Thursday, 1 July 2010

Hari Potar Hai!

Harry Potter and Andrew Bailey, separated at birth?

Not everyone thinks about identity, but for some it is a major part of their being. I think this is especially true for minorities, as for those who are so visibly different, it is so much more obvious to those around you. You are then inevitably confronted with the question of your role in society. For instance one person I know was born and brought up in America, but is born to Indian parents. They talk like an American, look like an Indian, and culturally are somewhere between the two. For this individual the question of who they are is important and certainly not an easy one to answer.

For me it's simple. I'm Harry Potter. I know this because everyone I meet tells me so. Rarely a day goes by without someone calling out, in Hindi, हैरी पॉटर है (Hari Potar hai!). This essentially means, "Look! It's Harry Potter!"

At least it makes a change from the more common, though also more annoying, गोरा है (Gora hai!). This could be translated as, "Look, it's a white person!"

Ergo, for me identity is easy, I am Harry Potter and I'm white.

Or so I thought.

More recently I have been asked more and more if I am Indian. Whilst sitting at the Birla's Lakshmi Narayan Temple in Jaipur with my friends on holiday (all from the UK, though admittedly one has an Indian-born parent) one guy came up and asked if I was from Manipur.

Manipur is a state in the north-east of India. Some friends of mine from church are from there and in fact two feature in a picture in an earlier blog post. Quite how I was mistaken for hailing from that province I do not know.

It's not just Manipur though, I have been stopped several times and asked if I am from India in general or am Indian. I think I'm going to start having to reply with yes.

And why not? After all it turns out I may have a stronger claim than first thought. My manager professes that she is a Keralite, i.e. a native from the southern Indian state of Kerala. She was born and brought up in Bombay, in the state of Maharashtra, to parents who were also born and brought up in the city of Bombay. However, their parents, her grandparents, are native to Kerala. By that logic I can claim Bangalorean heritage. My parents were both born in the UK, as was I, but my maternal grandfather was born and brought up in Bangalore. Therefore I am indigenous to Karnataka. I am south Indian through and through!

So that may be slightly warped logic, and as much fun as it is to pretend to be south Indian, I'm not. But then neither is my manager. When she gets rid of her little white Maharashtrian cap and stops supporting Shiv Sena (or MNS, whoever is doing better at the time) I'll accept the argument that she's from Kerala. I find this unlikely though, she has a habit of beating up those north Indians who keep coming in and stealing all our jobs.

It's decided then. I am white, I'm Harry Potter and I go by the name of...

...bless his efforts but one staff member spelt my name (Andrew) as Endrow. Still, I prefer that to Anju or Andreen, especially as the former is the sort of name you might give a Muslim girl. Unless I'm a Muslim woman? Well that just throws everything into question. I am repeatedly told that I have a gentle, womanly spirit, and that some staff members even think of me as a woman!

Identity eh? It's a tricky one.


  1. I don't know - to me you've always looked like Richard Kahan (who starred in the 4400, see photo here: )

  2. Now that you've put the two of you side by side, it doesn't seem so crazy to see a resemblance. Perhaps they've all been on to something that we've just failed to see!

    Although, to be completely sure, you will have to don a pair of round wire-rim spectacles as well..