And… Then I was None

— Vivek Singh


I am going through a crisis. No I am not one bit worried or altered by the financial crisis. I am way too happy, lazing around in an academic cocoon of the graduate program in physics, to be even bothered by that. Physicists don’t invest. How can they, when they don’t get paid enough to even think of saving, let alone invest? No, we are not underpaid either. If you ask me, I would say that I am getting paid on a socialist pay scale, unlike my good friends, who are getting paid on the capitalist scale. By giving us just enough to survive, our visionary council body makes sure that the health of science is not affected by the ills of financial hiccups. So is it a personal crisis? Well, not really. I am not reading self-motivating books, am not self-introspecting and am very much in thick of things at my workplace, which means I am “in a way” happy with my meandering life. What I am miserable about is the contumely of moral and social guardians who are striking at the very places which form my identity.

What is the first question a stranger asks you in India? Time? Bus or train route? Issues of national importance (yeah I met few of them doing just that)? However if that stranger has a possibility of being a future acquaintance, 90% chances are that you are likely to face the question — You are from which place?

I reply, “Durgapur.”

They: “Sorry never heard of…”

“A place in West Bengal,” I reply before they finish their sentence.

“Oh… You are bong,” they respond in a surprised tone.

“Err… not exactly,” I mutter uneasily.

“Okay okay, your surname is Singh… Then you must be a Punjabi.”

“No I am not,” I reply sheepishly.


Now this “Then” is the most dangerous and uncomfortable question I have faced till now. The answer to this “Then” just plasters the preconceived notions of “They” on their mind. I have already been unfaithful to my birth place Bengal by saying I am not exactly a Bengali.

“My father’s birth place is in UP,” I say half-finished when “They”:

“Aah … UPwaala you are…”

“Err not exactly…” — I have again knowingly shown my traitorous behaviour towards UP.

“Then?” — again that dreadful little Then.

“Well, I have strong roots in my mother’s native place, which is in Bihar.”

“Ohhooo… You are a Bihari…”

“Err not exactly…” — Now Bihar is back-stabbed.

Before another “Then” is asked, I summarize my whole identity by saying, “You see I have imbibed all my qualities from, presently, the three worst states of India by any of the measurable terms of growth and development”. They are now happy. Schadenfreude it seems.

Now I have come to Mumbai and have added another misfortune to my identity. It’s that of a North Indian in Mumbai. Now, statistically, I am very happy. Considering that there are 28 states in India, before coming to Mumbai, I was only 3/28th i.e about 11% Indian. However after being branded as North Indian by MNS, I can happily argue that I am 25% Indian, now with the unwanted double increment. Five years down the line, I have one more “Then?” to answer.

So the crisis I face now is when will I be a complete Indian? I hate Mahendra Singh Dhoni leading the winning Indian cricket team, because then he is 100% Indian while I am not. I hate Abhinav Bindra for winning Gold in Olympics, because, while being a North Indian, he is still a champion Indian while I am not. And last but not the least, I hate Lalu, Mayawati and Mamata Didi for all the so-called “Indian-n(l)ess” they possess, which leaves ordinary people like me live like an ordinary Indian. I sometime wonder if the dementia-like question of “Then?” can somewhere down the line turn in to a question of “Who are you”, if we continue to be the half-civilized human beings we are, else the question of “What are you?” is not very far away.


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