just reeling…


… after i met a woman from U.P, who said she cannot distinguish between Indians from Karnataka, Kerala, or Tamil Nadu.
apparently we all look “Madrasi”.
I thought she was joking.


64 responses »

  1. i had this identity crisis thing twice – when in madras folks labelled me a ‘chome’ – apparently anyone originating the north of vindhyas is called that.
    when in b-school in the northern half of the country, i was a ‘madrasi’ bcoz i had lived in the south all my life up till then.

    but that was in those dark ages. they aren’t not over yet?

  2. I once had a colleague from Delhi call up to ask how far Karnataka was from Bangalore. She was quite serious and sincere about this query since the Delhi people had acquired a Karnataka based client and were wondering if the Bangalore office would be best suited to service the account or the Chennai office. I suggested Bhubaneshwar as being geographically best suited and hung up. Sometime later she called me up saying “Kya yaar tujhe batana chahiye tha, I made genuine mistake…woh kya hai na, South mein everything is the same for me, yeh sab different states aur capitals pata hi nahi chalta hai”. I could not think of an approriate response to that unfortunately.

  3. Sadly, hon, there’s many of them like that out there. She probably didn’t toss in the Andhraites because she doesn’t realize they exist.
    It’s so not funny, right?

  4. There is this scene in the movie Chak De…when the girls come in for registering at the tarining camp, and the flunkie there says Madrasi to the girl from Andhra….she points it out and he says it is all the same. What if I called you Bihari if you were from Gujarat..(something on those lines…don’t remember exactly), she retorts. That may have worked:)

  5. Pet Peeve number 32: People for whom geography and cultural awareness are insignificant things. And worse, who almost revel in their ignorance. South India is just one big mash of upma and the North-east…dim sum?

    Nothing an hour of Social Studies, poring over a map of India, and couple of tight slaps won’t fix!

    Lemme at ’em!

  6. Oh, I’ve heard this all the time – I grew up in Bihar.. Everybody from the ‘south’ is ‘madrasi’ and people are amazed that there are so many states in the ‘south’!!!! Not just this – I have also been asked – ‘How come you are not dark?’ Apparently all ‘madrasis’ are also supposed to be dark!!!!!!!! And then they assume that they are complimenting me and say – ‘oh you look just like a North Indian’!!!!!!! There – you got me started 😦

  7. choxulu: dark ages? it’s the age of the d-uh.

    Ron: hooooooooo, haaa! I mean i loved the letters on your site. ROFL. you don’t miss a beat d’ya.

    OJ: *confession* i’m not all that great either: i couldn’t name all the North-Eastern States and their capitals for an entrance exam.

    I remembered Mizoram after I handed in the paper.

    D: throw a vada at them.

    Nitya: absolutely: atleast, she was right: I AM madrasi.

    Mee: chak de, eh? will check it out.

    Kbpm: U.P., for you, stands for Ultra Phaast: you need to move ultra phaast to be in chennai to look Tam-ish and yell at the gardener.
    so what are you doing reading this comment?

  8. MGM: ulp! *holds out hand for a thwack* see my confession to OJ.
    (I remembered all the rest, may I add in my defence?: No? *owchie, two thwacks!*)

    Smitha: Whatever happens don’t refer them to MGM today — she’s in a temper.

  9. indians thought i was a sri lankan n brits think i’m an indian! malaysians now think i’m a confused kid with mixed background

    d only way/time i can differentiate indians is when they start talking. that’s d easiest way actually…

  10. chumi: the ‘lah’ gives you guys away.

    Perakath: i should use this statement at the gossip vine

  11. Gah – still gets my goat – krishashok’s rant against these “Amit_123” types was the funniest thing I read on this topic!

    I majorly pissed off a gujju-ben once, by saying “all you N.Indians” in some context – she tried to explain that she wasn’t a “N.Indian!” but took the hint when I told her I wasn’t Madrasi either 🙂

    M (Tam from B’lore via Delhi)

  12. yep–ignorance is not blissful at all..coming from Assam, I have had people tell me that we are NOT Indians!and the other name for us is ‘chinkies’-i am not even sure if i have spelt it correctly.

