Ola Chats: Where is Rajinikanth Really From?

My Ola had just zoomed past a Superstar Rajinikanth poster artfully centred above the “Stick No Bills” warning on a compound wall. My thoughts turned to the incredible optimism of defacing walls with a “Stick No Bills” sign; my driver’s thoughts evidently turned to the superstar.

“We need to give Tamils a chance in our own state,” he said, turning off the air conditioning and rolling down his window. “Look at all these posters for Rajinikanth. After all a Kannadiga.”

“What? No, he’s Marathi,” I said, his lack of knowledge of the beloved actor’s background inviting more comment than his separatist stance on Tamil Nadu. “His real last name is Gaekwad.”

“No, ask anyone.” He waved outside the window at the passersby we zoomed past too quickly to ask. “Tell me this — if he were Marathi, then when the river water-sharing issue came up recently, why did they increase security at his house?”

“Maybe there was a threat to him? Also, could you turn on the AC?”

“No. It’s because he’s Kannadiga. Ask anyone.”

His certainty grated on my nerves; I feigned certainty of my own in return. “He worked in Karnataka. That’s where he was a bus conductor. But he’s actually Marathi.”

“Where are you from? What’s your hometown?”

“Chennai.”

He laughed, as if that were not possible. “Where are your parents from?”

“Chennai.”

“They were born in Chennai?”

“Yeah.”

“How about your grandparents?” he persisted.

“Chennai. Do you want to know where my great grandparents are from?”

“Um…”

“Chennai. How about my great great grandparents, any guesses?”

“Fine.” He swerved the car at high speed, distracting me from his defeat. The pedestrians who jumped out of our way were apparently not Kannadigas — they used some choice Tamil words to curse us. “Buffoons! These days, people live in Chennai for five years and then say it’s their hometown. But where you’re really from is different from where you’re born or where you grow up or where you work. It’s where your family hails from. So Rajinikanth isn’t Tamil. He’s Kannadiga.”

“By your logic, Rajinikanth grew up in Karnataka, and he worked in Karnataka. But his family isn’t originally from there. They’re Marathis.” I’d cornered him; this delighted me more than it should have.

“Ask anyone. He’s Kannadiga. So’s Jayalalithaa.”

“Jayalalithaa? Isn’t she from Srirangam?”

“No. They’re both from the same part of Karnataka. Ask anyone.”

I looked it up, and it turns out she was born in Karnataka after all. I docked him a star for being right.