From the diary of a Stereotyped NRI


Why do you guys drive so slowly? Why do you eat with your fingers? Why does your family resemble a small army? How can you walk around with a bulls-eye painted on your forehead? Is it true that people drink muddy water from puddles? Do you kill all female children below the age of five? Why do your men wear skirts in public? Don’t you ever say excuse me when you burp? Is it true that you have never heard of a queue before? Are the concepts of personal space and uncomfortable questions alien to you? What is the life expectancy of people who eat so much spice?

All NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) have been at the brunt of these remarks at one time or another. It doesn’t matter where you are from,expats in any country have to ward off stereotypes like an Indian wards off mosquitoes on a warm summer evening (See what I did there?).

Stereotypes have been built by media, ignorance, racists or sadly – the truth. Out of the above ignorance is the hardest to handle.. An ignoramus however, makes a good subject for research, general prodding and occasional stress busting. Just watching them go about their day pleasantly oblivious to the world, a smile of absolute rapture at nothing on their faces … makes you wonder if you’ve stepped into Prozac Paradise.  

Seriously, how hard is it to believe the rest of the world is made up of savages, mosquitoes and plagues while they live in modern day Eden, and NO no apples this time. Ignorant traitors are the worst of all. A person from your own background will join forces with the Valium Victors and ostracise you.

I should not forget to thank the many tolerant people who have time and again proved that all is not lost yet. To that lot I say – you are heroes

No matter what part of the world you are from, when you are away from home, these things will happen.

Let’s do a small experiment. In your mind fill in the following blanks with nationalities that you think will fit: (Please don’t answer these in the comments section. This is a personal exercise for each individual)

___________are pompous and arrogant

___________ are the most racist people in the world

___________ have the worst body odour

___________ do not respect queues

___________ are best known for manual labour

___________ are the most violent people

See what I mean? We all have ideas and fill these blanks automatically.

There are some things about us Indians that are actually true:

  1. We are squatters. We do not move out of our parent’s house even after marriage. We cannot bear the thought of our parents growing old alone and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
  2. We are hypocrites. Our government goes to war with Pakistan; we give standing ovations to victorious Pakistan Cricket teams in our stadiums.
  3. We are disloyal. When fanatics of our faction come a calling, we tell them we don’t know where our neighbours from another faction are; whereas we are hiding them in our house.
  4. We are stubborn. We light diyas in front of our homes, hang traditional flowers on our door frame and insist on celebrating festivals wherever we are in the world. Oh and you have to have a second serving of everything.
  5. We are loud. No explanation for this. No change in sight.

In India, we don’t hold back on stereotyping foreigners or ‘firangs’ as we call them. We love buying western products and cinemas, but blame ‘Westernisation’ for the degradation of ‘Indian Family Values’ (frankly, aren’t family values universal?). We scramble to change the channel during old reruns of Baywatch, but will have our children dance to items numbers on dance shows. We rant and rave that Chinese products have taken over our market but cannot stop buying them and so on.

Can our minds be really free from the exercise of stereotyping? Are we still prisoners of old habits or just coping with the ‘new’ world? Are we still shackled by things we need independence from? Why me? What good will it do?

India needs independence from the complacent mind-set.  We are so used to the ways of the world that there is no accountability or ownership feeling for even small things. It is easy to blame politicians and population for everything that is wrong. The example we set for the children every time we throw something out of the train window, the smug look on a person’s face after spitting pan on the road, swerving and jumping red lights just because someone can… that complacency has to change. Anyone who disrespects or is ashamed of where they are from, they need a change. Instead of a NO, we need a NOT YET. Expats need to know that best practices from other countries can be passed on to people at home and vice versa. Always be true to your roots and that will keep you much happier. No one respects a man ashamed of his motherland. Worse still is someone unwilling to give back.

People who are blessed enough to stay home ought to stop taking things for granted.

Clean up your own sh**and show some respect.  Recycle – have your children make paper bags from old newspapers to buy grocery. Carry biodegradable bags to bring home shopping, use old containers as pots to grow money plants. Spend time with family – you don’t know the value of what you have. Instead of only spending money for movies or video games, go see a play or a traditional dance show. Volunteer with an animal shelter or a nature group.

Our small actions and lessons will not change the world. It is just going to change our mind set and that of our families. And they will change the future.

Where the Mind Is Without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high

Where knowledge is free

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 

By narrow domestic walls 

Where words come out from the depth of truth

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 

Where the mind is led forward by thee

Into ever-widening thought and action 

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

– Rabindranath Tagore

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7 comments

  1. I like the concept of creating a small change at home – with our families, within ourselves. If everyone starts doing it, the world will be a slightly better place. These stereotyped questions show their ignorance and sometimes we need to take that into account and give a proper answer that will make them respect us. That’s their way of learning new things and they do it this way because maybe they want to know more about us?

    Destination Infinity

  2. I lost my ability to stereotype people when I lived in Chennai for two years. Oh! I have to write a post about that. 🙂
    But sometimes, just for a blog post, I do stereotype Indians. I am guilty of doing that.

  3. Here are stereotypes I face: I need to be protected. I’m unable to support myself. I can not make good decisions, especially once a month. I’m manipulative. I’m money hungry. I will not make a good leader. Can you guess what I am? Stereotypes are not fun.

    Recently, I have read many articles on different cultures frustrated with the lack of understanding from other cultures. The mark on a forehead, the tattoo on one’s body, the deep, radiant color of another’s skin should provoke questions because we all have a story behind our skin. Our differences should inspire thought. Without humans thinking about you and what makes you different there would be a lost opportunity to learn. For me, being not seen or heard is hurts. Without those irritating questions, we remain stagnant and apathy can be promoted.

    Keep in mind, even those angry individuals who spit hatred, if you take the time to explain as you did in your post, they will be forever changed, they just don’t know it. A piece of their exterior falls away, sadly you will just have to trust this to be the truth.

    Thank you for taking the time to teach me today. 🙂

    P.S. My dad always told me the thing we dislike the most in others, we often times are doing ourselves.

    1. True… all of us face stereotypes in one form or another. It is difficult to change every one’s perception about everyone else. I mean, who makes the rules right? Becoming open minded, tolerant and accepting will probably help us become so secure with ourselves that we do not find the need to judge others but find joy in our differences. I love the part where you say that we all have a story beneath our exterior. It is amazing that when you share your struggles with someone from another part of the world, you realize that their journey is not that different from ours, that we all are intrinsically different and in that we are the same.

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