I am a “Gujju”, and proud of it, has been edited by Aashna Kanuga.
Ever since I was late to meet a couple of friends on a Sunday afternoon, because I took a nap after lunch, I have been termed as a “Gujju sheth”. Because apparently, that is what Gujarati businessmen do. Slog through the week, eat fafda jalebi on a Sunday, and take naps. It has been five years, but my friends keep on finding ways to call me a Gujju every time we meet.
This is not the first time someone has tried to enlighten me about how “Gujarati” I was. Be it my habit to have a cutting chai every couple of hours, roaming around at night with my friends, or choosing a Gujarati thali over a gourmet dinner at a fancy restaurant. I never really understood why I was such a “Gujju” for two reasons. Firstly, how Gujarati must one be to be termed a Gujju? Secondly, at the end of the day, I am Gujarati. How else do I behave? Why is it worth making fun of?
I was born and brought up in Ahmedabad, in a family that was quintessentially Gujarati. Obviously, there was a strong Gujarati influence to my behaviour. If my friends pointed out character flaws, I would be glad to identify them and try to work on them. But being called a Gujju as an insult is something I will never accept.
I was once listening to a garba from the National Award-winning movie Wrong Side Raju. I wasn’t using my earphones because I was all alone. A friend walked in and asked me “What the fuck is wrong with you?”.
I thought it was the volume that upset him, and I offered to reduce it. Turns out, it was the choice of the song.
That is the hypocrisy that perhaps confused me the most. We listen to Despacito, without understanding a word, to the extent of memorising it, might I add. Then why is it a problem if I listen to a something from a culture that I belong to? Is it okay to listen to garba only during Navratri? Why is someone shaming my roots, my cultural identities? Especially when they have grown up with them as well?
I have been a follower of Pranav Mistry, Global Senior Vice President of Research at Samsung. He is a distinguished inventor who has featured regularly on TED. His inventions include SixthSense, a wearable device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data. He also happens to belong to Gujarat. Back in 2013, Pranav Mistry launched Samsung’s latest smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear. But some Indians decided to shame Mistry for his accent, rather than talking about his inventions.
Aakar Patel, another Gujarati, wrote the following on LiveMint:
An Indian speaking like a native before foreigners embarrasses us because the accent betrays a lack of sophistication that stigmatizes all Indians
I talked about this to a friend who has just come back from Scotland. I asked her if people around her made fun of her accent. She replied that people there actually loved her Indian accent.
So where are those people who are waiting to judge Pranav Mistry’s accent than his intellect?
Why are individuals like Aakar Patel shaming their own countrymen? Especially when said countrymen are changing the world? Why is someone from India so insecure about Pranav’s accent that despite him launching a revolutionary product, it is the latter’s accent he chooses to make fun of? If someone does not have the perfect accent—if it exists at all—what is wrong with that? It is highly likely that if Pranav Mistry solely concentrated on his accent, he might not have been the inventor we know him to be.
In a society that tells us to be ourselves, why are there individuals who not only refuse to take pride in their own identities but also shame those who do? Are the individuals who attack Pranav Mistry for his accent, or call someone “so Gujarati”, a part of “progress”? Then again, is progress really progress if we forget where we came from? In a society that asks one to be themselves, why is it shaming me for doing exactly that?
Towards the end, just like Pranav Mistry, I would like to tell everyone that I am as “Gujju” as I can get and a proud one at it.
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