Ghar se beghar … sort of

My passport lists my place of birth as Bilaspur, Madhya Pradesh. When it comes up for renewal I don’t know if I will feel comfortable calling the state where I was born `Chhatisgarh’. For my mother is not Chhatisgarhi by even a long shot; she is from Madhya Pradesh.

I have cousins who `lived’ in Uttar Pradesh. But now they are Uttaranchalis, resident in its capital of Dehradun for years, long before Uttaranchal came into existence.

I have family and friends in Hyderabad who are now rather bemused about where they might soon belong – they are Hyderabadis but not necessarily Telanganis, though they are proud to call themselves `Telegus’ or `Andhra-ites’.

And when my mother got her degrees from Nagpur University, it was the capital of Central Provinces and Berrar (now Madhya Pradesh). My uncle was once the District Magistrate of Nagpur but then he had to retire from the Madhya Pradesh cadre because by then Nagpur, the capital of `C.P’, was merely the winter capital of Maharashtra where out of some reluctant deference for its former status as a capital city, the Maharashtra government moves its administration for a token three weeks in December (in fact, the winter session of the legislature is underway there right now).

All of my own degrees are from Nagpur University, Maharashtra but with the Telangana demand being conceded, I wonder where I will belong if the demand for Vidarbha raises its ugly head again. I say `ugly’ because having been brought up and educated in Nagpur, I know no ordinary citizen from Vidarbha wants a separate state. If it is one of the most backward regions of Maharashtra, that is entirely because its own politicians have found it convenient to keep the region backward. The region has given Maharashtra at least two Chief Ministers so far – VP Naik in the Sixties and the Seventies and his nephew two decades later in the early Nineties. Yet VP Naik, despite being Maharashtra’s longest-serving Chief Minister to date, did more for Western Maharashtra than for his own constituency and his nephew could not even be found when the Morbad dam in Nagpur district burst in July 1991, submerging five villages in its vicinity. It was left to officials to launch some damage control, both in terms of containing the dam waters and furiously containing the rumours that Naik had been allegedly drunk and out of sorts the previous night and so in no position to take a call on even as basic an issue as this one, so close to his own home in Yavatmal, Vidarbha.

Today the official definition of a `Maharashtrian’ is someone who has lived in Maharashtra for at least fifteen years without break. I have lived here all my life, barring study breaks abroad. So whether in Nagpur or Bombay, I am a proud Maharashtrian.  But now I have more years in Bombay than I have at a stretch in Nagpur, though my visits to my mother settled there are quite frequent. If a separate Vidarbha were to define the rights of its citizens the way Maharashtra does, I would be a stranger to my own home town – I know no other. When politicians and others ask me for my `gaon’, I say, `Nagpur’. And when my surname confuses them, I say, “Just don’t ask. Ours is a family that’s spread all over India. We belong where we live and we absorb its culture. So when cousins get together for weddings or other events, what we have in common is simply a blood tie, the cultural references could be poles apart.”

And that comes both from my mother’s side as well as my father’s. When my sister/cousins were marrying, we never looked for caste or regional affiliations. The qualities of the potential spouse were more important and today we have multi-ethnicity among our `in-laws’, some cutting across even religious and national lines (there are a few international alliances, too).

Because we were born of parents who hailed from two different regions of the state, my father always proudly claimed, “My children are true products of national integration. They belong to both the south and the north but, more importantly, they belong to India.”

I understood that boast only after I became a journalist and worked my way through the turbulent times in India in the decades of the Eighties and the Nineties when the polity was entirely polarised and divided across religious and caste lines.

Over the years, I have realised it is not the people who divide themselves but the politicians who divide the rest of us for their own short-term interests. That is perhaps what is happening vis-à-vis the Telangana movement from the little that I have garnered from my uncle in Hyderabad.

Going by the Vidarbha movement, I know the people would want to stick with Maharashtra and I have always been thankful that my home state always has had a mature set of politicians – Sharad Pawar did not concede to the Vidarbha demand when he was chief minister, nor did Bal Thackeray when the Shiv Sena-BJP was ruling in the late Nineties. Now, though, I wonder if Pawar might play to the gallery, considering his Nationalist Congress Party has no presence in the region and hiving it off might give the NCP an upper hand over the Congress in Maharashtra. Thackeray, I know, will stay determined — more so because his mother hailed from Amravati and his party, too, is now doing well in Vidarbha.

I guess I will just have to wait and see if, like my uncle and his family who suddenly do not belong after a lifetime of investment — both emotional and financial — in Hyderabad, I, too, go `ghar se beghar’, so to say. Or if the Congress (as well as other politicians) will have the courage to put a Full Stop at Telangana.

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