Not long ago I read an interesting and inspired short article about identity that got me thinking about my own. After a few minutes, I realised that it's rather amusing, depending on your sense of humour of course. Allow me to elaborate.
I am Sri Lankan.
I am half Indian.
I am a Christian.
I am a Tamil.
I have lived in Sri Lanka for more than 17 years and yet was considered an Indian for most of it.
I lived in India for almost 5 years and was considered a Sri Lankan through all of it.
Let me stop there, before I bore all (three) of my readers to death. As you can see, being born in Sri Lanka to mixed parents, english medium education and Indian food has somehow left me as a bit of an outsider in both home and India. I speak Sinhala (the local language) about as well as I belly dance; both induce either outbursts of laughter or feelings of nausea in anyone that has the misfortune of witnessing it. Yet being a Tamil, I should at least know that language well, but I don't even know a single word! So it was with some relief that I entered university in India; finally, I thought I could blend in with the crowd and be just one of the guys. Not so - apparently I was not just the only Sri Lankan in my batch, I was unofficially the first Sri Lankan in recent history to study at my university! Add to that the fact that I was also the youngest student in my batch of 800, and there was no real escape from the attention of the preying seniors, looking for someone to rag. Luckily though, ragging had ceased to be the terror that it used to be, and I had to endure little or no humilitation at all, save for a few bad jokes about "Shitty Lanka". Haha.
After the ragging period though, things didn't get much better. Now I was 'The Lankan', and was made to convert simple english phrases to Sinhalese at every other group lunch or dinner, like some kind of trained monkey with a trick - "Ooh! Do it again, do it again!!". Luckily for me, after a few years their interest in my language waned, and soon I finished college and returned home with nothing gained (save for a rather annoying India accent) and my 'Journey of Self-Realisation' a laughable failure.
In today's world, it's quite common to find people that are confused in their own identity and/or roots. Society is partly to blame, as there is so much pressure to conform to certain values and practices based on society's classification of us. It's quite prevalent in Sri Lanka, even if it is subtle - for example, the language in which your identity card is printed is dependant on whether you're a Sinhalese or a Tamil, thus making it quite easy for the authorities to make the distinction when physical appearances are deceiving. In certain government institutes and even some private ones, it is still normal to find the field labelled 'Race' in their various application forms. My uncle faithfully fills that line with the answer : 'Human'.
There are so many ways to define ourselves that we forget which one is the most important. There's nationality, race, skin colour, country of birth, religion, caste, political beliefs - the list is endless. If I applied that to myself, I could come up with so many different 'classifications' to fit into, most of which would be terribly inaccurate.