International Speech Contest – Who Am I?

I recently participated in Toastmasters’ International Speech Contest. This starts at your club level, then Area, then Division, then District and then Internationally.

I won at my club level, surprisingly. And then moved to participate in Area level at IIM Bangalore. Although, I didn’t win there but I did good, as per my own expectations.

Here’s the script for the same:

Instance 1
I was in 12th standard. At a coaching institute in Jaipur. One guy walks up to me and asked:
“Are you from West Bengal?”
“Oh, but you do look like a Bengali?”
I was as confused as a non-Bengali when they hear Bengalis say ‘A for Orange.’

Instance 2
I had just reached Bangalore. I met a few people in company’s cab.
“Nice to meet you. My name is Abhinav Bhatt.”
“Oh Bhatt? Single T or Double T. Are you from Mangalore?”
“So you must be a Gujarati or… Kashmiri?”
“Ah, no, wrong answer!”
“But Bhatts are from there only!”

Instance 3
During an Interview when asked “tell me something about yourself…”
“Hi I am Abhinav. I’m from Jaipur, Rajasthan.”
“Ah Rajasthan. You must be a Marwari, right?”
“Err No.”
“Then, how far is desert from your place?”
“Desert? Oh that is about 300-400 KM. But do you know, we used to go to our school on Camels. And my mother used to travel 5 KM daily, to get us a bucket of water? Life was tough, indeed. Can I go and drink some water? I am perpetually dehydrated, you see!”

Has it ever happened with you? As soon as you give them a little hint about your name, surname or native place, people’s judgemental antenna come out. People start applying labels, tool-tips and subtitles to everything you say. They start judging you from the word go?

Oh you are a Northie? Hindi Speaking Paneer Guzzling Loud People!
Oh you are a Southie? All are Madrasis. What to say!
Oh you’re from North East. Noticed.

Happens! Right?

Sherlock Holmes is known for doing that. By seeing people, he gets to know, who are they, where they came from and why they’ve come! But, we all start behaving like Sherlock and start placing people on certain classifications as soon as we meet them as we deem right. Sherlock used the ‘Science of Deduction’. And we? We use the Art of Assumption. We don’t want to spend time to understand anyone. We have set rules to classify people and that doesn’t even take time. So, we judge everyone, in an instant.

I’ll share few real life examples:
I was in Hyderabad and for the first time, I had an interaction with a girl from Odisha. She told me, Abhinav, you are a boy. I said ‘Yes, of course why doubting?’ And you are an Engineer. I said ‘Indeed’. Then why don’t you eat Non-Veg and Drink Alcohol? I was as confused as you are or when one gets when one sees the payslip at the end of the month.

This was an incident which can be overlooked as being funny. However, Things turn ugly when this stereotyping goes beyond jokes.

You must be familiar about a racial attack which happen with African people in Delhi recently. Similar, there was a huge ruckus when an anti-North-East people Text Forward became viral and Bangalore and almost everyone from the North East had to run home for their lives.

When I hear such incidents, I question myself. Who I really am and what is my native place?

My ancestors belonged to some place in South India, near Pennar river. Then they moved north few centuries ago. Few landed at MP, few at UP, some took a detour towards Maharashtra and Gujarat. Rest of us landed at Delhi and Rajasthan.

That leaves me with a question: WHO AM I? WHERE I AM FROM? WHERE DO I BELONG?

Am I a Hindi Speaking North Indian who was brought up in Rajasthan, studied in a Punjabi School, and now works in South India? Seriously, who am I? And if you think about yourself. Who are you really? Where are you from?

And most importantly, do you think it matters? Do you think we have time to think about someone’s geographical background in today’s day and age. We are now so much connected with technology that it doesn’t matter where you are from. Everything is Global.

I take pride in my city and language I speak. But I fail to understand how does it make me superior or others inferior.

I look like the most average Indian brown-skinned person who could be any caste or religion, speak any language and from anywhere in India. If it can happen with me. Imagine what happens to those who: Look different. Speak different. Dress different. The only way, to stop people from judging others, is to wear this wherever you go around. And when everyone will wear this, it won’t give anyone else a chance to form opinions about others, just by reading the name, hearing the language and watching the color of the skins.

Do you want everyone to look like this?

Think about it!