I am not a Tamilian. I’ve lived in Mumbai my whole life and am the third generation to live outside South India. Tamil is my 5th language, after English, Marathi, Hindi and French. I also understand some Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali, languages of states I’ve never lived in, so linguistic identity is not a good identifier.
I am also not Brahmin. Not all Tamilians are Brahmin and to assume they are, is to erase the history of Brahminical oppression faced by other castes. Members of my family have faced caste discrimination. Small children have been refused water in the hot summer owing to their caste label. The state of my ancestry has a rich culture (Tamil is one of the world’s origin languages and the only Indian language not derived from Sanskrit) and it also has a history of caste violence. My ancestors were people who opposed that discrimination with their language, their customs and identifiers. The Tamil my family speaks is distinctly and proudly non-Bramhinical. Our skin colour echoes what is supposed to have been the original Dravidian, unlike the Brahmin fairness (theoretically Aryan descendants). Stop erasing my history by calling me a TamBram. Where I’ve come from, that’s insulting.
Let’s come back to state identity. I can’t call myself Maharashtrian because my home state has its own rich culture that I do not adequately represent. I do not embody the silent Maharashtrian identity struggle on the national landscape. Mine are not the pains of the starving farmers, the once glorious Maratha warriors, or the ungendered Warli tribal art. Even professionals dealing with the population (like researchers) divide this state into Mumbai and the ‘Rest of Maharashtra’. I represent the urban, undeniably exploitative corner of this state that is its capital. The corner still struggling to maintain a semblance of connection to the state it leads, amid the cultural impact of the neighbouring state and interference from the centre. I represent Mumbai and it represents me.
If you must give me a label, call me by the city I love, the one I write and talk about the most, the one I call home. Call me a Mumbaiker.