  13. dipali: you did your bit, dipali. but i think there’s a vindhya-sized obssession with bollywood in some people that blocks out entire states.

    M: yep, the UP babe would be a pooja_123

    sukanya: i think a label like that is hurtful, pejorative and prejudiced. It’s a shame. We should set MGM on them.

  14. Sorry MiM even I cannot distinguish but I don’t say ‘madrasi’, everyone belonging from there is ‘south indian’ to me. apologies.

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  16. Hey have we told each other about the time all of us met someone who could distinguish if people were from south bombay or suburbs, or south delhi or north delhi….just by looking only yaar.

  17. preeti: hmmm. so it’s not pooja_123, but preeti_123; hey M, are you listening???

    Preeti, as for punishment, i hope you meet someone who thinks Indians still have snake charmers in every third home

    MGM: omg, omg omg? am dashing right over

    June: really? no way.

  18. I think I’m at the other extreme because I really cannot look at faces and tell where people come from. I quite prefer it that way. nice to get to know people for who they are, rather than where they come from, no?

  19. In my college down south, everone up north of vindhya’s were delhiites and bengali’s.
    Ditto for them.

    Pretty sad for a country who prides on ” unity in diversity”.
    I pick up a fight with anyone who overhear saying that, anytime. I don’ think it is the absence of knowledge, it is collective ignorance- “it does not matter to me till it comes to bite me in the butt”.

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  21. Well. In the East that’s what I hear. And in the South they tell me all Northies look alike.

    So long as it’s said with a friendly or a pleasant smile, I’ve stopped complaining. They are the ones missing out, not me.

  22. Hopped over from MM’s.

    I recently had a Delhi-ite friend tell some common non-Indian friends that I spoke Malayalam. After two years of knowing me.

    It still annoys me. I guess I’m not grown up enough to treat this stuff with sagacity.

  23. I think when you do not have a metropolitan crowd around you, its bound to pose a problem recognizing people.

    I am sure I can not distinguish between Koreans, Malaysian, chinese or Thai people.. so I just give them the benefit of doubt. ( I do not feel good about these comments, but the first time I clench my fist and ignore)

    Hopped over from MM

  24. Penguin: then you are south Indian… easy blanket label

    Sue: hey southies don’t say that… *lemme call out to nitya, wordjunkie, choxulu, in love, MGM* all for support

    DDD: and neither am I, looks like 🙂

    Aathira: hey. that a perspective that didnt occur to me. true. I cant tell the difference between the chinese, koreans and japanese people who live here in KL
    i finally ‘get’ that U.P. girl’s reasoning,

  25. That’s pretty funny.

    People mistake me for someone from the hills. Once they hear my name, they think maybe I grew up in Calcutta because of my Pahadi looks and Bengali first name. Then, when they come to my last name, they’re totally confused because it sounds very Sindhi. Then they assume that my dad is Sindhi and my mom is Pahadi.

    None of the above is true though.

    I don’t mind all this at all. In fact it amuses me. I often say, Yeah, I’m all of it and more. I’m an Indian.

    What hurts me the most is when people generalize and say stuff like, Sindhis are papad eaters or Maharashtrians are hairy people or Tamilian Brahmins or Naagars are superior caste or Marwaris are kanjoos or Rajpoots are an angry lot. That I can’t stand.

    Color of the skin doesn’t bother me at all nor does that fact that one can generally tell where’s the other person is from just by the last name. That’s unique to India and that’s a good thing, in my opinion!

