Until I was a spectator of the ground reality. So here I am reporting directly from the south. The notions and typecasts that the people here have about the northern states have invoked different emotions from me at different times. And they have ranged from funny to bizarre and anger to downright hurt. In general everyone’s good, helping and very sweet. But some instances highlighted to me the deep routed prejudice that seems to be etched in the minds of people. So here goes the first incident that highlighted what people here think of us the fellow northerners. The atmosphere is light, coffee is strong, conversations flow and the topic somehow turns towards kids. A new dad comments on the pressures involved in raising a baby and how paternity leave should be introduced. I remind him that it was brought about in picture until Maneka Gandhi dismissed it by stating that men will probably consider it to be a vacation. The next statement I heard resulted in an open-mouth-for-30-seconds kind of situation for me. He said that she (Mrs Gandhi) should not generalize men like this, maybe people from Delhi or Bihar do this but here people are decent and sensible. Even though the states he mentioned are considerably far from my place but I somehow sensed that he had just wanted to say “North”, people from North but refrained from saying it because of my presence there. I wanted to correct him, show my anger, and present him with convincing arguments to counterfeit his views but all these thoughts were so messed up in my head because of a burst of different emotions that I thought it best to be quiet. It was difficult but I managed. Also the tone of his voice had a strange finality to it, like this was it. Period. He had just assumed it to be the truth and it would be hard if not difficult to change his mind on it.
When my anger got cooled off, I got to thinking about how it was not his mistake. His negative opinion about men from Bihar and Delhi was not formed overnight. It was probably after years of hearing troublesome news and stereotypical images portrayed in the movies. Delhi is no stranger to bearing the brunt of bad reviews. From rape capital to arrogant people. Delhi is on the lowest possible position on any list. Similarly Bihar also does not top the charts on the popularity quotient. Any person from Bihar is inevitably assumed to be a gang member or a criminal or simply a laborer. While Bihar is comparatively a poor state with a considerable amount of lawlessness, it in no way signifies that it is devoid of decent population of people. People do not stop going to Mexico because of all the drug trafficking and crimes. Detroit is one of the most unsafe state in USA but that did not deter Chrysler to set up its business functions there. I happen to have met many people from Bihar in the last few years and they have shattered all the misconceptions and stereotypes I had in my head about Bihar. People from Bihar are smart, extremely sharp and intelligent, civil service aspirants, Dhoni fans, pronounce sort as short (which I find adorable by the way), have immense knowledge about politics and cricket, are extremely helpful and make mind-blowing chokha with sattu ke paranthe. I strongly feel we should stop using the term Bihari like a derogatory term and use it like we use the terms Gujarati, Marathi, Kashmiri, Punjabi or Oriya! Change starts with an individual and spreads slowly. It is really time we stop behaving like small scattered communities and come together as Indians. Stop saying things like “what is this North Indian doing here in South” and “Why is this South Indian in North”. We are Indians and we are entitled to visit and enjoy every state from ladakh to Trivandrum and everything in-between. I am beyond offended when people after hearing I am from Jammu & Kashmir comment “Goodness! You came here from so far”. All I can say is people can cross seven seas, go to the moon or even Mars but my two hop plane journey from my hometown is far!
Now coming to the other incident, this time we were coming back from lunch. In the lift slowing moving towards our destination, suddenly the lift door opens in-between and a girl walks in. She is dressed smartly and talking animatedly on the phone. She gives up talking on the phone after entering the lift and gets down one floor before our destination. As soon as she leaves, people around me start talking in telugu about the girl. *Something Something* North *Something Something Something* ridiculous *Something Something* fancy *Something Something* Clothes *Something Something Something* and laughing. I ask my colleague about the joke but he just shrugs it off. But I am far from shrugging it off, so I try to find the cause of the humor. The girl was dressed in a comparatively fashionable manner which makes her a minority in the crowd of simple dresses usually seen. But I must iterate that she was in no way dressed in an overtly fashionable way, trust me, simple shirt and trousers combo with open hair and a dash of eyeliner, which by the way is also my staple dressing style for office. Maybe that’s the reason why the joke on her pinched me. I just did not like that how they simply deduced that she was a Northie (as if it was written on her forehead) and used it in a very unpleasant way. I agree that there are certain telltale characteristics by means of which we can identify people of different sect but I feel that they used be used to admire different cultures and the ethnic potpourri we call India. We all feel that we as an individual and our culture is the best, there is nothing wrong in that though. The wrong comes when we decide that other cultures are blasphemous. It’s not just about Bihar or Delhi, people have something or the other associated with every state and sect. Even a corporate set up, which is supposed to be very Cosmo is not safe from the north south politics. It is a very general belief that a person from North, working under a manger from South is doomed. The reverse of this situation also holds truth. Go to quora or any major MNC’s confession page on Facebook, you will see tons and tons of stories on how a manger from North, did not recommend a South Indian team member for an onsite opportunity and how a South Indian manger gave a very bad rating to North Indian team member even though he slogged all year long! These stories are not entirely false, all this does happen, mostly because people are not given a chance to prove themselves and decisions are taken based on pre conceived notions.
Up until now I was analyzing the situation from a neutral state, which was equally distributed with people from all over India. But since some months I am a minority in a southern city and I feel like an outsider. Which is ridiculous because there should be no reason to feel like an outsider in your own country. I personally love being here, drowning in the culture and cuisine. I eat curd rice with the same gusto I have for rajma chawal. My family enjoys idli vada sambhar even more than aalu parantha. I am slowly warming up to South Indian movies as well and man, are they good! It’s the prejudice people have in their minds that leaves a bitter taste. This prejudice needs to be removed for good from all our minds irrespective of the topography we are in or belong to. So we need to stop making fun of people mixing gun powder with rice for lunch and similarly we need to stop ridiculing roti sabzi by saying its breakfast food. We proudly share the video clip from Namaste London in which Akshay bashes the foreigner and enlightens that India has more than 1500 hundred languages but we do not refrain from making fun of distinctive accents that people from various states have. We love imitating UK, USA, European accents but leave no stone upturned to humiliate our fellow people. We assume a girl to be “fast” if she is dressed in something that is outside our comfort zone, god forbid if she has a tattoo or something, which would border on being scandalous. Making judgments from afar without actually getting to know the person personally is more wrong that any word in my vocabulary can justify.
The bottom-line is there are no good or bad communities, there are no stereotypes and moreover there is always an exception to the rule. We are all individuals and while our culture, rituals and ethnicity define our lifestyle and habits, how we ultimately turn out as a human entirely depends on us and the etiquettes we have. Let’s have an open heart and embrace people as they are, strictly on the basis of how they are rather than from where they belong to.