Context

It’s very difficult to live in India and not give vent to essentialist and ethnocentric feelings (including those against one’s own communities). It goes against the grain of our mode of heterogenerous multiculturalism πŸ™‚

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46 comments

  1. In my experience, our mode of heterogenous multiculturalism tends to allow ethnocentric feelings without feeling uncomfortable, mostly in jest but theres always a lot of sincere feeling behind those jokes, no?

    • Quite. And more importantly, the sociocultural practices that shaped these stereotypes still exist today (although most of them mightn’t survive the next fifty years, with changing caste-practices, market/labour identites and more liberal eating practices).

  2. heterogeneous multiculturalism does not mean non-violent co-operation or peaceful co-existence in this country. quite the contrary. it is violent non-co-operation all the way. in this country it is perfectly possible to voice such contradictory feelings lightly, yet with serious weight behind them.

  3. I had a Bengali Muslim maths tutor called Abdul Kader who lived in Bright Street and he would keep cursing the “mero-khottas” while teaching me maths.What great fun he was!

    • Oh Gautam, I must take the time one of these days to write down the exchange that took place between a Bengali Muslim bus conductor of the 230 bus, and three ‘Bihari’ Muslim passangers. An argument about the fare soon descended into slur-chucking on each other’s ethnic groups, and about whose Islam was ‘right’.

  4. Essentialist, ethnocentric feelings seem to be integral to living in multi-cultural societies. For the sake of efficiency (if not accuracy), the brain compartmentalizes data, including ethnographic data. By stressing norms and conformity, individual cultures play along with this. In the end, you apply this same logic to yourself. I’d say about half the thinking in America is this sort of short-cut ethnocentric drivel, but it allows us to (dys)function as a nation without having to take the time to get to know each other. I have found India to be similar in this regard… a great source of amusement, although a foreigner staying a long time in India quickly falls into the traps.

    • As I said to Srin above, James, the practices that shaped our stereotypes still exist today. Therefore, we in India can actually feel like we *know* what different communities are “basically about” (‘basically’ is an oft-abused word in subcontinental English), because the stereotypes are reinforced by the ‘proof’ of their public lives, for most members of these communities.

      And said members appear not to mind (most of) these stereotypings at all — look at Gautam and Steelhearts below, having a go at Bengalis for being addicted to fish πŸ™‚ If anything, we reinforce our own identities with these markers.

    • This leads, however, to what I’ve been thinking for the last couple or three years — cultural ‘democracy’ should, democratically speaking, be allowed to have local interpretations which accommodate such elements as might be classified as ‘hate speech’ in contemporary western political cultures, but are part of social exchange elsewhere. What does it say about democracy, both cultural and political, that it isn’t? And that we’re becoming increasingly self-conscious — at least in urban India — about casually dismissing or critiquing the Bongs and Marus and Punjus and ‘southies’ and cow-belt boys, and scrambling to be more ‘politically correct’?

      And what does it say about our post-colonial self-consciousness, that many of us gladly embrace the label ‘racist’ because of the prevalence of these stereotypes in our everyday speech, especially in front of our academic pals from Western Europe and the States? πŸ™‚

      • hate speech is better than deliberately politically correct speech, because it lets you know very clearly where you stand with regard to your ‘other’. but it blinds you to the same otherness in yourself. unless you teach yourself to let go of prejudices, hate speech will remain. i had a hard time (1 bloody hour) drumming this into the head of a student of mine. she was 17, and she couldn’t believe people from other states often called bengalis ‘bong’.

  5. we do too all the time. ei toh jadubabu r bajare machh pai na bole machhwala theke khoriddar, sobai residing gujju community ke galagali diy.

  6. As everyone knows South indian madrasis eat curd and rice and are great at maths and chess although a little silly, and Punjabis are jolly balle balle tandoori chicken types who drive taxis REALLY well although they can be a little silly sometimes , and Sindhis are very kanjoos and greedy and Marwaris are constantly eating chanachoor and exploiting the bengalis but they are actually quite silly. Bengalis are cultured and temperamental and brilliant and creative and not to be rubbed the wrong way and have Tagore and Ray on their side so that clinches any argument. What’s wrong with this world view?

  7. Historical image: Sir Syed Ahmad Khan terrifying a bunch of Bhumihar Brahmins and Rajputs, in Lucknow, by informing them that in an independent, democratic India they would end up being ruled by β€œfish-eating Bengalis.” A fate worse than death for an Awadh taluqdar, apparently.

