Some may prefer to blend in with the crowd, but blogger and journalist, Dinesh Wagle, just wants to be a Nepali, for goodness sake.
I often carry my passport these days in Delhi whenever I go out. Not that a Nepali needs to have one to enter India unless the entry is by air. No one asks for a passport here, not even those Intelligence Bureau sleuths whom I bump into at media events. The problem comes when I interact with ordinary Indians who are preoccupied with certain perceptions about the general look of the Nepali people.
“But you don’t look like a Nepali,” many Indians, whom I meet on the streets and talk to, tell me in bewilderment.
“You look like us,” they say. “You are an Indian.”
Others will be more specific. “So you are a Kashmiri?” they ask me when I am bearded. Some guess I am an Israeli vacationing in India. In Madhurai’s Meenakshi Temple last month, after asking me if I wanted “hashish”, a tout went on to name all the European countries he knew of so that if I could tell him where I was from, he could offer me the same in “my” language.
Portraits of Nepali in India
Photo by Edwin Koo
At the Taj Mahal two months ago, an auto driver refused to believe me despite my vigorous attempts to prove my Nepali nationality. “No, sir,” he would say, “aap Nepali nahi ho. Nepali jaise dikhte nahi ho.” (You are not a Nepali. You don’t look like a Nepali.)
When they say I don’t look like a Nepali, they are looking at my long, bahunish nose and almost almond-shaped, big, deep and “awaken” eyes. They are also considering my skin colour which is relatively fair.
Only a person with a flat nose and, I hate to use the word here but I must, “chinky” eyes, passes as a Nepali for many Indians. When they say I don’t look like a Nepali, they are looking at my long, bahunish nose and almost almond-shaped, big, deep and “awaken” eyes. They are also considering my skin colour which is relatively fair. Going by their reactions and comments, I have come to the conclusion that only those with Mongolian features are considered Nepali in India.
When I hear the same from educated Indians like journalists, software professionals, bank employees and university students, I seriously try to explain to them the diverse nature of Nepali society that lives at different altitudes, eats varieties of foods, speaks many languages and sport different looks.
The perception varies from place to place. Filipinos, for example, think otherwise. “My Filipino friends always asked me how come I look Chinese when Nepalis are supposed to look like Indians,” said a friend of mine who recently returned to Nepal from the Philippines where she had gone to study. Milan Rai of Khotang, 19 years old, came to Delhi two weeks ago to study Chartered Accountancy. He smiles when Indians talk about him with his Nepali friends in Hindi thinking that he doesn’t understand the language before trying to overcharge him. “Ye toh Chini hey.” (He is a Chinese.) We also have some mistaken perceptions about Indians in Nepal. Many of us think Indians with fair skin can only be found in Bollywood movies and there are probably only two such people: Salman Khan and Aishwarya Rai. (No other intentions in putting these two names together here.)
The Indian perception that “only a Mongolian can be a Nepali” might not be as problematic to India as the one that considers all Mongolians in India as Nepalis. (When I say Mongolians, I also include the bona fide citizens of Mongolia living in India apart from the millions of Indians from India’s northeast with Mongolian features.) Just as I do not like being called an Indian, many Indians with Mongolian features feel rejected when they are mistaken as Nepalis (meaning non-Indians) by the so-called mainstream Indians.
“Last year, as I was shopping in one of Delhi’s posh markets, a man came up to me and said, ‘Hi baby!’,” wrote Monalisa S. Arthur, a journalist and a Mongolian woman from India’s northeast, in The Hindustan Times. “When I ignored him and kept walking, he snarled, ‘Bloody chinky’, and left.” She described how difficult it was for people of the northeast to be accepted as Indians in Delhi. “Most times I fight back when I am teased so that the same person will think twice before harassing another ‘chinky’,” wrote Monalisa who said she wasn’t accepted in the city despite having lived there for 17 years. “Until the situation changes, some men will always consider us cheap and available; and Delhi will never be home, just a place where we work.”
Dinesh Wagle also blogs at Wagle Street Journal