  26. and interesting comment re south eats asians. i think i can sort of separate japanese folks from thai ones from malaysian ones. do get flummoxed by koreans though. chinese? – well that depends on which part of china they are from 😉

  27. of course, she wasnt. for us northies, they’re all maddu :/. im beginning to distinguish now after marrying a gulti though. 😀

    aathira’s logic applies very well. i wonder why you would be upset? 🙂 I don’t mind if someone calls me bihari or upiite or delhite or bengali or northie …. it doesn’t really matter. im often asked if i am gujju … blah, it don’t matter. it don’t matter if anyone calls me a ‘northie’ either. no biggie. 🙂

  28. Big Zed: nice handle you have:) I like to bash stereotypes with my broomstick as well.

    choxulu: i am your anonymous stalker. from b school up until now. now what would you do?

    roop: aathira’s logic holds good for a foreign country.
    but expecting a person to be mildly culturally and geographically aware of the names of the four southern states of her very own country isn’t asking too much.

    sue ji: join the bandwagon then; it’s a little rattly after ‘chox’ came aboard;-) but it features all us southies in spirit…
    and have you read…?

  29. No, I hadn’t, so thanks for the links. Blog-reading’s down these days now that they’ve stuck me in an office.

    *climbs gingerly into the rattly bandwagon and sips her kaapi*

  30. Grinning away at this one. Thanks Mad Momma for the link. I am part Rajasthani part Punjabi, married a Bengali and spent quite some time in the south, Bangalore to be exact. They wanted to label me North Indian, my in-laws called me Paanjabi which is what they call kurta pajama too. I went to Kenya and they called me Mzungu which means Caucasian. I am so confused, I guess I will stick with North Indian

  31. damn! where did my comment go? This after spending so much time on it and that comment being one of the most intelligent things i have said in 2 months! (goes away shaking head in fury)

  32. i still don’t get the insult actually.

    my husband despite having lived in India (in Andhra) for a good part of his life can’t tell the diff between kannadigas and telugu people. he says that he sometimes mistakes tamil people for telugu as well and vice versa. he, himself, has a very generically indian face … he doesn’t really look telugu. when in punjab, ppl have mistaken him for a punjabi. and me as well … im often asked if i am gujju … but this time, when I was in south india, i was asked if i was tamil iyer/iyengar. tamil Iyer is a faaaaaar reach from Punjab for sure! another group of people that sorta blend in as well are marathis. marathis, telugus, and kannadigas … i really can’t tell the diff at all. add mallus in the mix too. only people i can distinguish now are tamilians and that too, not all of them.

    what is the big deal?

    you wrote:
    “she cannot distinguish between Indians from Karnataka, Kerala, or Tamil Nadu”

    yeah so? I can’t distinguish between a madhya pradesh person, bihari and upiite either.

    What’s your point? India is not divided by ethnic regions that they have to look different to be distinguished … it is divided by linguist states!! I’ll write more of it on my blog.

  33. Hey ritu: lol!

    how do we know: hey, sometimes ‘lost’ comments rest their backside in the spam counter… and then i retrieve them much laaaaater. but this isn’t the case. I checked in spam as well.
    oh well, start typing again…:-)

    roop: first, i don’t think i was ‘insulted’… zapped would be a better choice.

    When someone who lives in an orchard, can’t tell the oranges and apples apart just because the trees are located a little too far … erm south, what would you think?

    i agree there are oranges and hybrid oranges and and sweet lemons that look like oranges and
    oranges that are not even orange…
    but an orange exists. and it is different from an apple.
    but saying all the fruits in the southern hemisphere are oranges, isn’t on.

    appearances are deceptive, i agree.

    but the taste of the fruit and the fragrance and the shape of the two trees are completely different.

  34. Can you tell between a punjabi and a haryanvi? Better yet, at times, it’s even difficult to distinguish between indian punjabis and our pakistani counterparts. I bet you won’t be able to distinguish cuz I get confused myself sometimes until they speak. As long as she knows the states in south, that’s good enough.

    Ppl in north India are most often not exposed to cultures in south. Like I said on mm’s blog, we relate more to pakistanis than our southern countrymen. Yes, that artificial cultural divide is there but nothing harmful.

    Ppl in south however are exposed to north Indian culture more (relatively) through national media which primarily depicts north Indian life. But there still won’t be very many who can diff a punjabi and a haryanvi.

