The other day while disembarking the train at Union Station at Toronto, I accidentally bumped into the guy ahead. I mumbled a apology and gave him a weak I-am-sorry smile. The guy gives me a dirty look and stepped aside and very patronizingly, with a flow of his hands, motioned me to go ahead of him. I got really pissed and flipped him and muttered under my breath “stupid desi”. He was obviously a south Asian and he looked at me as if I had caused him bodily harm and his soul now had to be cleansed because I hadthe audacity to bump into him.
This kind of incident happens more than I care to admit. Not only have I called fellow south Asians “stupid desi”, I have seen other people do the same thing. If a guy cuts me off on the road, me and my wife’s first reaction is “oh, he must be a desi”. If a woman jumps the line at the Indian grocery store, our reaction is “oh, she can’t help it. She is a desi”. Andso on and so forth.
Initially, I used to get quite disturbed at my reaction. This immediate impulse of mine to blame a south Asian as a blight on the face of thedeveloped world made me feel like some kind of racist.
But when you think about it, is my (or other Asians’) reaction unjustified?
I have seen (as, I am sure, countless others as well) that in India etiquette simply does not exist. Oh sure, we are taught to respect our elders and other citizens but the reality is that India is truly a dog-eat-dog society. The competition levels being so intense in India, I think an average Indian has little time for things like “being nice to yourfellow human being”. For example :
As soon as a bus arrives at the bus station in India, no one gives a damn about the line, you just jump in and trample over everyone around you even though the next bus arrives after a few minutes!! This leaves women andchildren at a disadvantage…but who cares.
When driving, might is right!! Cut across anyone, overtake at will….that is the norm while driving. And use your horn liberally even though the lightmay JUST have turned green.
When stopped by a police man, slip him a hundred and go on your way even though you may be at fault.
When a person arrives in the developed world from such a society, he/she has to adjust their respective attitudes. So when bus arrives at the station, wait for your turn to get into the bus. Do not drive rashly or you will get punished severely for it. And police may take bribes here in Canada but it is not the norm. You offer a bribe at your own risk because you might landin even more trouble if the bribe is refused.
So, what happens when two desis confront each other here in Canada? They are immediately reminded of how things were like in India. The gloves are immediately off. The competition wired into our brains in India suddenly kicks in and we want to show this other desi how much better we are than him. We either push ahead determined to put the other person down or wepatronize the other person and remind him that he is not in India now.
I assume that’s what the person whom I bumped into thought. When he saw that it was another desi, he immediately assumed that I was trying to push my way through and get ahead of him not realising that I had actually lost my step. And I knew exactly what he was thinking which is why I flipped him as a way of telling him that it was a mistake on my part and not deliberate.
I don’t think first generation Asians can ever get over this attitude towards other first generation Asians. I hope this attitude changes with thesecond generation.