By Indians are terrible at conversation. We can talk about ourselves incessantly. I talk. You listen. That’s the approach. The Indian takes it for granted that the person sitting opposite is deeply interested in his money, how well his children are doing, the family dog.
If you visit an Indian house you will be subjected to a tour of the house and, sometimes, the car; healthy children will be paraded in front of you; the pet dog will be nudged into performing a few tricks with a red rubber ball. Your role is to be the silent witness, someone who is expected to listen, be impressed with the other person’s success and, occasionally, make sounds of approval.
The Indian is always right. He simply knows. We are born with this self-generating smugness, which makes us the most confident nation in the world. Self-doubt is not part of our vocabulary, even though we speak in 26 languages. Is it any wonder then that Indians top most international ‘happiness index’ surveys.
We are also a pushy people, always honking, always wanting to get ahead. Break a queue here, pay a casual bribe there, give a few gaalis, shout and scream, then pat yourself on the back: Ha, I secured a victory for myself.
News shows are excellent places to observe the Indian mind — sorry, mouth — at work. A show like Newshour on Times Now is a microcosm of the Indian way, and Arnab Goswami, the host, the quintessential Indian, scything through weekday nights with his customary bombast.
To be honest, I don’t mind Arnab — Prannoy Uncle is, well, so avuncular he puts me to sleep, and Sagarika talks so fast, she could be a mafia don in a Tarantino film.
There is an advertisement for Newshour, which plays up his aggressive approach of being ‘direct’. It’s an incredible ad where there are several Arnabs speaking at once. The sense one gets is that of Arnab being split into multiple voices, of several cars honking at once, except that it’s one car with a hundred horns, all of them going off simultaneously.
It was only yesterday that I saw this sticker in an autorickshaw, and I said to myself: so apt! It bore the legend: India is Arnab, and Arnab is India. Or was it my imagination?
How do I survive such an Indian? I listen, nod my head, mumble incoherently, then go home and write about it. In a cacophonous world, phoney acquiescent silence is your best weapon.
The writer is the author of The Butterfly Generation