I am More Indian Than You Think

I come from a suburb of Kolkata which has a population that followed all kinds of religions possible in India. We even have people belonged to different tribes as neighbors. An outsider can’t differentiate between houses of different religious person, we live in such a way. Inter-caste and inter-religion marriage is very common in our area and nobody thinks it as more than a small gossip. But we all speak Bengali so the harmony was nothing extraordinary in my opinion.

I started playing chess when I was 11 years old. To be honest I was quite late compared to other chess players I know. I was a shy and introvert girl at that time. I still am. But that exposure into the world as a sportsman changed my life. During my first year I came to know the players speaking different but familiar languages and coming from different parts of West Bengal. I made friends for the first time with the boys and girls of different ages other than those I knew since my childhood. The horizon of my mind just started to get bigger.

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Within a year I got selected for national level age group tournaments. My first ever national tournament was held in Thrissur in Kerala. That was the longest train journey I have ever made at that age. It took us 3 days to reach there. I struck up an acquaintance with a lady in train who spoke fluent Bengali but told me her mother tongue was Telugu. I was amazed. Co-incidentally the journey covered the 31st December and 1st January. I was woken up by some people running around shouting and wishing each other “Happy new year!”. Such a unique and happy way to start the year.

My experience was same at the tournament as well. Till then I only read in books that our country’s political motto is “Unity in diversity” and I experienced just that after reaching the venue. So many girls from every corner of India came to participate in that tournament, held in a small village called Peechi. Some came with their families, just like me. The families made friends with each other with their broken English while we girls played against each other. Many knew each other from earlier tournaments. Every evening after our tournament rounds and before our practice sessions we played together in the hilly ground or went to see the beautiful reservoir & dam nearby. The tournament was hosted in a church. We all shared dormitories and had so much fun together. The village had only a small hut which served rice, sambar, and omelette for lunch and dinner. The only small stationery shop available there had a pay phone from where we made calls to home.

I made best of friends over the years from every corner of India. We grew up together literally. We met each other at tournaments every few months held in different corners of India. I participated in tournaments held in places I never imagined existed. I traveled extensively. And from that time I became a bohemian at heart forever. I felt proud being an Indian. I don’t think any other country has as many differences as we Indians have yet so connected to each other. During International tournaments I even made acquaintances with people coming from different countries.

We, chess players played against each other but never hated any. After every match we discussed and helped each other to analyze the games and find wrong moves we made. We wrote letters to each other for years pouring our hearts out.  I am still in touch with many. We never bothered about religions, regions or financial status. We shared rooms, meals, heartbreaks, failures and success with each other as if we were families. We loved and accepted each other just the way we were. We even tried to learn each other’s languages. We never laughed at each other’s accented and broken languages as we taught each other or at our poor scores in the tournament. More than anything we exchanged our different cultures and values.

I tasted different authentic regional foods (sometime even home-made foods) as I traveled to different parts of India since very young age. With that exposure I have developed a tongue which can survive with any kind of tasty food available around me without feeling homesick. From Chhole Batore to Dosa, from Fish Curry to Misal Pav, from Momos to Haleem, from Lucknow Biryani to Hyderabadi Biryani, from Rajma to Malabar Chicken, I am all game. That same exposure made me understand and love people even if they are not Bengali or Indian. I have become a global citizen yet an Indian at heart.

Today India has more than 40 Grand Masters and many International Masters. India has produced exceptional players over the years and many more in the making. Even though I don’t play anymore I still feel so proud of being a chess player. It is not a team game yet there is no rivalry. It is this Indian-ness that helped me succeeding in my career as a Graphic Designer, as a designer must understand every client’s taste and need is different. I shifted to Bangalore 10 years back and never felt away from home. I am #MoreIndianThanYouThink it is possible.

Knowing people with different mother tongues made me a language-lover. So I started learning German as well. Two years back I met an elderly German couple, Moni and Klaus on a trip in Coorg, Karnataka and we are still in touch through e-mails. As I spoke to them in German they said they felt at home. Before parting Moni gifted me her magazine as that was the only possible option she had. I still treasure that one.

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Lufthansa’s new TVC caught my attention. It is celebrating India’s growing global influence. In this ad the mouth watering food they are serving made me think how delighted Moni and Klaus would be when they make their next trip to India as they always travel by Lufthansa. And I hope I can visit them soon.

This post is written as a part of the contest #MoreIndianThanYouThink in association with Indiblogger and Lufthansa.

Human I see: 2 : The Chaiwala at Juhu Beach

It was the last day of our 15-day road trip in Maharashtra. We were sitting with our luggage at Juhu beach before catching our flight. I was hit by “October-heat”, which managed to appear well in advance in September last year and knocked me down. Actually that was the reason I wanted to come back to Bangalore as soon as possible and feel better with the usual and famous pleasant weather of Bangalore. Maharashtra was terribly hot.

As usual we noticed some dogs there, as we always do. But we had no energy to make friends with them this time. We were watching from far. People were rushing to the beach as it was already evening. Just then we saw this chaiwala on his busy hours of business stopped in front of a dog who looked old and diseased a bit. He sat down beside the dog, took out one of his paper cup and poured some water from a bottle and gave the dog to drink from it.

He waited till the dog finished and then poured some more. The dog was probably done with it and moved further. He took the cup and threw it in the dustbin near.

Then he went on his way and resumed his business.

We fell in love with a human.

Our evening tea was special.

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