Saturday, August 7, 2010

Where am I from?

[This blog entry has been submitted for BlogAdda's 'Mera Bharat Mahaan' contest, sponsored by Pringoo.]

As I sit at my desk to give you a humble account of the last 26.99 years of my life, I am amazed to note that I cannot.

Cannot give you a 'humble' account, that is. I am oh-so-extraordinary that there is nothing humble about how I have lived or what I have done in my life thus far!

Did I mention humility is one of my most privileged assets?

I was born in Mumbai (thankfully!) and brought up around the world. My father, now a retired diplomat (from the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi) has been on several postings across the globe, and I as a privileged child have gone along with my family everywhere.

I’ve studied in countries like Germany, Kuwait and Thailand and have worked in various fields in Hungary and UAE. Oh, what a life! What a life I’ve had!

Global nomads. That’s what we call us ‘young members of diplomatic families’. That and DiploBrats. But hey, who’s judging? I’m often asked – “How does it feel to have moved around the world so much, to have never lived in one place for longer than 3 years of your life? Must be odd?”

My answer to these people is always in the form of another question: “How does it feel to have lived in one place all your life? Never moved around in your life? Having had the same set of friends, having grown up in the same environment for 18 / 20 / 25 / 50 years of your life?” When I get a confused look as an answer, I answer for them: You don’t know, do you? When you’ve lived life a certain way, you know of no other way to live. I cannot tell you how I feel about having moved around all my life as opposed to lived in one place since I’ve never done the latter. I do not have a basis for comparison. I do, however, have immense gratitude for the life I have been exposed to. Immense joy and gratitude.

Gratitude towards whom? Towards my family? Of course! If it weren’t for my father’s job and my mother’s dedication, my brother and I wouldn’t have been brought up the way we were. But more than that, I hold my head high and salute my country. For if it wasn’t for them, we would’ve never got the kind of education we did, we would’ve never travelled to these exotic locations and we would’ve never known of life the way we do now. The best schools in the world, the best education one can have, the highest form of respect (being young members of the diplomatic community) and immense amount of pride. That is how I have grown up. That is what my country has done for me.

What have I done for the country? Nothing. I’ve done so little for my country, that I have done nothing. My head hangs in shame when I think of what I can do and what I am doing. I see a path in front of me – a path that I will soon take. A path that I have been working towards, a change that I have dreamt of ever since I was a child. I dream to serve my country.

My dream was to do so as a combat soldier in the Indian National Army, but this dream was shattered the day I found out that as a woman, I cannot be a combat soldier for my nation. I took that with a pinch of salt, but pledged that day forward to do my bit every single day towards the change that I want to see.

I have been given many nicknames over the years because of this passion of mine – desh-premi, paagal and patriot are mere examples. The list goes on and on. But there are two nicknames that are extremely close to my heart: kooradaan (dustbin) and don (goon).

Of course there’s a catch behind me liking these names. And you’re shaking your head, smiling and saying to yourself: I’m going to have to read the stories behind these two nicknames – might as well light that cigarette. Go right ahead. This might take a little while.

Kooradaan. Trashcan. Dustbin. Yep, one of my favorite nicknames for me. There have been a number of occasions where my friends have dug into my bag to find a certain something and come up with a million items that, had it been them, would’ve found their way on the streets. Toffee wrappers, chocolate boxes, scrap paper, used tissues, broken pens and many other things have always found home in my bag / purse because I refuse to trash the streets. Now, if there were dustbins / trashcans on the roads in India, I wouldn’t need to do so. But that’s an entirely different discussion. Moving on with kooradaan: I have pledged not to litter the streets of my nation and I stand by that pledge. If that means that my handbag / purse is overflowing with garbage, so be it!

“Swati, you are in Bangalore, not Boston” followed by uncontrollable laughter – one of the reactions I have received when I’ve outright refused to let those around me litter and volunteered to stuff my bag with their trash too. My response is always the same: If you want Bangalore to turn into Boston, then start behaving as you would in Boston. Else, stop criticizing the government for everything.

Of course, this is followed by further fits of laughter. At this stage when I join in the laughter these people don’t seem to get that I am not laughing with them, but at them.

Alas! Such as the ways of the wise. Them thinking they’re wise, that is. I am no more than a fool. A privileged one, but a fool, by their standards. Such is life, and shall always be.

I want to say “that leads us to my second favorite nickname”, but unfortunately I can’t find a decent way to link the two together. So let’s pretend that I’ve made some ridiculously intelligent connection between the two nicknames. Here goes…

And that, my friend, leads us to my second favorite nickname: Don. Yes, this five and a half foot tall, 47 kg heavy girl has had this name associated with her for a while now. (Daymn, how’d I get into this third person mode?)

Known for picking fights with anyone and everyone, I have always stood for what I believe in. Be it the fact that chocolates should become tax free, or that corruption needs to be eradicated at the grass root level, I practice my beliefs and hold tight to the stand(s) I take in life.

As a fresher in college I have stood by my juniors, refusing to allow any kind of ragging; as a citizen I have refused to pay 10 rupees to the peon who wanted to get my papers signed by the Principal – I’m quite capable of standing in line for 2 hours, thank you very much.

I have also flagged – or tried to – those individuals who have approached me with leaked papers. Needless to say, I got nothing but apathy from the authorities. I did not stop talking about it, nor did I stop openly declaring who these people were. From frail threats to open arguments to potential fist fights – I’ve been a part of it all. And proudly so.

When I walk the streets of my country, I walk with my head held high, for I know that I am making a difference. Out of a hundred people who have seen me fight for a cause or who have seen me smile while putting away a wrapper in my bag, at least one will think before handing that money to a peon ‘under the table’ or before chucking that scrap piece of paper on the road.

That’s what I am doing for my country. That’s how I am trying to make a difference. Is that enough, you ask? It may not be enough, but is one thing: a beginning.

I was recently asked to send my details for a city-wide contest that was happening in India. Whilst I do not reside back home, home will always be home. The self-nomination resulted in this lengthy monologue and I ended up extracting bits and pieces from it for this blog entry. However, I never did get to hear back from the guys about the nomination. I suppose this last bit of my write up / letter is the reason – they probably never figured out where to place me:

I will not be able to tell you which city I am from. Originally a Punjabi from Amritsar with ancestors hailing from Lahore (now Pakistan) and Sialkot; born in Bombay (now Mumbai); lived briefly in New Delhi in between postings; moved to NOIDA and lived there between postings; and finally lived in Bangalore (the only city I can call home) for 5 years, while currently living in the UAE.

Where am I from, you ask?