That night, I did something which made me feel ashamed of myself. It still keeps pinching me, like a thorn in the flesh. Nobody forced me to do it, and no harm would be caused to me if I had not done it, but I still did, and am now left with a lot of regret.
I usually return from office at very late hours. Being on a highway, there are several villages on the road to my home, from where people come to work in Pune and then go back. So it usually happens that someone would ask for a lift and I drop them to a point from where they can catch a bus or get another lift.
So it was past 10:00 pm and I stopped for a middle aged farmer, wearing traditional dhoti-kurta and topi. On the way we had our usual chit chat and then he asked me where was I from.
“Kaun se gaon se ho?”
After a small pause and considering options, I said
Why did I say this ? Though I have lived in Chennai/ Tamil Nadu for 10 years, it is not my native. I am a Bihari from Patna. Then what made me hide that ?
Was it because I was scared of a backlash ? No, it does not happen anymore.
Was I ashamed of being a Bihari ? Definitely NOT !
Then what was the reason ?
It was nearly 11:00 pm, end of a very long day; and exhausted as I was, I was simply not ready to face that slight change in the tone of their voice, the stiffening of posture, when you say that you are from Bihar. Being accustomed to jibes and taunts, this is not something I usually give a damn about; but in that moment of tired vulnerability, I was just not willing to face any hostility, even if it was just in mind.
Wounded pride, lost self-esteem, whatever you may call it, but it is sometimes difficult to be an outsider in one’s own country …
Image: Photograph of a Bihari migrant fleeing violence in Assam.