West Bengal than with Tamil Nadu.
And all of a sudden, the discussion turned into a debate.
I still have no clue why my statement should have provoked them as it did. I did not intend to mean that TN is inferior in any way, just that things are different. Comparisons have always been drawn between Kerala and West Bengal with respect to popular culture, the kind of movies made, the high regard for Communist ideologies in the political set up and even the crazy football fanship in a country where every other state adores cricket. That is all I meant to put across. But somehow the innocent comment was conjured to be an attack on their cultural integrity and mocked to be a sign of how one always disregards one’s neighbours and worships distant lands.
I found it rather ironic in retrospect that the Bengali and myself were on one side of the ensuing argument even as they vehemently opposed our attempts at clarification.
This is not the first time I’ve come across such incidents either. Certain opinions are lost in translation across borders, even if we happen to be speaking the same language. Inherent insecurities are projected as an overt need to stand up and shout down ideas, and many a time remarks are taken out of context and interpreted in ways deemed right.
Maybe a lot of the violence and hatred that breed among us is the result of ill communication, and perhaps our own perceptions of how we are being perceived. If I were to remark someone is dusky, it becomes an insult, if I happen to hail from a place where the majority have a fair complexion. Dark becomes less of an adjective and more of a derogation based on who says it. Abstract theories define our sense of right and wrong, and indignation sprouts from simple matters.
I’d say patriotism and belonging are often separatist barriers that prevent us from viewing the big picture. How beautiful the world would be if diversity were embraced as the crux of existence, and not some precious aftermath of human interference that needs to be protected and fought for.