  35. Well… I’m from Andhra and I’m fair and I LIVE in Andhra. So, what point am I trying to make? People from Andhra look at me and say I must be from the North coz I am so fair. So, I wouldn’t be so quick to judge…

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  37. roop: am an army officer’s kid. i have inherited his ear for language.

    and i can respond to your challenge, thanks to my lanky dainik jagran-reading batchmate (who did only that all day) from haryana.
    he emerged from his newspaper to try and get the hang of enough Tamil (from me) to spar with the auto-wallah.
    So yes. am familiar with both the languages, you mention.

    You said: “Ppl in north India are most often not exposed to cultures in south.”

    with all respect, I don’t think that’s not a valid point
    … globalisation has globalised us Indians. All of us are everywhere. And we have packed our unqiue culture and cuisine within the 30 kg limit.

    I have attended bharatanatyam recitals in California (how south Indian is that?); we had a gudhi padwa feast here in KL (how maharashtrian is that?); my friend from guwhati who didn’t speak a word of Tamil, covered the local elections for a newspaper in chennai; and in Antwerp, four years ago, we got conned into buying diamonds by a well-dressed Punjabi chappie. grrrrrrrrr.

    sarky woman: hi! i agree. appearances are deceptive. but like MM says you get to know a new region, a state, a district through a person.

  38. i meant distinguish looks wise.

    as for how the languages sound, would you really expect a northie (who has never lived out of north india) to tell telugu apart from malayalam? are you for real?

    media point is valid when it comes to languages. hindi is mainstream. telling hindi apart from punjabi is a child’s play. most of the northern states speak hindi … different accents, yes … but hindi. again, not having lived there, i can tell ’em apart. all from media. ila arun popularized rajasthani for me. laloo, mayawati et al helped me distinguish between bihari, UPite, and madhya hindi …. i can tell gujarati as well … thanks to media. I can somewhat tell marathi too … thanks to media …. i can definitely tell bengali … again, thanks to media.

    but south indian languages? none of us are really exposed to south indian media or movies. they have huge movie industries down south with enough audience. those movies are not made for north indian audience. that’s the reason why most of the remakes of south indian movies fail in north india. but that’s a whole different topic. what im tryin to say is that we really are never exposed to south indian languages in north india whereas south india is exposed to hindi and north indian languages/culture through mainstream media. punjabi, for example, is an integral part of bollywood and any popular music coming out of the subcontinent. i haven’t met a single indian who can’t identify punjabi language. i’ll show you 10 who can’t identify tamil from telugu. me including.

  39. roop: distinguishing looks wise is not an option at all. period. it wouldn’t work for a minute. I don’t think I ever said that.

    “… none of us are really exposed to south indian media or movies.”

    who are you speaking for when you say ‘us’?

    If you know 10 people who can’t tell the difference between Telugu and Tamil, I can point to you 10 people (to quote MGM up there)for whom geography and cultural awareness are significantly important.

  40. WOAH! How did we get this far from the point? No wait.. what was the point again? *quick re-read*

    Right. Roop, I think this is really about attitude, more than it is about knowledge. Its fine when people say that it’s difficult to distinguish between people from the South – or North for that matter.

    Its just “insulting” when their attitude is entirely pejorative – and when they make it clear that they really don’t give a shit about your cultural mooring, your loyalties, your roots by just clubbing you into a big mash of “Madrasi” or otherwise.

    Its “insulting” when the tone is patronizing and its not pleasant to be talked down to as a “Southie” or a “Northie”. What gets to people here is the utter unwillingness to learn or want to know about your fellow citizens. I was labelled a “Northie” a few weeks back and I have no problem “looking like a Northie” (what, three ears? two hoofs? who knows?), but the person implied quite clearly that she was only happy to know Southies.. that Northies weren’t worth her time. And that kind of ignorant prejudice isn’t worth mine.

    I don’tknow many Indians who can distinguish based on looks, or for that matter tell all the languages apart. Sadly, I do know many Indians who show gross disrespect by bluntly refusing to learn more about the lesser-known regions of their country, preferring to “chink” or “madrasi” them. I’m all for owning up that you don’t know something, but is there really a need to put a group down in the process, while you polish your halo of ignorance?

