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Was it really important that their respective states were fighting over Cauvery water? They looked at things the same way, and that is all that mattered as a couple!
Shruthi realized that the news was making it difficult for her to breathe around her mother in law. She quietly moved to the kitchen to make tea for the family, when she realised that she was soon going to run out of milk for the night. And there was no way she could get fresh milk now given that all shops were closed due to the protests. The only choice that she was left with was to add more water to the milk than usual.
She served tea to her husband and parents in law, and called her eight-year old daughter, Maya, for her evening milk and snacks. As she sat at the table, the little one heard her grandmother say, “It’s the same story playing over and over again, every year. Why can’t these people understand that we have no water for ourselves here?”
Maya saw that her mother sat still and continued sipping on her tea as though she hadn’t heard a word. She knew that such conversations at home always made her mother feel uncomfortable. It made her uncomfortable too, although she was too young to recognise it. After all, she was as much a Tamil as she was a Kannadiga.
Shruthi and Sandeep married a decade ago after being in love for nearly four years. They had met in college, sparks flew, they dreamed of being together, and after a lot of drama from their families, they convinced their parents into getting them married. They both did well for themselves and were living a life that their friends often envied.
Though Sandeep’s parents were initially reluctant to let him marry into a Tamil family of a different caste, they accepted Shruthi whole-heartedly after the marriage. However, every time tensions rose between the two states, Shruthi felt like a small part of her was yet to be accepted by her mother in law.
But it wasn’t really her mother in law’s comments that made her cringe internally. The woman only ranted because the suffering of the farmers in her state affected her deeply. It had nothing to do with Shruthi’s ethnicity, and Shruthi knew that. Yet it got to her.
Shruthi was born and brought up entirely in Bengaluru, even though her parents were originally from Trichy in Tamil Nadu. As a child, she had witnessed bandhs and protests in full swing due to the Cauvery water issue and the abduction of actor Rajkumar. Every time the schools declared holidays in view of the protests, she had made merry with her friends. Still, there were these instances at a friend’s birthday party or while chatting with friends – when someone would say, “You people eat our food, drink our water, make your livelihood here. Yet you fight with us for water, don’t learn the language. Don’t you have any gratitude?” or “You people have no water in your state. You beg us for water every year. But you never stop being arrogant.”
Being the timid child that she was, she’d behave like it didn’t affect her. But once she was home, she’d rush to her Dad to narrate the nastiness she just witnessed. A proud, hard-working man, her Dad would tell her – “Sweetheart, the work I do here helps my office open more branches in this city. And there are many people like me who do this in both the states. None of us are living on charity here.”
Though her Dad’s intention was to instill confidence in her, Shruthi only felt more confused. Her questioning mind would never buy what her Dad said entirely – “Why would that nice aunty say such things about Tamils unless they have conducted themselves in such a manner?” or, “They are right in a way, aren’t they? Even though we work hard, it is their resources that sustain us, it is their land that has given us livelihood. Still many Tamils don’t try to learn their language and keep behaving like they have been wronged. Shouldn’t these people also make an effort to get along better?” The inner monologue would go on.
When she’d visit her relatives in Trichy, she was always ‘the Bangalore cousin’. She’d miss her friends and the freedom she had in Bangalore.
And in Bangalore, her face would always light up when she heard someone converse in Tamil.
“So where do I belong?”, she often wondered as a teenager.
Then she met Sandeep. Sparks flew, and they dreamed of being together. And suddenly, there was no confusion about where she belonged. She belonged with him. Everything about him was a matter of awe for her. And everything about her was adorable for him. When they decided to marry, she knew in every cell of her body that their child would have a rich upbringing with both cultures acting upon him/her. When their parents pointed out that their child would grow up confused, they shot back saying, “He/she would be an Indian.” They married.
It was only at her workplace that Shruthi found good Tamil friends. Her observations on the importance of learning a language in order to share a good rapport with the people around her had by then turned her into a polyglot. She could converse freely in Kannada, Hindi, Malayalam, English and Tamil. And she noticed how her other Tamil friends at office could also speak multiple languages. They didn’t seem to have rigid, Dravidian and Tamil ideas as many of her acquaintances believed.
And then on a lazy Sunday afternoon in 2010, it all came to her. The Indian Rupee had just got its own design. The Indian government had singled out one from thousands of design entries – the symbol was a clever integration of the Devanagari ‘Ra’ and the Roman letter ‘R’ – an entry from one Dharmalingam Udaya Kumar. “Ah! A Tamil!”, she thought. The man had been interviewed by a Tamil vernacular paper, and it turned out he was the son of a Dravidian party leader in Tamil Nadu, the party that spearheaded the Anti-Hindi agitation in Tamil Nadu prior to Independence, the party that had sown the seeds of Tamil fanaticism in the minds of the masses.
And here, D. Udaya Kumar was saying that one needed to know languages other than Tamil in order to survive in this world. It was precisely while reading this quote that it had struck her – many of the Tamils in her generation had indeed learnt like she had. But the spurious propaganda of political leaders and the ignorance of the previous generations still weighed heavily upon everyone. A fixed impression about a group of people had passed down from one generation to the other, while the nature of the group itself was evolving. And she knew that she had a certain responsibility towards her identity. So, at moments like these, she’d never open her mouth.
But Maya was far from grasping these complex, adult happenings. She went straight to her Dad’s room. “Pa, why are Tamil Nadu and Karnataka fighting?”, she asked her Dad.
“Because they don’t know how to act like grown-ups, putta”, he replied.
Maya stared at her Dad for five seconds, and then asked, “Is the Cauvery theirs or ours?”
Shruthi could hear this exchange from where she was sitting.
“Cauvery is a Goddess. You remember we went to that temple in Coorg? That’s Her temple. Will you lock up the Goddess and say she is not yours, she is mine?”
“Because God is for everyone.”
“Exactly. Cauvery is for all the states she flows through. What are the states she flows through?”
“Karnataka and Tamil Nadu?”
“Yes. She also flows through Kerala and Pondicherry. So all the four states need her for their survival. And all of them are equally responsible for taking care of her. Now what does that mean?”
Maya was clueless.
“It means you shouldn’t just fight for Her when there is no water. But you must also ensure that you store water when you have it, not waste it. You don’t let industries pollute your lakes, ponds and rivers. You grow plants that don’t use up all the water. Be responsible about it. Not fight one another like they are doing now, but protect it together.”
Shruthi smiled to herself, beaming with pride over having married Sandeep. The sparks were right indeed.
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