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:
- 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.
- We are hypocrites. Our government goes to war with Pakistan; we give standing ovations to victorious Pakistan Cricket teams in our stadiums.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.