‘Do you think I am Indian’?

‘Do you think I am Indian’?

IT has become a pattern, of late, that most of my ideas that get me thinking before writing an article generally emanate from a situation that I have experienced from a chance dialogue with random people on the streets, restaurants or inside some shops, especially when neither of us nor the group, in which I am in, are deliberating some issue.

This time too I was accidentally provoked into writing this article, as I happened to be, ironically, at the right place at the right time! Before I dwell on the incident, let me clarify at the outset that I have nothing against any community or race, and am raising this issue just to pinpoint the ignorance of people in using others to emphasize their intelligence or status. This usage of a comparative narrative is inbred in many of us, and it is high time people refrained from this willful practice and learned about others to respect the ‘other’.

I digress. I’ll come back to the incident that got me going. I overheard two Arab expats standing in front of me while in line to pay in a superstore talking about an incident that happened to one of the men, who was narrating it. He then said something that somehow was impossible to believe, and the first reaction his friend had, after a bout of laughter, was “Do you think I am Indian?” The other man, meanwhile, started swearing that he was telling the truth and so on.

The interaction of the two Arabs left me a little bemused. And I took courage to intrude into their conversation to which I was not a party. I asked the man directly after apologizing for interfering that what did he mean by saying: “Do you think I am Indian?” He looked at me in discomfort but did answer. He said what he actually meant was that he was not credulous and stupid enough to believe what his friend was saying to him.

I just looked at him before asking him a simple question, whether he meant that the entire population of India is credulous and the same and stereotypical as his thought? He got agitated briefly before replying that it was a general expression that has been in use for a very long time and he meant nothing by it.

I simply asked him that if he was generalizing, then isn’t it pure ignorance? Or if he meant another India, for the other India we know is a nuclear superpower, which is exporting genius minds in engineering and computer science to the entire world, the India that is rich in culture and history, then that would be another story. The impromptu discussion ended quickly when both of them asked me to mind my own business and stop being nosy.

When I related this incident to an Indian friend of mine, he just laughed and said magnanimously that people with little knowledge and petty minds are the ones who rely on these ‘stereotypical phrases’ as crutches to stress their intellect or status. He said, why are you surprised of people’s denigration of the ‘other’ for it is a practice that has found favor with every community. He said, “Today the two Arabs spoke about Indians, I can relate incidents back home in India when my friends would laugh and put down the Sindhi community asking, “Do you think am I from Shikarpur,” indirectly intimating that these people were dumb and do you think am I too.”

My friend went on to explain that following the partition of the Indian subcontinent, many Hindu refugees from this city from Sindh settled in Bombay (now Mumbai). The irony is this that today these same refugees, with their hard work, business acumen and quest for knowledge through various educational and professional degrees are the prime movers and shakers in not only Mumbai but in many parts of India. In addition, the community knew the value of education, so it began a series of education trusts that impart not only knowledge but put in practice the key point in its success story — embracing the ‘other’.

The simple elucidation also explained the fact that we all are party to the furtherance of such stereotypes by commission or omission. And it needs self belief and the basic acceptance of the ‘other’ in the global mix that would not only elevate our thoughts, but also elevate us as persons in an unequal society that’s virtually a rainbow.

I have to admit here that during my high school days, I too, by omission, was guilty of accepting these bland statements at face value. It was common then to look down at anything and defame it by attaching the name of certain nationality to it. If a machine broke down without any reason, then simply it is ‘Made in Taiwan’. But only later that I, as did others, learn that today’s computers are running on the chips that are made in this country. But if people wanted to warn others about the quality of any product, then all one needed to say then “it is Korean or Chinese’ to scare the people away. Taiwan is now exporting innovation and technology to the entire world. The Korean products are dominating the markets everywhere and as of the Chinese, well, everyone is running to China to make business deals.

I am a proud Saudi and say that I have studied in the United States under the guidance of many Indian professors in many subjects. They are smart and I have learned a lot from them. The fact that they have migrated to another country where they are adding value to the local society is great. I have many Indian friends that I am proud to be called friend by them. In an unusual aside, I can say for sure they are the reason why I am addicted to the Indian cuisine.

Every country and community is unique. It brings its own sets of value, and it is up to the individual to imbibe from the ‘other’ and not denigrate it just because his or her thoughts do not conform to it. I would like to cite my own example of how I benefited. “When I started my career in journalism, I was mentored by an Indian editor who taught me the ins and outs of this field. It was his constant care on guiding me on how to write a story that has enabled me to reach this position in media. More importantly, he even played an important role in helping me become an opinion writer when I demurred.”

— The writer can be reached at mahmad@saudigazette.com.sa Twitter: @anajeddawi_eng