Proud to be a law-breaker

Updated on Feb 09, 2008 10:30 PM IST
Let’s face it, every community has its own stereotypical characteristics and sure, in the stereotype that is every community, there are big, fat loopholes. A society is branded according to what it tolerates and what it doesn’t, writes Indrajit Hazra.
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Hindustan Times | By

Oye, Tejinderr! The Bengali-like pusillanimity that you showcased after getting it right the first time round doesn’t behove a North Indian like you. As a Northerner myself, I feel embarrassed by the girl-like “the media quoted me out of context” response that you aired moments after 'critiquing' North Indians. Well, of course, North Indians are snotty, law-breaking people who take pride in being snotty, law-breaking people. It’s as correct — politically and empirically — as saying that South Indians are people who speak South Indian languages (except M Karunanidhi, of course, who speaks the same language that IK Gujral does). The only comment I have to make is that by pin-pointing your community psycho-profiling to "north-west India", you’ve mucked things up. What do people geographically closer to NWFP kohl-eyed, laughing-at-the-law gentlemen have that we, people of non-north west North India, don’t? I bet that you’re now relieving your tension, even as I tap this out in a pretend-Ashkenazi manner, by playing with dolls and dressing up in a lovely green ghagra-choli set. Tejendra Khanna-ji, be a man. Be proud to belong with people who break laws because laws are for eunuchs and eunuchs are not men.

Let’s face it, every community has its own stereotypical characteristics. Which doesn’t mean that Santa-Banta jokes should be pulled off the air just because there are the anomalous Manmohan-Montek types. Or that Lord Macaulay — and all non-Bengalis — have it terribly wrong when they describe Bengalis as "effete, effeminate, vaporous, swooning" despite a bare-chested Sourav Ganguly in our midst. Sure, in the stereotype that is every community, there are big, fat loopholes. There are Texan Nobel laureates, teetotalling Russians, gentle Jats, vegetarian Mongols, heterosexual fashion designers.

But that’s not how communities get branded or unbranded. When the Delhi Lieutenant Governor — a 1961 batch IAS officer of the Punjab cadre, which has a telling significance — mentioned that North Indians are a people who are proud of breaking the law, he hit the nail-polish on the toes. It’s not so much that every North Indian goes about breaking into a grin after a hit-and-run incident. It’s just that North Indian society is more lenient towards people who mow pedestrians down. They allow law breakers to hold their heads up high, the way Pathans are perfectly all right with those who stone adulterers to death. A society is branded according to what it tolerates and what it doesn’t. Which is where moving from one geographical location to another comes in handy.

As a Bengali, I pretty much fit most of the stereotypes ascribed to my kind. I’d like to think I am cultured; I have a passive-agressive style that makes people I insult think I’m being nice to them; I am hen-pecked (a useful Machiavellian strategy for a masochist); I camouflage my laziness as thoughtfulness; my relationship with fish is similar to Mulayam Singh’s relationship with the Muslim community. But by shifting from the Mother Ship of Calcutta a decade ago and embracing my North Indian-hood three years ago, I find myself in the luxurious position of being able to hoodwink people into believing that I have discarded the rotten bits of being a Bengali — laziness, whininess, self-righteousness — and get good hash brownie points by picking up ‘North Indian’ habits like giving gaalis from behind the wheel; being contemptuous towards people who discuss matters of existential import; appreciating money; and breaking the law without going into dry cycles of guilt.

So whether Mayawati gets all het up about Khanna’s description (I’m told that getting het up about everything is an old upper-class/upper caste Lucknowi street-cred thing), I will always find truths in community stereotypes. It’s another matter that despite being a 37-year-old Bengali only child, I’ve concluded that I’m not a god. Or a virgin.

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