Archive for November 16th, 2005

November 16, 2005

Personal questions

I remember hating filling out application forms for college. Apart from the ridiculously high stress levels (courtesy whoever checked my CBSE English paper) they kept asking these baffling and rather personal questions.

I was reminded of this by a post here about the speaking of English. Most of the abovementioned forms asked me what my “mother tongue” was. I don’t understand what that means. My parents both speak Hindi, Tamil and English, and a bit of Malayalam, and dad speaks Bangla. My grandparents speak Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and English. I speak English, a functional amount of Hindi, I understand-but-don’t-speak Tamil, and I retain a bit of French. I was born in a country where French and English were spoken, lived for many years in one where only English was spoken, and moved to one where English was one of many national languages. You will notice that English is the common factor here – it’s also the language I first learned to speak in. Yet I am told it’s inappropriate to enter English as the mother tongue. What do I write – Tamil?What happens when someone reads that and expects me to speak it fluently?

Then there’s the “home town” question, which baffled me. What exactly is a home town? Where I was born? I don’t remember that city at all. Where I grew up? Er…most of England and then Delhi. “Home is where the heart is”? A large and significant chunk of my heart is in the USA right now, other important bits are in England and Singapore. One large-ish bit is usually in Pune but is in Gurgaon for the next week or so. Maybe they mean my ancestral home? In a village in Palghat I’ve never visited. I think I ended up writing “Delhi”.

Religion? None. Of. Your. Business. Writing “agnostic” is still frowned upon, as is “atheist”. I haven’t tried “non-denominational” yet, but I doubt it would go down well. This one still pisses me off greatly. My religion is determined by my beliefs, not my surname! I object to people saying “oh, just write ‘Hindu’”. I object to the fact that we have national censuses (censi?) that group us by religion, and I especially object to their not asking me what I believe before categorising me. I can see why in a college with a certain religious ethos (Stephen’s, for example) they might want to know. Otherwise, I can’t for the life of me see why it would matter.

Father’s name. This one makes me sound like a rabid feminist (which i probably am) but honestly, why not just write “guardian’s name?” Guess what, some people don’t have fathers. Or mothers. There’s really no need to create such a potentially uncomfortable situation.

Oh, and the weird looks I’d get because my parents have different surnames? Firstly, I don’t think most women in my family’s particular community change their surnames after marriage…there isn’t really any such thing as a surname, per se. Secondly, my mother being too lazy to legally change her name after marriage does not in any way invalidate the marriage. Thirdly, if my parents were not married, would it really be any of the college’s business?

In my present college, no one knows what my beliefs are unless it comes up in discussion. Everyone speaks to me in English because it would be rather silly to atempt to study English literature in any other language. No one cares about my parents’ occupations, income group, or surnames. The unstable nature of my childhood only comes up when people debate whether or not I have an accent. I’m terribly glad of this.