She asked me, “Is it true? Do your people wear loin cloths on a daily basis? Also, what about snakes? Do they slither around everywhere, like on the streets and stuff?” Having heard that, you’d expect me to be apoplectic with rage and indignation. You’d expect me to rant about India being a developing nation with world-class infrastructure, educational institutions, physiological amenities, and several other what-nots. You’d at least expect me to tell the rude lady to get her facts straight. But I did none of those. Why? Because she had just fed me a substantially large portion of her scrumptious dinner spread. But also, because she was not being mean or sarcastic. She was genuinely ignorant, and needed clarification about these absurd things she has gathered knowledge of through her American news channels (read: FOX).
Yet, she was a homemaker from a nondescript town in rural America. Right in the thick of things at one of the nation’s largest universities, a colleague complimented me on my perfect English pronunciations and diction. Of course a compliment is a good thing—not when it comes with the hint of unmasked surprise though. It was almost unbelievable to him that my spoken English was so vastly different from The Simpsons’ Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. I get it though. I mean how can an ethnic man who speaks perfect English be considered “exotic”? There needs to be at least the slightest hint of an accent.
Pictured: A fictional character
Things get more bizarre about halfway across the world or around 8,500 miles away from here. When I was packing my bags to travel the said 8,500 miles from India to the US, a very well-meaning relative of mine quipped, “Please make sure you shower every day. It’s cold up there, so the people don’t shower every day, and they start to stink. Please don’t fall into that mold.” Imagine how surprised she would be if she visited me here and realized that the only ones who don’t shower every day are my new neighbor, my big fat cat and her husband.
However, if you thought my well-meaning relative had bizarre notions, wait till you hear what my other well-meaning relatives’ notions were. Apparently, white girls wear short dresses and lure the good Indian boys, so at no cost was I to fall into their “trap.” I am to go back and marry a good Indian girl who wears a sari and shows off her midriff because, God knows, a woman’s bare legs are more tempting and scandalous than her bare midriff.
The fact is though, if you and I sat down to analyze the psyche of my well-meaning relatives as well as that good American lady and that good white lad, we will realize that they are all inherently nice people who are ignorant of the ways of people who exist miles away from them. They were brought up on cultural stereotypes, compounded with their own embellished imaginings of what the far-east or the far-west might be like. We could shame them or reprimand them for their statements, but we know that that’d be futile. As the small community of students who have the privilege of soaking in the culture of two very different worlds, it is our duty to educate them.
We could politely tell the good ole lady that what she was asking me was mildly racist. We could tell my colleague that even though sometimes art imitates reality often it is a mere exaggeration. And we could tell my well-meaning relatives that their regressive opinions about the west could well be the reason of the growing rape culture in their own nation. It is important to use our knowledge as the ‘glocal’ citizens of this generation to engage in these discussions. It is important to help them realize the need and reality of having bridged the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ It is important to initiate them into cultural and racial sensitivity that us as graduate students have had the privilege of learning and understanding. It is important to help them help us make this world a better place. After all, isn’t that what all of us as a global community eagerly want?
Images from Wikipedia and http://www.missmalini.com/
Aishik Barua is a 2nd-year MBA student concentrating on media marketing. He is particularly in love with TV shows (from The Sopranos to The Flash), books (from The Little Prince to the Harry Clifton series) and a myriad number of modern era conspiracy theories. When he is not screwing his eyes at some website’s Google Analytics page, he could be found doodling with his sketch pencils, cooking a new dish or simply engaging in general goofiness.