Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Being an Oriya in New Delhi

“Are you from Orissa? How long have you been in Delhi? I’m sure you don’t speak Oriya? Do you?” I’ve answered these questions time and again. And its not just one section of the society that poses these questions to most young people of Oriya families settled in Delhi. There are times when I’ve tried to be understanding if the question comes to me from aged people, people old enough to be my grandparents. I know that for them these and similar questions is an attempt to understand that ‘children’ are still being taught traditions. When they pose these questions, there is no mockery in them. Instead, there is a curiosity to know and understand if people who’ve lived away from Orissa have any connection with their native land. Answers to their questions in the affirmative reassure them that all is right with the world. However, they can accept negative responses to the same as well. They understand if you tell them that you have lived away all your life and so, don’t identify with the Orissa they know.

My problem is when the same questions are posed by the younger generation from Orissa. School-going children, newly-enrolled college students, or even young entrepreneurs – all of them show the same signs of mockery and a kind of angry snobbishness. Why is it assumed that Oriyas settled outside Orissa will forget their language, their traditions, and their rituals? I distinctly remember being congratulated by Oriya aunties dressed in the most glamorous Sambalpuri sarees on my ability to speak in Oriya. Why? It is the language of my family, so why am I congratulated if I speak it? There have been occasions when I’ve been address by uncles and aunties in Hindi or English with an understanding look that “You must not be capable of understanding Oriya.” Of course, eyebrows raised and with a hardly suppressed air of annoyance, I’ve answered back in Oriya as well as I know it.

The latest encounter of this kind was when a young Oriya boy decided to join the same office as me. As soon as names were exchanged, the stream of questions just flew out, sprinkled generously with the snobbish air of all the young people who come from Orissa to Delhi and show a haughty arrogance for Oriyas settled here. Why I ask are we subject to such questions all the time? Scrutinized at all times for the ‘mark’ of a true Oriya? Why do we need to prove our ‘identity’ at all times, be it at the annual Rath Yatra or during the screening of award-winning Oriya films or a simple Oriya food festival?

While on the subject, let me present another perspective on the same issue of identity. Do you remember the last time when you were at the convocation when the Chief Guest had humbly greeted the audience with a ‘Namaste’, even though he was from a foreign country? In the same convocation, the organizers all distinctly from Orissa had made august speeches in English, not wanting to use the very same language which was the connecting link for all present there? What explains how newly married women hailing from cities such as Balasore or Bhubaneswar simply cannot speak a single word of Oriya as soon as they step into the capital of the country? Or what about those parents who loudly proclaim how their children are ashamed of speaking Oriya and are only English speakers, not bothering to hide their own pride at the fact?

Both these situations are at cross purposes. Our language forms an equal part of our identity as do other factors such as our family or education. So, this is for all those who show surprise at young people settled in Delhi who can communicate in Oriya and also for those who choose the English path rather than tread the Oriya sahi. We are what we make of ourselves, and to set the record straight for all times to come – I’ve lived in Delhi all my life yet I speak Oriya. I’ve done so for ages and now my niece also speaks the language with as much love. Though my reading and writing skills are not as good as I wanted them to be, but I can read out the headlines of Samaja to my Aju, when required. Let no more questions be raised or no more proofs be demanded of me.

- Written for the annual magazine of Utkalini, an Oriya women's organization. My mom is a part of this organization, and we have memories of taking part in their cultural programmes and fetes.
- Written on 26 September 2007

Moi

Moi, je m’assoi

Seule

La lumière s’étend

Lentement

La voix trouve un coin pour se cacher

Trouvé

Des questions me troublent

Ami

Sont des réponses

Ami de la voix

Le noir dure

Lait de la lumière

Le silence

Dure

Pesant

Silencieux

Des réponses introuvables

Intimes

Un moment

Perdu


Non

Ce n’est pas vrai

Je le croit

Croyais


Vrai

Faux

Réel …non

Seul

Le miroir

L’espoir

Le noir…


Written on 03 June 2002

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Front Page - English

Mala was sitting at her desk in the office of « The Changing Times ». It was already seven in the evening. Suddenly, the phone rang. It was her boss, Mr. Thakur. He asked her to work on an article, a sensational story on that damned woman, the writer. He had even suggested a title for the article, laughing all the while in his special derogatory manner – “The author of Why Rape? raped by 3 people”. Mala was stunned. Slowly, she had taken a few pages, yellow with time, and had begun reading them but it all came back to her even without reading. It said, “Why do men rape? Is it a test for them to check their virility? Or is it a way of expressing all their frustrations? What is it? … … … The victims are – a three-year old child, an eighty-year old grandmother, a sister, a mother…” Mala continued to read as if in a trance. Some lines underlined in red. “God is neither a man nor a woman. Because the world, God’s creation, needs the energy of both the forces – masculine and feminine. So, how can we define the gender of God? Gay? Lesbian? What?...”. Mala remembered the huge public outcry against the writer. And today the people of the civilized world had succeeded in getting their revenge… Mala walked out of her room, her office. And on her table, she had left an envelope containing her resignation letter. Outside her office, Mala felt a sense of absolute peace. It was not an open war but maybe it was a first step of a generation who knew their values well and who could make these sacrifices – however small for things that mattered, small but at the same time powerful like the single stone that heralds a landslide.
PS: Here is the translation of the last post...on popular demand due to the millions of emails I received from my imaginary fans...:).

Front Page

Mala s’asseyait à sa table dans le bureau de « Le Temps Changeant ». C’était déjà sept heure du soir. Soudain le téléphone a sonné. C’était son patron-Monsieur Thakur. . .Il lui a demandé de faire un reportage « sensationnel » sur cette maudite femme, l’ecrivaine. Il a suggéré le titre aussi-« L’auteur de ‘Pourquoi le viol ?’a été violé par trois personnes. » en riant.
Mala était étonné. Lentement, elle a arraché quelques pages jaune avec le temps et elle a commencé à lire-mais de memoire. Elle a lu - « Pourquoi les hommes violent ? Est-ce-que c’est un type de examen pour vérifier sa capacité pour l’acte de sexe? Où c’est une sortie de toutes ces frustrations? C’est quoi?……….Les victimes sont – une enfant de 3 ans, une femme de 80 ans, une sœur, une mère…… ». Mala continuait de lire comme dans une transe. Quelques lignes soulignaient en rouge. « Le Dieu n’est pas un homme ni une femme. Parce que le monde, sa création, besoin les deux forces - masculin et féminin. Donc, comment peut-on définir le sexe de Dieu ? -gay, lésbienne? Quoi?….. ». Mala se souvenait de l’explosion publique contre cette écrivaine. Et aujourd’hui les gens du monde civilisé a réussi d’obtenir sa vengeance…
Mala est sortie de ce salon, ce bureau. Et dans sa table elle a laissé une enveloppe contenant sa démission. Dehors de ce bureau Mala sentait un paix absolue n’était pas une lutte ouverte mais c’était peut-être le premier pas d’une génération qui savait ses valeurs et qui pouvait faire des sacrifices - bien que petits mais en même temps, puissant comme la seule pierre qui annonce un glissement de terrain.

PS: I had written this piece as one of the samples which seemed to have the possibility of being developed into a full-fledged short story during the Creative Writing lessons with Madavane Sir. I thought of posting this as a reminder of those times and maybe as a seed for a story sometime later.