Identity in India | Blog Post #4

As I mentioned in my first blog post. I am a North Indian and this internship was my first time being in my motherland but not in an area in which I’m familiar with. The other interns looked towards me to explain some cultural things and while I could explain a few generic things not particular to a certain part of India, the specifics evaded me as I did not know the answer to as well. The language for one was something that really took me aback. I know Hindi but it is very accented with another Indian language, Marathi. Oftentimes I find myself blurring the two together when I speak in India but seeing as I was in the south, and in Bangalore, where they speak Kannada and not much Hindi it still threw me for a loop. I didn’t have a hard time speaking and understanding a fair amount of people during internship related stuff because they all spoke and understood English. It didn’t occur much when we went out to eat either at big restaurants or shopped at malls due to their Western nature. However, once we got to experience some city life, such as markets and small stores, everything from communicating with the store owners to the cab drivers was an experience for me. They spoke either Kannada or very accented Hindi and little English which came as a struggle to me to understand and to reply to. Every time I’m in India my version of Hindi is relatively accepted and most importantly understood, due to the North of India understanding Marathi but when I attempted to speak in Hindi to everyone in Bangalore that we needed to the language evaded me and there were many occurrences where things were lost in translation, literally. RIP to all the misunderstood cab rides and confused payments at small stores and street side vendors.

I think a lot of my trouble with Bangalore began with my mindset that I have to be able to navigate this city relatively well given my background because I’m Indian. When I realized that no one really expected me to understand everything in this city and really it was all in my head, I had such an easier time assimilating. It did help that I had my cousin and her family living 15 minutes away from our school so if me or any of the interns had any questions or trouble, we had a phone-a-friend lifeline to use, except it was unlimited unlike the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Although I had an easier time blending into the population given my heritage, I found that I was still found to be a foreigner to the locals. Even when I wore the traditional outfits, people could still tell I was an NRI or non-resident Indian. A lot of times they say that it is in our mannerisms, stride, the way we hold ourselves, and funnily enough our eyebrows if you are a girl (shout out to all of the eyebrow ladies of Michigan –> desi girls take our eyebrows seriously). Jokes aside, it was interesting to observe how others observed us. Granted while my case was different, my fellow interns’ cases were very different as well. When we went on our weekend adventures (which were oftentimes places that don’t get too many foreigners) we were approached by many locals with offers to take pictures with Jen and Cindy. I ended up being the photographer for countless of those moments but it really was something to see the smiles on their faces when they posed with them. Although, I yet to this day do not understand the notion of taking pictures like that, is it a hobby? Proof you met someone different? The world (and I) will never know. Until then, all I can do is smile and say cheese.

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