Deconstructing Stereotypes


A couple months back, on an early Autumn evening, I found myself in the middle of a long sermon…..for supposedly ‘committing a f aux pas’, Well, now I do admit, I am somewhat of a faux pas queen. But, on that particular day, sipping on stale office coffee and surrounded by  learned colleagues, I couldn’t quite agree.

Here’s what happened.

As is often the case with coffee-break conversations, it was about everything and nothing at the same time. I was raving about the recent spate of mean and uncouth Kolkata cabbies refusing to take you to your desired destination more often than not. The ‘rude cabbie syndrome’ is one of the few things that induces me to curse in public (and not under my breath). It’s not so much as the refusals, but the way the do it.

Sample this:

Bhaiya chaloge?


Elgin Road

Next instant, the yellow ambassador flashes past me.

The bloody pig doesn’t even bother to say nahi and simply speeds past you! Worse still, he might also mull over for a good 3 mins (in case he’s leaning against his confounded vehicle) and finally say nahi while rubbing khaini between his thumb (with dirt reposing beneath its obnoxiously long nail) and palm, which is no less dirty. Ugghh!

Now when I was referring to this menace in the city, I spat out all my irritability and righteous frustration with the following lines:

“These Biharis and UPites are such assholes. They think they own the city.”

The faux pas wasn’t the fact that I was cursing Hindi-speaking cabbies but the fact that a Bihari colleague was standing within earshot and I was ‘rightfully’ admonished for ‘stereotyping’ people (and also for being a regionalist, which is just a roundabout way of saying the same thing. Duh!).

a)I was not stereotyping people but a profession. With all due respect every other Cultural nuance, right from professions to personality, are undeniably stereotyped.

The Englishman with the stiff upper lip and a white collar job

The brown Indian who charms snakes and owns cows

The loquacious Italians who do nothing but breed the Mafia!

The Promiscuous French who  are the fount of Intellect

And I can go on and on…

b)Stereotypes do exist for the simple reason that most of us suffer from the ‘herd mentality’ consciously or subconsciously. It’s omnipresent. People belonging to a certain race/cultural area speak with a specific tone and accent, more often than not adopt a certain profession, have specific food-habits or some such thing. That is what is the long and short of stereotypes.

It isn’t necessarily negative on all occasions, although I do admit that the incident I narrated is rather demeaning (but I can’t help it if every other rude cabbie I encounter clearly hails from the Hindi heartland).

Let’s do the deconstruction then…

Good business acumen: Marwaris (and Gujaratis)

Academically inclined: Bengalis

IITians: Tam-Brahms

Yaaron-ka-yaar: Punjabis

Masters of the stage: Marathis

(Dramatists/playwrights/theatre artists)

And no, the above deconstruction is not in the least exhaustive.

If you please, you can also rephrase…

Paisa jahan, Marwari wahan

Maccher jhol bhaat aar Robindronath, Bangalir jaat

Idli, dosa, uttapam ‘kao’, Chennai Express pe chadh jao

Whiskey-shiskey, mutton-shutton…Paaji da tashan

Ghar ki bai, Marathi mulgi hai bhai!

Yup, that’s all the difference that is there. How you are ‘stereotyping’. All of us love laughing at the expense of others. We choose to laugh along with a Chennai Express or a Dabangg (yes, it had Bhai mouthing ‘shudh Jat Hindi’ and a million other North Indian stereotypes).

So why these sudden pangs of epiphany followed by ‘de-stereotyping’. It’s pretentious and pointless.

Bottomline: I find all sorts of ‘stop stereotyping’ discussions and admonitions rather lame: be it cultural stereotypes, gender stereotypes, work-place stereotypes, etc, etc. What’s the harm in an exaggerated ‘Aiyo’ from a lungi-clad pious ‘Taaamil’ with white chalk smeared on his smooth forehead or a ‘Phish-eating’ and ‘Robindrosangeet-loving’ Bongo bala?

You surely do not become one of them, just because mainstream media portrays you that way! And in any case, you would be living in a kind of ‘hell’, if stereotypes didn’t exist!

“I imagine hell like this: Italian (It could well be Indian) punctuality, German humour and English wine.” ~Peter Ustinov

That said, there are certain generalisations that are rather vindictive and hurtful and well, truly stereotypical. But, I just don’t get why must every-day life stereotypes have to be ‘politically corrected’ all the time?

P.S: I still hate rude and scraggly-looking cabbies on the streets of Kolkata, smirking and zooming past you as if they would do a favour if by chance, they say ‘haan’. And there are the stray Bengali ones, I hate all the more. They resemble goons from commercial Bengali films from the 80s and 90s and speak in distorted Bangla ala ‘P(r)o(mo)d P(r)odhan and conveniently refuse: “Na na, jabona”.




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