Two states claimed the Olympic silver medal winning shuttler as their own ‘Ammayi’, because her father belonged to one state and mother belonged to another. I did not win any medals at Rio. Hence, no state claimed me as their ‘Abbayi’. But I share the same predicament as the now famous shuttler. I was born in Kerala, but brought up in Tamil Nadu, because my father worked there.
Since I speak Tamil with a Malayalam accent, people ask me if I’m from Kerala. My mother’s parents lived in Kerala, and hence my mother delivered me at her parents’ house as was the custom in those days, I explain. My maternal grandparents taught me Malayalam whenever I visited them during school holidays.
However, I was educated in Tamil Nadu, I reiterate, to reassure the doubting Thomases. When I went to Mumbai to earn my bread and butter, the locals clubbed me along with other Madrasis. In those days, a chauvinistic Sena was unhappy with Madrasis who had come to the then Bombay to deprive the locals of their employment opportunities. I lived in constant fear of being driven out of the city for being a Madrasi.
Later, when I shifted to Delhi, the Madrasi tag went with me. Fortunately, Delhiites did not hate Madrasis. They considered them to be docile chaps who would not create any problems.
Hence renting a house to live in Delhi was easy. Another problem I have encountered on being labelled a Madrasi is that people presuppose that all south Indians drink coffee. In my house, Coffee was reserved for elders only. My mother never gave me and my siblings coffee, either because coffee beans were costly or she thought the brew was not good for children. After growing up, I relocated to Mumbai and Delhi and got used to tea. The lady of the house also happened to be a tea drinker, and hence my house never had coffee powder in store. My brother and sister got used to coffee after their marriage.
The other day, my brother and I went to a restaurant where he ordered filter coffee, telling me that they made it well. He was flabbergasted when I told him that I wouldn’t drink coffee and asked for tea instead. Once, two trainee officers from north India visited my house. When my wife served them tea with snacks, they looked puzzled, and finally one of them blurted out, “We came expecting that we will get to taste filter coffee in a south Indian home”. I apologized for disappointing them. Some of us, like the medal winning shuttler, have to bear the burden of our split domiciles.