Diaries Magazine

Stereotyping Is Always Bad

Posted on the 02 October 2013 by Rajrupa @irajrupa
Stereotyping Is Always BadIt was a rainy evening of October when I had arrived in Chennai for the first time with fifteen of my colleagues, six years back. We were soaking wet from waiting for the taxis outside the railway station. Our luggage was no better. We could only shudder to think what nightmare awaited us when we opened those. The loud complaints that I had been hearing during the long 20 hours of journey had become cries of despair now. Indeed, I remember myself start softening towards the others at this point, we had barely set foot in the city and our sufferings had already started!

We were coming from Pune. I still remember the disbelief that had given into horror later when we had learnt that we were being posted in Chennai. We were so shocked that we couldn’t speak for several minutes. Nobody wanted to come to Chennai. Everyone knew it was a place where dwelled ugly people who ate tamarind in every type of food that was cooked in coconut oil. Also my oh-so-fair “North Indian” friends were running a risk of being irreversibly tanned. Several of them considered quitting the jobs. Several returned to the manager’s room to beg. Ultimately S and I were the only two girls in the group of sixteen who had to travel to Chennai. Others were aghast that we didn’t beg with the manager, that we were really fine with going to Chennai. We had taken a train to Chennai from Pune and by the time we reached, I was brainwashed enough to doubt whether I was insane to choose to come here.

   The next few days weren’t much better. Amidst sickly rains and muddy streets as we roamed to find a decent house we were cheated numerous times by auto drivers who charged Rs. 300 for going from Chinnamalai to Indira Nagar, laughed at and rudely gestured at by brokers because we didn’t speak Tamil, humiliated by bus conductors because we didn’t know that it was us who needed to go to him to buy tickets and not the opposite and many more such hings. We stayed in a hostel that was infested with cockroaches and where the warden didn’t even allow talking with a male colleague who came to visit. We were criticized badly as uncultured “North Indians” just because we climbed up the desk to hang Christmas decorations from the ceiling in office – any girl with a proper upbringing wouldn’t do that, imitating boys and climbing up desks!

But when S and I laughed at these things and went back at being at peace once again, the others fumed. While we appreciated the good things, they started ignoring them and blowing up the bad(s) out of proportions. Slowly we started to scatter away and before the year had turned, most of them had left the city for “better places” while I stayed back along with S and a handful more.

Today, six years later, when we look back, remarkably, while I have all good things to say about Chennai and its people as I know them, they seem to have nothing short of spitting venom.

While I remember the old gatekeeper of the housing complex I lived in, who always smiled at me and told my parents (when they visited) that they needn’t worry, he’d look after their daughter in Tamil, and, then, realizing that they didn’t understand the language, took huge pain to explain using sign language; they remember the cranky neighbor of theirs who complained to their house owner because they made a racket of bursting firecrackers!

I remember the vegetable vendor who, upon learning that I was from West Bengal and loved eating fish, kept providing me with information about new sources of fresh fish! I remember my boss who was my mentor and tutor in true sense and to whom I still owe everything I know till date. I remember those two beautiful girls who somehow so unexpectedly became my best buddies in spite of the fact that we came from backgrounds that couldn’t be more different. I remember the wondrous applause in the eyes of those people who had gathered around the old sick man I was helping by the road. I remember my elderly neighbor who always cooked an extra set of dosas for me whenever she made some, and yet, we never spoke except few gestures and smiles.

My friends couldn’t remember anything even remotely positive about the city, while I was so full of them. And that’s when I found myself, to my own surprise, defending Chennai and its people and that somehow amidst all these small things, Chennai had become home to me!

I mulled over it and I think it’s the outlook that mattered. While I was friendly from the beginning, they were brooding. I warmed up to the people and let them see that I was no different from them, while my friends took pride in proving that they, as North Indians, were superior.

It’s not only them though. I had once asked a Tamil guy, what their definition of North India was! “Everything that’s north to the Deccan plateaus”, pat had come the reply. And he went further describing a rather humiliating stereotype of “North India”, which showed his total lack of knowledge of people who actually lived in “North India.”

Most of us, I find, have an opinion formed even before we meet someone or visit some place. We then look not beyond, but try to fit in everything within the definition we have known. For some of us, the stereotypes matter so much that we refuse to see the reality even if it lies naked in front of our eyes, because we are afraid of variety, change, and of the different, the unknown. We prefer to hold on to simple and ordinary classifications, and whatever we feel comfortable with.

Stereotyping Is Always BadIt’s not always aggressive, rather it’s an over simplified generalization that eases the burden of considering each individual separately. Especially the North Indian and South Indian stereotyping in our country have gone a bit too far. It took me a really long discussion to figure it out that we have got it all wrong! If you are from a Non South Indian state, chances are, there’s a macro programmed inside your head which is triggered by the word South India. And the output is always an oversimplified, “Oh, he is a Madrasi!” And vice versa!
But do you think it’s fair? Do you think judging a person even before knowing him is right?  Well, if you don’t know already, let me tell you, it’s NOT. Don’t generalize. Don’t project your opinion formed from your experiences of someone onto another one. Next time you find yourself justifying a stereotype, any stereotype, recognize it and rectify it, give the person before you a chance! Love Stereotyping Is Always Bad

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