Illustration credits: Akshansh Aggarwal
I'm sure every Indian is proud to identify as one. Wait, no. Sadly, there'll be protests to that statement, what with the multiple rape cases that go unreported and unresolved, or the lynching, or the other not-so-secular activities that our constitutionally secular nation harbours.
I'm an Indian, and despite all of that, I am proud to identify as one. Being Indian is a huge part of my identity. But simply calling myself Indian is still talking about its culture in a very broad sense, since India itself comprises of so many intertwined cultures. India comprises 28 states and 9 union territories now, where the borders contain people following a myriad of belief systems, speaking different dialects, eating a variety of foods and wearing different types of clothes.
As the author M.F. Moonzajer said, "One's culture stands for one's personality and identity. It distinguishes a person from the rest spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually."
Our culture forms the basis of our belief system and ideologies. It is an integral part of who we are. At the time of an ice-breaking introduction, there are several egoistic details that are desirable to include, such as name, designation, and origin, but how useful is this information when the other person has no idea about the place that was just mentioned? For example - "Hi, I'm Pratiksha Pradhan. I'm a student at Delhi Technological University. I'm from Odisha."
"Um, Odisha? That's a place?"
Back in the third grade, at a new school, a classmate asked me where I was from. I didn't think twice before I said Odisha, because back then I was too innocent to believe that a level of ignorance existed among us. She gave me the strangest look, and replied, "Listen, stop trying to fool me, okay? It's not cool, you're not cool. You can't just make up places. By the way, that sounds like the name of a disease."
As she was just a haughty 8-year old, maybe she could be excused. But Indian adults? General knowledge is not so general anymore.
Another friend of mine thought Odisha wasn't even in India. When I explained to her its eastern location neighbouring West Bengal and Bihar and banking Bay of Bengal, the disappointment on her face was unforgettable. After all, I had just shattered her hopes of being her first foreigner friend!
There are 2 kinds of people I've encountered while telling them where I am from:
- People who know exactly where Odisha is located and love cracking jokes about it.
- People who have no idea where Odisha is located.
Like with any other place, some preconceived notions regarding Odisha and its people circulate, infamously featured on WhatsApp News. In the presence of my friends and companions, if someone has an Odisha-related query, they deem it imperative to add their comments with much insensitivity. "You know that state in India that's always in the news when there's a flood or a cyclone?"
Once another schoolmate asked me where I was from, so I instinctively answered, "I am from Odisha."
"Are you sure?" he asked, "You're too beautiful to be from that state."
Conflict and dilemma soon tarnished my thinking - had I just been subjected to a compliment or an insult? Much small talk later, he admitted to thinking that only tribes lived in the Land of Temples and that we hadn’t developed past the medieval stage.
Odisha is a beautiful place with much historical significance attached to it. It boasts the beauty of the breathtaking architecture of the Konarak Sun Temple, as well as the spirituality of the Jagannath Temple. It's the land where the tyrant Ashoka gave up his weapons and adopted the teachings of Buddha to transform into Ashoka the Great. It may be a very low-profile type of state indeed, but there's so much more to this land than just cyclones and floods. It is an integral part of my identity, my cultural background, and who I am. That's why every time someone asks me, "Where are you from?" I don't shy away from explaining to them where I am from, despite having to clarify any unbelievably annoying myths about the place they might believe in. So, once again, I will introduce myself - hi, I'm Pratiksha Pradhan. And I am from Odisha.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong solely to the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of DTU Times or Delhi Technological University.