I’m a Punjabi. That was what I grew up knowing. Well, my last name is Khurana and most people around me identify themselves as Punjabis. However, to be honest, I am not a Punjabi. I’m a no one actually. I don’t identify with any one culture.
I was born in Dehradun. It’s a city that was predominantly Garhwali when I was a kid. I had friends who spoke similar languages, ate similar tasting food, had similar lives and so on. They even knew each other’s families somehow. They all belonged to the place.
I was a Punjabi belonging to a line of recent refugees. However, I don’t speak my native language nor does anyone else in my household. They understand it, obviously. I doubt anyone can write in Punjabi at my house though. I’ll have to check with my mother on that one.
If Bollywood is to be trusted, a Punjabi without a pind is no Punjabi at all. Even if I have a pind (village) then I have not visited it ever. I don’t know if I have one yet. I’ll have to check up on that as well. I have reason to believe that logically, it’s Kho in Rajasthan. That’s where we laid refuge first, my grandfather and his family, back during the partition of India. Maybe we had a pind in Pakistan’s part of Punjab. If we do, we’ve never visited it yet. Will I ever? Time will tell.
I grew up in a mixed bag of cultures and since I couldn’t identify with any one of them, I adopted a lot of stuff from a lot of places. The result was simple. It’s the surprise I get when I tell people I’m a Punjabi.
What? You’re a Punjabi? Oh, yes. Khuranas are Punjabis. Oh. Yes. Yes.
This is the typical reaction I get when I break it to someone because if I never tell them I’m a Punjabi, they would never put two and two together. That’s because I am as far from the stereotypes as one could be actually. I don’t fancy butter chicken, for starters, but it goes way deeper than my lip-smacking capabilities. Hell, I don’t even relate to the mannerisms and behaviour that run in my family. I am quite different from them too, in certain aspects.
I came to Delhi-NCR and found that most Punjabis did a lot of things in the same way. As if, there was a crash course I missed enrolling into. I slowly learned that I didn’t belong with them either. I was supposedly a Punjabi but I had not learned to be one. In fact, I was more Garhwali than Punjabi by the time I was 20-years old. An obvious realisation given I have never set foot in Punjab.
Influenced because Dehradun in itself is a place like me. It does not yet know what culture it belongs to and that’s the beauty of it because it extends over the native cultures of India as well. We have remnants of the English as well as that of Tibet and China. Besides those, there’s a plethora of different cultures and families in Dehradun. However, it is still predominantly Garhwali.
The Silver Lining
I learned in the last couple of years that I have a brilliant advantage in not identifying with one culture. I have a blank slate. Since I don’t identify with one community, I’m spared from their stereotypes. Not just that, I’m also spared from who they’re supposed to like, not supposed to like, what they’re supposed to do, etcetera. Most people around me were shaped to be like that not through their actions but through what they saw. I just had the luxury of not seeing most of it.
Honestly, I hated the feeling of not feeling like I belonged anywhere. A Punjabi who was born and raised in Garhwal who practically grew up on the internet. Who was I anyway?
However, travelling taught me that I was amazing in not belonging anywhere.
I went to Mumbai for a week this summer. By the time I left, I had already picked up certain mannerisms that belonged to Mumbaikars and native Marathis.
Having lived in Noida for over two years, I know there are certain parts of my speech that have clearly been influenced by here.
I went to Jaipur for four days and there was nothing that bothered me about the place, despite its differences, mostly because I had no expectations or default.
Same goes for Agra. I even lived at a friend’s relative’s house in Agra. Had dinner with them and had no trouble whatsoever.
I’ve been to McLeodganj and Shimla twice in three years and I loved it there.
I have no reservations or inhibitions because I had nothing that would’ve imbibed them in me.
This is primarily why I want to travel more now. I want to explore cultures, people and what not. Mostly to see what and which culture tips me off or pushes me on tilt because so far, there haven’t been any.
Maybe the sense of not belonging to any one place is what put the curiosity to me but I have always wanted to go out and find where I belonged. Some amateur travelling has changed that and now I know that the only place I belong to is the world itself.
I was talking to and catching up after months with one of my closest friends when he summed this up quite nicely for me,
Main to yahi kehta hu, yaar. Main duniya ka hu. Tu bhi duniya ka hai, bhai.
(That’s exactly what I tell people, man. I belong to the world. So do you, brother.)