    And therein, dear friend, lies the problem, methinks.

  41. I won’t argue that one bit, MGM. Howeva, I will add that we do group ppl, stereotype them EVERYwhere in the world. No culture or people is free of such prejudice. Be it educated or tribal. We evolved like that. As cynical beings. Always wary of the ‘differences’. It is only natural to not trust someone who appears unfamiliar for sake of survival.

    No, I am not justifying prejudice. People can and must rise above it. Clubbing ppl into a generalized is underestimating the potential of each person clubbed in that group. On the other hand, most of us WANT to be clubbed into a group that we are proud to be born into, example: ‘tamilian’ (oh they are a proud people) or ‘punjabi’ even. The regionalist pride is overwhelming. We just don’t want to be put in a group we don’t approve of:
    example ‘maddus’ or ‘northie’ perhaps cuz they have derogation linked to it mostly. Well, to each their own, yeh. I personally have really gone past this taking offence or feeling insulted emotions. :/ I can really care less as to wat ppl brand me as or if they don’t know my language. Good, I think, I’d get to teach them sumthin new now and hve sumthin to talk about.

    I guess growing up in a mosaic (Canada) does that to you. Your definition of personal identity distances itself from the family of birth. I’ve been.called Mexican so many times here. I no care. It doesn’t bother me one bit. Perhaps that’s why I’m still confused as to why there would be reeling over that lady’s comment. 😦

    Call me naive, call me stupid but I don’t get it. 😦 lack of information or knowledge on someone else’s part is immaterial to my existence. I’ll tell them if they are willing to listen. If they are not, well, we can talk about simething else but I would try not to judge them. There’s plenty things I’m ignorant about too. That too in my own culture. So blah! 🙂

  42. I am an Air Force officer’s daughter. Mentioned so because I read that you have an Army background. 🙂

    Finally good to see such things out in the open.

    I remember a time in school when a Kashmiri friend referred to a Telugu as Madrasi and I asked her to speak something in Bihari. She was offended.

    I said neither being a Tamilian or Bihari is offensive but the attitude is. Madrasi is NOT a word.

    Another instance is a teacher once saying capital of Karnataka is Trivandrum.

    I urge people to at least learn geography of their own country first before labeling others. Because these are the same who whine about being asked by a westerner if every one in India is a Snake charmer.

  43. With Solilo on this one..having seen the attitude of people who dont know squat about geography it used ti make me furious when they used to call a close friend madrasi..(she was from Kerala) and then another friend who was from Assam and was called chinky….all ‘northies’ being called biharis..
    the list is endless

    what are such morons doing in India?

  44. Solilo: “I urge people to at least learn geography of their own country first before labeling others” — quote of the day!

    Indyeah: absolutely!

  45. lol@ MM (who pointed me to the post)
    Its the attitude that had you reeling. Not the ignorance, but the attitude. I work in a multicultural work place and have seen many, many instances of feelings being hurt because the other party clubbed someone as “those chinks” or those “mexicans” when they meant korean/japanese/thai/filipino/generally people from east asia. After having lived here for a decade, I can now distinguish between korean and japanese and thai etc. and from mexicans to el saladoreas to argentinians. Because I took the effort.

  46. MM: i could use ’em.

    dotmom: hi there zen mum!
    yep. ’twas the attitude. i didn’t quite understand what was bothering me, until MGM up there explained it there so neatly.

  47. Have read this post before (MM pointed me to it) but didn’t read the comments. Now I see that all the fun was being had in the comment section 😛

    I know what made you reel. As Dottie said – it is the blase attitude. If someone made a mistake but accepted it and then tried to learn, it wouldn’t tick me off so.

    Anyway, even after 14 years of marriage, my inlaws think I am a “marwari” just because I grew up in Marwar (I am not. I come from a UPite brahmin family that settled down in Rajasthan). It isn’t that I am offended at being considered a marwari – it is just that after having me in their family for a good 14 years, they should make the effort to know things about me.

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