The 'Bloody Desi' Syndrome
May 01, 2013
Being slated as an 'outsider' in a foreign nation is bad enough, but what if your own start to shun you too?
The area of the footpath next to the ATM is littered with paper receipts, McDonald’s packets-sans-fries, stray leaves etc. Across the road, men and women defy the tiny-red-man-on-a-walk signal and callously cross the road even though vehicles are hurtling past. The other day, I saw a man spit. Not paan. Maybe it was water or saliva. But he spat. My friend told me that the day after New Year’s eve, walking down the road, you would have had to sidestep puddles of urine. You may be thinking - typical Indian city, right? Wrong. Six months in Melbourne, and the novelty of being a visitor has now worn off. The tourist-stamped rose glasses that I had worn for the first couple of weeks here, have been replaced by local clear glasses through which I experience both the good and the bad of the city. And there is a whole lot of good in the city, don’t get me wrong. It’s bursting with culture, people love sports – all kinds, not just cricket, people are pretty laid back, they work hard but they also love their weekends which, by the way, seem to run throughout the week! And public transport is extremely efficient.
And it only takes one such sighting for a haughty ‘foreigner’ (albeit an immigrant himself) to point a finger at Asians! I do not intend to generalize, but racist comments (even though they have been rare) have all said it – some loud and clear, others in a round-about way. ‘Bloody Indians’, or using the term that was more frequent in the US of A, ‘Bloody Desis’ are the ones responsible for destroying the warm sanctity and cleanliness of ‘their’ city. Wrong again.
The men and women who crossed the road without the slightest regard for traffic law, were not all Indians. Maybe about 5% of them were. The man who spat on the road was not an Indian, he wasn’t even Asian. The people who my husband and I have encountered on our late-evening walks, who walk around smoking, throwing cigarette butts on the street even though cigarette disposal cans sit right next to them, are not Indians. Indians abroad, have by and far, blended in with their host communities. We might be an impatient tribe back home, but when abroad, we do not like to create a stir, not without good cause. The population of educated, cultured Indians – abroad and back home - is on the rise, and we’re much more civilized than we were a couple of decades ago. And yet we continue to be downplayed. It makes me sad but the attitude is not surprising.
What appalls me though, is how the ‘Bloody Desi’ syndrome has percolated into the Indian community as well. For instance, looking at apartments to move in to, we met another Indian who had come to inspect the same property. Though Melbourne is a multi-cultural blended community, this particular complex that we visited turned out to be more Indian than usual. Chatting casually, the other Indian remarked in jest, “No way am I moving here, too many bloody desis here.” It’s coated in humour, but it makes me wonder. As if we hadn’t enough people stereotyping us, do we really need our own countrymen to do it too?
People in Minnesota (USA) are generally of the friendly variety. Walking down the street, we had taken to greet every stranger who crossed our path. A casual ‘Hi’, ‘How are you?’ was a normal thing to do. And yet, when Indian strangers came face to face, at least one, if not both, of the parties would avert their eyes. I have been in discussions with close friends, trying to decode this behaviour and even though “Indian men!” and “Indians stare – both men and women!” have been the top contenders, the actual reason remains unknown.
I do not say, flaunt your culture and rub it in people’s faces, no. Fanaticism is never the solution. In Rome, do as the Romans do. But what does distancing ourselves from our Indianness really solve, except perhaps give people a false sense of being more ‘civilized’ or ‘foreign’? We, as a population, love to call others racist and judgmental. But what we are doing to our own? What is it if not judgmental? Sanity, cleanliness, decency, civility and courtesy are social and behavioural aspects that grow on you, if given time. The need of the hour is to behave to impress, but to behave in a way that makes us, as a people, proud of ourselves,