Listen to the dramatic reading by Lavanya Vasudevan:

1. Factual

Repeat the word “here,” or say the name of the city you’ve made your home for a decade or more, where you make your living and pay your taxes, where you gave birth to your children. Allow for this conversation to take an extended period of time, since your interlocutor may find this response insufficient. They really need to know. They will persist with follow-up questions such as “But where did you live before that?” or “Where do your parents live?” or “Where did you grow up?” or “Where were you born?” or “Where were your parents born?” and so on and so forth until you arrive at a response that allows them the exquisite satisfaction of proclaiming, “I knew it! You don’t look like you’re from around here.”

2. Picturesque

Acknowledge the inquirer’s desire for a dash of flavor, a hint of spice, a (let us be frank) sprinkling of curry. Talk about the fragrance of the monsoon, the sigh that the parched earth releases at the first kiss of rain. Describe the sweetness of the mango, the one you ate as a child, with no knife, no fork, only the aid of your teeth as you sucked the seed dry of its thick, juicy flesh. Do not discuss the intricacies of yoga (admit it, they can do it better than you, and in temperatures you can only dream of), the beauty of the Taj Mahal (they have already read about in a coffee table magazine, and besides, you have never been there), or the ridiculousness of the phrase “chai tea latte” (remember how long it took to settle that argument your folks started with the East India Company?). No matter what you choose to talk about, the questioner will walk away secure in the knowledge that you are just as exotic as they suspected all along. Thank them for complimenting you on how well you speak the language of the people that threw their ancestors out of the country and colonized yours.

3. Fanciful

Claim, as confidently as you can, a hilltop hamlet in Norway, or an island off the coast of Antarctica, or any another faraway place where the dispassionate snow douses everyone and everything in the same shade of incomparable white. Be prepared to substantiate your choice with picturesque details (see #2). Very occasionally, it is possible to carry off this fictional (or, more accurately, semi-aspirational) narrative with style. However, if your description, accent, or skin color is unconvincing, the interrogator may attempt to cross-examine you further (see #1).

4. Humorous

Suggest, as a possible place of origin, “Yo momma’s ass.” Smile to indicate that you are “just kidding.” Note that the inquisitor may not share your sense of humor, which renders this type of exchange inherently unpredictable. Do not pursue this method if they are interviewing you for a job, evaluating your citizenship application, or charging you with a minor traffic violation which you may or may not have actually committed.

5. Existential

Name your favorite god or supreme being, or the primordial soup of the Earth, or early humans in Africa, or stardust, or whatever else you think might help draw attention to your shared bond, your 99.9% identical genetic code, your essential humanity. The chance of success is incredibly low (lower, in fact, than the percentage of genetic material that sets you apart), but hey, it’s not like you have anything to lose. Do you?