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Call me Indian

The five people featured have only one answer when someone asks, ‘Where are you from?’ What can you say when you grew up in one state, studied in another and call yet another home? You can only reply, India!

entertainment Updated: Jan 23, 2010 21:40 IST

Dilip Kapur, born in Delhi, lives in Pondicherry

Born in Delhi to Punjabi parents, Kapur moved to Pondicherry when he was just five. “My parents came from Pakistan and settled in Agra,” he says. “After some years, they moved to Delhi. However, since my father was a big follower of Sri Aurobindo, he decided to move to Pondicherry. This upset my mother, as at that time Pondicherry was considered to be more of a French colony than anything else.”

Kapur grew up at the Ashram along with boys from various communities and says he never once felt like an outsider. “I had companions ranging from a Bengali boy to one from Gujarat and grew up speaking seven languages,” he explains. “Even now, I feel that Pondicherry is a cosmopolitan city in the true sense of the word. I have never felt this comfortable in any other city of India. I prefer it to Delhi, Mumbai and even Chennai.”

However, at the age of 15, Kapur went abroad to study. At the age of 30, he moved back to India from the US and settled down in Pondicherry. Explaining his decision, Kapur says, “I always had this strong urge to go back – the memories of those open spaces, green trees and the simple people were very strong in my mind. It was a gamble, but I wasn’t afraid to take it, and I have never regretted my decision.” Kapur chose to make his home in Pondicherry, setting up a Hidesign leather factory that employs hundreds of local women.

Over the years, his family has become so integrated into local culture that they participate in all celebrations and also enjoy local cuisine. “I am yet to see any other city that has been so peaceful and so welcoming,” explains Kapur. “I stayed at Nagpur for some time, but nothing beats this place. My second wife, who is German, speaks fluent Tamil and my daughter Ayesha is also most comfortable in Tamil and English.”

Prod him for any bad memories and Kapur is quick to shake his head. “The only time I felt slightly bad was when I had asked permission to build my hotel right on the Promenade and some MLAs raised an objection stating that I’m an outsider. However, the CM fully supported me and that meant a lot,” explains Kapur.

Ask him whether he misses out on big city life and Kapur is quick to say, “I don’t miss the city, just the people. I am quite happy to be miles away from the ills of a metro.”

Kapur is also sanguine about the fact that North Indians don’t consider him a native. “But at heart, and in my first choice of food, I will always be Punjabi,” says Kapur.
— Veenu Singh

Daksha Sheth, native of Ahmedabad, calls Kerala home

Though born and brought up in Ahmedabad, dancer Daksha Sheth now calls the suburb of Nemom in Thiruvanan-thapuram home. Having travelled across the country, learning various forms of dance, Sheth feels that she has imbibed a bit of all cultures. “I learnt Kathak in Delhi, Chau in Orissa, Malkhamb in Maharashtra and Kalaripayattu in Kerala. My passion for dance exposed me to the entire nation,” she says, laughing.

But Sheth, and her Australian-born musician, composer and photographer husband, Devissaro (and her two kids – actress Isha Sharvani and son Tao) finally chose to call Kerala home. “I was struck by the natural splendour,” explains Sheth. “Also, here, I got space to build my natyasharam close to something that I cherish – water.”

However, life in another state is not always hunky dory. Sheth explains that she feels the language does create a divide. “No one understands Hindi and it is difficult to manage daily tasks,” says Sheth.

She, however, is quick to acknowledge her fault. “I know that I haven’t really tried to do much,” says Sheth ruefully, adding, “After all these years, I should have picked up the language. But it’s still strange to feel like a foreigner in your own country.” Her kids have adjusted better. “They can speak Malayalam comfortably. So I don’t really have much to complain about,” smiles Sheth.

Language apart, Sheth feels that the biases of gender and skin too came into play in Kerala, albeit only initially. “The gender bias may not be exclusive to this state, but it does exist,” explains Sheth, adding, “Besides, I also look very different owing to my skin colour. So initially men in official positions, did not really take my work and me seriously. I guess they learned better with time.” Sometimes, Sheth adds, circumstances also worked in her favour. “People saw a woman and didn’t want to stress me out. So sometimes work got done very easily and with utter politeness,” she laughs.
— Tavishi Paitandy Rastogi

Khushbu Sundar, originally from Mumbai, resident of Chennai

She has idlis named after her and temples built in her honour, so it’s no surprise that Tamil actress Khushbu Sundar loves Chennai, despite being born and brought up in Mumbai.

Sundar started her film career in Bollywood as a child artist, but moved to Chennai to start working in the Tamil film industry. She never returned. Sundar is married to actor-director Sundar C (with whom she has two daughters) and has been living in Chennai for 20 years now.