        • “i live in an area where a lot of gujarati families reside as well. most of them are jain by religion, so they don’t eat fish or meat. the nearby bazar, a very old one, stocks less amount and variety of fish nowadays. while this may have other reasons as well, bengali neighbours usually put two and two together, and take this as another excuse to bad-mouth the gujarati community”. πŸ˜€

        • i have a friend in a nearby block of flats inhabited entirely by gujaratis, except two bengali families, one of which my friend belongs to. almost every day, one gujarati family knocks on her door and complains about the stink of cooking fish. one day she ouldn’t take it any more and said, ‘aap jab dhokle banate ho, toh humein bhi ulti aati hai.’ (When you make dhoklas, we feel like vomiting too).

          • Exactly what I mean. I’m told that in your shoshurbarir para, fishmongers are being sort of pushed to the margins of the market because they contaminate the ‘pure’ vegetables?

          • Oh, will you look at that. You mentioned the fishmonger story, and I went and repeated it immediately after. This comment thread is updating itself too quickly for me to keep up with πŸ™‚

          • I live in a predominantly vegetarian elaka in Bombay. My neighbors dont talk to me. I dont talk to them. The only people I have any cordial exchanges with are the waiters at the local bar, the muttonwala and the fishwala. Oh yeah, and the tea shop guy.

    • The ‘Awadhis’, of course, are no longer a ruling unit, democratically or feudally, and Bengal hardly matters in the national scheme of things. So one’s opinion of the other hardly matters.

      For cheering thoughts, always come to me, V. S. Black. And welcome to the blog πŸ™‚

  8. None of the veggies and Jains in my son’s class have been able to keep their dharma. Since class 2 they have been eating his chicken nuggets and pork sausages and beef sandwiches. Do their parents know? πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

    • you son is converting them. good. incidentally, i remember another veggie, a marwari this time, from college. she said her brothers regularly ate chicken and other meat when they ate out, but she herself had never been able to. apparently she didn’t like it, but i had the impression she was also a little scared of what might befall her if she was caught.

      • Do you know, I’ve seen similar patterns between genders in many ethno-religious vegetarian families myself. I think this might be because the girls, even now, stay at home for greater number of hours than do their brothers, and consequently, their eating habits can be more closely monitored/shaped by the family’s traditions.

        Also, I think it’s quite possible she mayn’t have developed a taste for ‘non-veg’ — for the longest time, I couldn’t eat ilish machh because I’d been scared off my the fine bones as a child, and my tastebuds needed time to appreciate the rich, oily flavour. The same went for khashir mangsho — I insisted it made me throw up, and till I was nearly in my teens, it did 😦

        • monitoring is the word. sorry for going off the track, but girls are always monitored on ethno-religious grounds.

    • I must say, Gautam, you seem most wickedly gleeful about the Jain and Gujarati classmates of your son’s. Should you, as the uncle-figure, see to it that their tastebuds remain deprived and remain chaste? Basically shouldn’t you be telling you son, “Ei oder tiffin dibi na kintu!” ?

        • You’re a bad Bengali parent, Gautam. A proper parent — as evinced by the crowds outside schools during opening and closing hours — always tells their children, “Don’t share your tiffin, and make sure you write down whatever Arpita/Arnab is writing down — s/he got three more marks than you did last term!”

          • My mother used to tell me, “Jao giye dakho Dolly’r meye kirokom dule dule geography mukhosto korche! Or pa dhowa jol khao.” Abdul Kader used to tell me, ” Ebarey toh tumi phel korbe! Phel! Ada noon khe lege poro!.” I have suffered trauma in my life Rimi. Great pain. I therefore have a hands off poicy. Its a lot like my open door policy. Sigh. πŸ™‚

  9. My father in law ( a bristly East Bengali) has this theory that veggies are more bloodthirsty because they are compensating, see? And they make very cruel and unscrupulous businessmen.

    • admirable! quite the conspiracy theorist (no offence meant)! vivekananda had a theory that ran on somewhat similar lines. he said, when indians ate all meat, especially beef, they produced the great philosophies, shaastra, veda, etc. ever since people have started eating more vegetables, they have started losing out on brainpower.

  10. It’s all moot. In 50 years, everyone will speak Hinglish and eat mcnuggets. Meanwhile if we imagine feelings to be gaseous and words solid, venting is a very useful sublimation by which the intermediate state of liquid (blood and carnage) is skipped. We should be grateful for that, political correctness be damned.

    • It’s the chicken-egg conundrum all over again. Do words beget violence? Or do they exhaust the potential for it? An acquaintance was once told by his Jaat colleague, “Bengalis fry my brain. All you people do is talk talk talk talk! Where I’m from, there are a few heated words, some blurring of fists, and then there’s usually a loud bang, after which one man remains standing and the other man’s on the ground. Problem *solved*, man!”

      Come think of it, that NOT the chicken-egg conundrum. I’m sleep-deprived. It didn’t use to matter, but we grow old, we grow old.

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