One of the most profound questions in Hindu philosophy is "who am I?" The "mahavakyas" provide the path to understanding that question. (An atheist quoting these is quite an interesting mix, eh!)
It is a good thing that I am not trying to answer that question based on how I am sometimes described by others.
An older gentleman a few years younger than my father came in and conversed with the people there. A few minutes into the conversation, dad directed his attention to me and said "this is my son. He has come from America."
The gentleman's response was very different from anything I could have expected. "Oh, really? I thought he was some Gujarati visiting."
And then it struck me: perhaps he also sees in my face a resemblance to "the one from Gujarat who shall not be named" and, therefore, he thought I was a Gujarati? I hope not.
A couple of days after this incident, I was, again, off on my own, to explore the nearby areas. I told the cab driver that once were done with my agenda, he was to take me back home via interesting places.
As we were driving, he stopped the car by the roadside. We were looking down a gradient. "Do you see the sea, sir, at the end"? I did see a lot of blue at the end of the slope. In fact, the sea seemed to be at a higher level than somewhere at the middle of the slope.
"When the tsunami came, this is why all these areas got damaged so much, sir. A lot of people live in this low-lying area, and they were swept away."
What a catastrophe it was!
The driver stopped at the parking place, and I got off the vehicle.
I was appropriately equipped for the hot and humid conditions: cargo shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses, a hat over my head, and a camera in hand.
As I started descending towards the beach, I spotted a group of young men/boys. About 25 or 30 of them.
They could easily be high school students, I thought to myself. Thirty high school boys all by themselves, in an isolated beach, and me walking there by myself dressed in cargo shorts, t-shirt, sunglasses, a hat, well, I knew this would not go well.
So, I paused by a big boulder's shadow, and quickly came up with a couple of different responses to heckles or comments or even worse. And then I resumed walking towards the beach.
I suppose they, too, saw me. I heard one guy yell out to his buddies, "ஏய், வெள்ளைக்காரன் வரான்டா" (Hey, a white man is coming.)
I was glad I had paused to draft a couple of responses, including to this comment. Pretty sharp, I complimented myself :)
I didn't stop walking even though I saw a group of about ten running towards me.
"Take photo, sir?" said one, while the other said "group photo sir."
"வேணாம் பா. நான் தமிழ் தான்" (No guys. I am a Tamil) I told them.
Understandably, they were shocked. They were confident they were rushing towards a white guy, perhaps to hassle him and get something off him, and now they had to re-calibrate everything.
I kept walking, and could hear them sniggering in the background but couldn't make out the words.
A minute or so later, I came across the last set of boys. One said, "welcome to India." I smiled at him and replied "நான் சென்னை பா. தமிழ் ஆளு தான்" (I am from Chennai. I am a Tamil.) This guy simply froze. He was way beyond shocked into silence.
I reached a gazebo kind of a structure for shade and some cooler winds. Obviously, the sabbatical has not clarified for me who I am and what I want do with the rest of my life; apparently I need to first figure out whether I am an American, or a Tamil-Indian, or a Gujarati-Indian, or a white guy. Philosophy, shmilosophy can wait :)