Looking back, Sundar says that the move was quite smooth for her. “I was working round the clock and never had the time to experience the place,” she explains. “Also, for someone who loves partying, Chennai would have been restricting. But I am not a party person and so had no trouble adjusting here.”

The lack of food choices didn’t affect her either. Says Sundar, “I always ate, and still eat, home-made food often. We make the usual north Indian fare at home. Sometimes, my family eats dosas and idlis. But I did that even in Mumbai, at South Indian restaurants.”

Language on the other hand, was a problem. Sundar took four to five years to pick up Tamil. “On the sets, most people would converse in English, but there were times when interactions were tough,” says Sundar. She adds, “My mother still hasn’t picked up the language. People find it easier to talk to her in Hindi.”

The actress confesses that she does miss her family in Mumbai. “Since the time I moved here, my family has celebrated Id alone,” says Sundar. “In Mumbai, we would always make the rounds of our relatives’ houses.”

She says that this does not mean that she has not made friends in Chennai. “I have a great set of friends here with whom I socialise. But my relatives are only in Mumbai. I visit Mumbai once in five years to catch up with them,” explains Sundar. Another niggle? “My children do not get leave for Diwali and Holi, but we celebrate them anyway,” says Sundar.

What else does she miss? “Freedom,” says Sundar, promptly. “I can walk around freely in Mumbai. I cannot do that here.”
— Parul Khanna

Vinod Rajagopal, grew up in Jamshedpur, settled in Pune

Vinod Rajagopal was born to parents from Kerala, grew up in Jamshedpur and then made his home in Pune. But how did the 35-year-old instructional designer find himself in such a situation? “I chose Pune to pursue my higher education, because of the kind of opportunities it offered,” explains Rajagopal. “Lots of my seniors were already studying there, so I felt it was the best choice for me.
Rajagopal was “initially very happy and really liked the city”, but soon encountered some problems. “The divide between people from UP and Bihar and Maharashtrians began to surface when I was staying in a hostel in Pune. I would say the fault was on both sides – there was this swagger and pride that fed on insecurities and created ego hassles,” he recalls.

But, over the years, Rajagopal realised that there were no problems with individual Biharis or Maharashtrians, and that the tensions were politically motivated. “It’s not individuals who create divides: politicians and governments do that,” explains Rajagopal.
He also feels that part of the anger was because of the undue influx of people into Maharashtra’s cities. “The state and city cannot sustain this kind of inflow,” says Rajagopal. He adds, “The fault is the government’s – there’s hardly any infrastructure and growth in UP, Bihar and other areas. So you can’t blame people for migrating elsewhere.”

Rajagopal is also all praise for his home. “People in Pune are peace-loving. I also fell in love with its vibrant culture and natural surroundings,” he says.

And he absolutely loves the cuisine. “I think Pune has the tastiest and healthiest food in the country,” he says, “It’s a perfect blend of North and South, and the variety you get in vegetables is mind-boggling.”

Rajagopal’s parents and sister have now followed him to Pune. “My parents are growing old and need to be close to me now,” he says, even as he remembers growing up in Jamshedpur.

“Jamshedpur is extremely cosmopolitan, and that’s what’s made me so tolerant of different communities,” he explains, “Because I’ve lived among so many different kinds of people, I don’t feel like a stranger anywhere.”
— Supriya Thanawala

Him Chatterjee, Bengali by birth, Himachali in all other ways

Him Chatterjee’s fate was sealed when his father, renowned painter Sanat Kumar Chatterjee, decided to move to Shimla in 1962. When his son was born in 1968, the senior Chatterjee decided to name him Him (for Himachal and snow). Today, Chatterjee cannot dream of calling any other place home.

“I have great respect for this state,” says Chatterjee. “I feel that Himachalis are not just one of the happiest people in the country but also the most hospitable.”

Ask him if he’s ever faced any problems and Chatterjee replies, “Bengalis have a big connection with the people of Himachal. They too are big believers in Goddess Kali and the Kali Bari in Shimla is important to Bengalis and Himachalis alike.”

Chatterjee adds, “Though we speak Bengali at home and eat Bengali food, we are equally at ease with local traditions and cuisine. I am married to a girl from Himachal, so I’m known as a ‘khadu Bengali’.” Chatterjee has found artistic inspiration in the state’s scenic landscapes and has also written a book on its forts and palaces. His latest project involves opening an art gallery in a village called Heawn near Shimla.

However, Chatterjee does have complaints. “In recent years, there has been far too much commercialisation of Shimla.” And when asked if he has experienced any discrimination, he replies that when his father was nominated for the Padma Shri in 1993, some objections were raised about him not being from the state. “Another factor I have noticed lately is that people who don’t belong are not given good posts in the state. This can be a bad thing,” says Chatterjee.