There are two roads that lead to my house. Well the second one came after the first. Although it might be an exaggeration to call the first a road.
It is a straight path, yes; flat only for an inch followed by stones then boulders then a narrow ridge and then some cow dung cakes a few puddles, maybe an occasional lazy stray dog stretched out right in the middle and then that inch of a flatness followed by everything I mentioned all over again. There are rickety rickshaws to cover this kilometre long stretch. At one time the rickety rickshaw seats five people and the driver. On way it keeps stopping to drop people who have houses in the by lanes. It swerves, lurches, speeds, stops abruptly to avoid trampling a cow, dog or human throughout. My stop is at the end of the lane so I endure the most. All in all not only is the process time consuming but also physically exhausting. After I sit in the rickety rickshaw, it literally is hop, skip and jump and I am home.
Until, the people from the residential colony decided to pool in their resources to construct a second road parallel to the first. Now the second is quite the road. It is flat. No obstructions whatsoever. The bigger cars cannot get on it but well the rickety rickshaws sure can and they do. But no longer does it seem like hop, skip and jump to reach my house. It seems like a long and dull journey with nothing to do except go straight.
I thought when the day comes I will just glide into a room full of grown-ups, as one of their kind. I had this idea that after college somehow I will realise how the world works, take care of the responsibilities placed on my shoulders, and involve myself in important decisions. And one day as I do a mundane task I will wistfully look back at my carefree college days and sigh not understanding when I turned into a grown up.
Surprisingly I was very aware of the moment I grew up.
It did not happen during my first job. Though I was quite sure that the long working hours, deadlines and cups of green tea are the stereotypical indications of being a grown-up for a 22-year old. I checked my shoulders, there was no weight on them. I then checked my mind space, no, there were no worries hiding in the corners. I felt like I was on a paper boat, gently moving forward in the course of my life. But the thing was I was not moving forward because of my will, rather it was because that was the only direction one could move in from a point. Nothing ever moves backwards. I waited for a realisation to dawn on me which would transform my child-like manner into a sombre countenance. I was depending on this realisation to make me behave independently and help me in accomplishing my life goals.
I kept waiting. Until yesterday. Two years after my first job. That is when I realised that growing up into an adult does not happen in the background. Or in unawareness. It happens on a stage with a hundred spot lights on it. It is a decision I had to take. Consciously. So yesterday I made peace with being an adult and not waiting to change into one overnight. After all I am sure it is fun to move in a boat made of something heavier than paper being steered by my own will.
I was watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory the other day. There is an Indian character in the show-Rajesh Koothrapalli. Occasionally they show him video chatting with his parents back home in New Delhi, India. And this is where I spotted a cultural glitch in the show. The portrayal of Rajesh Koothrapalli’s parents is incorrect. I could spot it because I know about the travails of the Indian surname. The existence of which in Indian culture is befitting only to make first impressions less dubious.
The etymology of Koothrapalli clearly suggests that he is a South-Indian. They are characteristically simple. The flashy two centimetre long bindi (vermilion or sticker on the forehead of women, mostly married) and the jazzy sarees that Rajesh’s mom is shown to wear is not at all in sync with the simple demeanor of the South-Indian. A simple black round dot maybe with a line of white powder is ideal. As a true South-Indian Rajesh Koothrapalli’s mom had to be wearing a bunch of jasmine flowers in her hair. Coming to his father. A kurta is not the dress of the South-Indian. Their dressing style includes soft cloth wrapped around their waist and a half sleeve cotton shirt. But perhaps we can excuse staunch adherence to this style since the couple does not live in southern India. However, one cannot ignore the pronounced Punjabi accent he has. Absolutely incongruous with the identity of the Koothrapalli’s as South-Indians. Without it ever being mentioned on the show I could tell for sure that the Koothrapalli household would be having sambhar-rice thrice a week and not chicken tandoori and naan.
I deduce all of this just from the surname. This is not even a special trait that I possess. Practically anyone in India can say two things about another only on the basis of their surname. I myself have had to offer justifications for not being the way my last name characterizes me to be- no I do not belong to the State you think I do; no please don’t offer me that dish just because you think that is what we enjoy eating; no you cannot presume that I will be miserly or boisterous or diligent just because that is my last name.
If people recognize the surname and the meaning it carries there is no escaping all the presumptions they may have regarding your personality. It is a means of colonizing with your ‘own’ people.The Indian surname is a burden that my generation has to carry. My generation did not stick to places of origin and regional stereotypes. We traveled across land and seas to find who we really are beyond the restrictions of our burdensome last names. But we will still have answers to give. And stereotypes to fight.
I remember it being really important in school to have a good vocabulary. My English teacher used a very adorable way to encourage us to learn and use as many new words as we could. When we gave our notebooks to her for assessment she would make tiny red stars with her pen on every fancy word we would have used. Since then our aim was to have a page full of our writing in blue ink, dotted with tiny red stars between the lines.
At home when I came across a difficult word while reading my story books, I asked mom if she could tell me its meaning. And she never would. Rather she would point to the fat Oxford dictionary on the shelf far away from my comfortable reading spot. It was always a tough battle between my curiosity and laziness. This was back in the 90’s when I spent hours in building my vocabulary, savouring each word’s meaning and then using it thoughtfully.
But this is not so tough any more with a handy thesaurus app or a simple search over the internet there could be at least ten alternatives for the simple ‘beautiful’. Just look them up and purge them out. Though something will be lost forever in doing this. This could be the difference between being jubilant and ecstatic. Or the realisation that hungry and famished are not similar in meaning. That to like and to love cannot be used interchangeably.
But why so much concern for this, you may ask.
Because words are where all the trust lies. When one cannot verify what the other says, they will have to believe what is said. For how can you verify feelings anyway? Through conduct surely, but all that time to keep a tab on every one who speaks? Seems difficult. For those who are not lying should not falter in conveying what they actually feel and misleading the other person, because they used a word carelessly.
While my wait will be for a time when I am asked, how do you feel? To which my reply, with all the love in my heart, would be, happy. And this much would suffice.