Agony of a South Indian ‘Sharma’
Things change and modify continuously. But what is not changing is our mindset.
Sharmaji, by the by you are from which state in the North?”, the moment I entered the bank in Bangalore, on transfer from New Delhi, the Manager asked me in chaste Hindi, forgetting other formalities of welcoming a new staff on transfer. I said, I am from the South and born and brought up in Malnadu in Karnataka, somewhere near the world famous Jog Falls”.
“Then how come you are a ‘Sharma’, he grilled me in disbelief and enquired and quizzed further. He was of the firm opinion that Sharmas cannot be from the South and I was bluffing or hiding something.
Afterwards, throughout the day, the entire staff, numbering around 40, made the same enquiry and ended up and confused with some curiosity. They were often seen discussing behind my back, the untold mystery behind my name.
One staff was heard telling his colleagues “Look his complexion, dress, body language and pronunciation…he is lying… he is cent percent Punjabi…, I bet, he is concealing the fact for some reasons… I will find out the truth and the cat would be out soon.”
My landlord and his family would always speak to me in English or Hindi and even when I offered to speak in Kannada, they would say, “Sharmaji, no problem you can speak in English or Hindi.” Not a single soul in the street or locality would speak to me in Kannada.
In the locality, everyone would call me a North Indian tenant and treat me accordingly. Whenever they called me to their house, they would offer me Dal, Roti instead of customary South Indian dishes and delicacies like rice, rasam, sambhara etc. In social gatherings too they would introduce me as our tenant and he is from Delhi (since I had come from Delhi).
On seeing my name plate on the door, the newspaper boy of the street had delivered me a Hindi newspaper and a Hindi magazine even without asking me. When I asked him about these Hindi newspapers,
to my surprise he politely told, “Aap Sharmaji, Hindiwale hai na?”
One day, a neighbour had come to my house. On seeing a Kannada daily and a weekly lying on my teapoy, she asked me, Sharmaji, how come you are reading Kannada newspapers?”
Fed up of explaining “Sharma” surname, North Indian, South Indian and Kannada etc since the day we landed in Bangalore, my wife cut short the possible long conversation and told the neighbour…”we are learning Kannada and have picked up little to read thee magazine.”
One day, my son, who is studying in a medical college, came running to me and told,”Daddy, let us go to a lawyer.” Worried and shocked a little bit, I asked my son…”any gangwar in the college… did you beat anybody or anybody beat you?” He said, ”No Dad. I want to change my name… everybody in the college speaks to me in Hindi or English… groups me with North Indian boys…call me a Northie….nobody either considers me a Kannadiga or speaks to me in Kannada.”
As a freelancer, recently, I had sent a couple of articles to a Kannada newspaper. The edit desk lady was reluctant to publish. She was of the firm opinion that I had got these articles written by some ghost writer and taken credit for the same.
“How could a Punjabi Sharma write such a beautiful article in Kannada,” she asked me over phone.
I referred to some north-based IAS officers like Shalini Rajneesh and Chiranjiv Singh, who converse and write in Kannada and convinced her that there is no hard and fast rule that a North Indian should not write in Kannada. She finally published and she is doing so even now.
After completing a decade of service in Delhi, I asked for a transfer to South. The General Manager in personnel department, made an enquiry with his deputy as to why this SHARMA wants a transfer to the South. Any Khas Baath?
He grilled further.
For fifty years, I have experienced this situation almost every day and there were occasions I would ask my father to change our surname SHARMA or else let us shift to Delhi.
During my college days, my Constitutional Law professor would often say that, it is possible to break written code and ethics but not the unwritten ones. In India, names, surnames, food habits, dress codes, music and newspapers are not patented, but they look like.
A North Indian cannot have names like ‘Ramaswami’, ‘Krishnaswami’, ‘Raman’, ‘Iyengar’ or ‘Iyer’ etc. and so a South Indian cannot have names like ‘Sharma’, ‘Varma’, ‘Singh’ etc. The South Indian rasam, sambhar, rice is taboo to North Indians. The roti, chapatti and tandoori are unofficially patented to North Indians.
North Indian hardly reads THE
HINDU the English newspaper from the South and a man from Chennai hardly see beyond THE HINDU. These are unwritten codes but practiced faithfully. I remember my law college professor every day.
While leaving the locality and the office in Bangalore on transfer to some other city across the country, I told my colleagues and neighbours to see the world beyond these unwritten codes and ethics and the world beyond this.
The world has shrunk due to mobility and necessity and things get changed and modified continuously. Keep changing to times and shun rigidity.