Thursday, June 30, 2011

The curse of the stereotype - The North Indian Vs South Indian Debate

Selected as Blogadda's "Spicy Saturday Pick" on July 9, 2011

The last few months have been tough on me, thanks to my god forsaken working hours. I’ve been asked to work in the morning shift which requires me to leave home at 6:30 AM EVERY SINGLE DAY. If you think it’s no big deal, then you must be a nerd or an insomniac. Interestingly, this post is on stereotypes.

The morning shift does have its share of advantages, like for instance, it has ensured that I don’t skip my breakfast anymore and it’s my favourite meal of the day. This post is the result of a conversation that transpired during one such breakfast while I was busy dipping my 106th Dosa* in the 173rd bowl of Sambar**.

*Dosa includes all varities of Dosas/Uthappams/Pesarattu which may or may not include Masala/Onion/Podi/Ghee.
**statistics for the period of April 1st – June 25th 2011

Pic1 ) Dosa - My staple diet today
My company for breakfast is usually project mates, most of them my seniors by 2-3 years and all natives of Tamil Nadu. While I was busy chomping into my Onion Podi Uthappam (my personal favourite) someone spoke in English. I stopped chewing midway, shocked at the atrocity of the event, and looked up dumbfounded to find the brave one who had the courage to break the unspoken protocol by talking in an alien language. He was talking to me; it had to be me considering that I was the only non-Tamil speaking person (amongst the all English speaking people) on that table; how stupid of me.

And the conversation went something like this,

My senior asks, “Hey, what do you do on weekends?”

Pic 2) Caught unaware
“Ummhh??!!” is all I could manage thanks to my mouth being full and also taken aback by surprise at being spoken to in English.

“On weekends; what do you do?” he says again, altering the question a bit, helping me understand the seemingly innocuous statement.

Still a little taken aback, I replied, “Hmmm well the usual weekend chilling out. Hang out with friends, movies, good food, etc; nothing specific or out of the ordinary”.

He didn’t seem too convinced; he gave me a wry smile, nodded his head and got back to his Dosa. I was getting curious here. After a pause for about 10 seconds, I finally decide to ask the golden question.


And the answer came almost immediately,

“Well I have often seen North Indian guys out with girls on their bikes on weekends. So was just curious”.

I did not see this coming. To keep things on the lighter side, I asked him,

“Why? What do South Indian guys do on weekends?”

He promptly replied, “We just look at them (the North Indian couples)”.

We had a nice laugh over his witty reply and got back to our dosas but I couldn’t get that statement out of my head. It wasn’t intended to be hurtful or malicious; it was plain curiosity, at least in this case it was. The senior who asked the question is genuinely a very nice person who is extremely helpful and nice to everybody around. Blame it on the stereotypes which are sometimes so strong that people mistake it for universal truth.

In my 5 years at Chennai, I’ve witnessed one of the strongest stereotypes with practical implications; the North Indian – South Indian divide. I am a Punjabi, born and brought up in Hyderabad, my mom’s family is from Bangalore and I have spent a considerable time there and of course, my stint with Chennai. So that makes me believe that I am as much a North Indian as I am South Indian and that qualifies me to talk about this highly controversial and sensitive issue with an unbiased point of view because I believe I understand both sides better than most.

This divide is by no way a new trend; it goes way back in time. The language barrier, unique customs and limited interstate migration resulted in a lack of understanding about each other which in turn was the genesis of these stereotypes. South Indians were perceived to be conservative, ugly and detached by their “countrymen” up North while the Southern “brothers” thought the “Northies” were flamboyant, immoral and were not as blessed in the grey area department.

However, at this juncture I’d like to point out that amongst the three Dravidian cities (Bangalore, Chennai & Hyderabad) I have stayed in, I’ve felt this divide the most in Chennai. Interestingly, many North Indians refer to South Indians as “Madrasi” (from Madras). So is this more of a North Indian – Tamilian issue?

Hyderabad and Bangalore have had a comparatively more cosmopolitan environment with majority of the population having no qualms speaking English or Hindi in addition to their local language. So that way, if someone from these cities went up North, they wouldn’t have a problem and the North Indians coming to these cities would also feel at home. However, Chennai was never too hospitable in welcoming a foreign language, especially Hindi, and it always treated it suspiciously(read more). 

Was the government right in imposing Hindi as a national language in spite of knowing that Hindi wasn’t spoken in many of the Indian states? Had someone in the government given a thought to the repercussion of their actions, we could have probably avoided this scenario. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be.

Let’s make things a little black and white and go back in time to the good old retro days, to the point in time where I “believe” these "North-South" sentiments would have first emanated.

Note: The forthcoming flashback is completely a work of fiction conjured by the hyperactive imagination of the author.

Murugan Swamy decided to spread his coconut empire up North and chose to make a trip to Delhi while Sukhwinder Singh thought it would be a good idea to give Chennai a taste of tandoori chicken. These were otherwise novel business ideas that went haywire and it was utter chaos all around; each experienced a culture shock and witnessed a life style so disparate from their own. In addition, no native individual would have been able to explain to the visitors about their culture and beliefs, thanks to the limitations of the tongue. This might have caused these gentlemen to do what each one of us loves doing, forming an opinion with hardly any substance. This handicap limited the understanding of their “strange” neighbours and their way of life and would have resulted in a highly erroneous judgement of the other.

Now Murugan anna would go to akka and Sukhwinder paaji would go back to babhi and tell them about the “strange” people they met. Since these were times well before twitter, women were the fastest mode of broadcasting information. News passed family to family and each time there was a little “tadka” (spices in hot oil) added and soon a stereotype so strong was born that even years of education, migration and breaking of the language barrier would still not be able to neutralize the impact.

H.G. Wells could not have put it better (and of my all time favourite quotes)
“Crude classifications and false generalizations are the curse of the organized life”.

It is understandable when people who aren’t educated and who haven’t travelled enough develop such perceptions over the years.  The disturbing fact is that a lot of educated folks also have similar beliefs, in spite of being a nation that together celebrated the World Cup victory.

A lot of it has also to do with the kind of upbringing one has; parents play a very important role in shaping the child’s thinking process. If a child is raised in a household which has strong communal and regional tendencies, more often than not, the child grows up to have similar beliefs. So it is important that one makes their judgements based on facts and not prejudice. 

Maybe the next time you make a generalization about a person, gender or community, I urge you to think twice and help bringing us closer to being a more open, tolerant and loving nation.

Jai Hind.

3) Together we make life colorful.

 Disclaimer: The opinions here are based on my experiences and there is absolutely no need for you to have to agree with me and I’d love to hear your point of view, however disparate it might be. Those of you, who do agree with me, help me out if someone who doesn’t, comes to break my head. Peace.

Photo credits:


Friday, June 10, 2011

Is Hate the new Love?

 In today’s world, trends change faster than couples change partners. It’s not only the speed of change that fascinates me; it’s the impact of this change. It transcends all boundaries and becomes a global phenomenon in no time. Fashion, lingo, latest gadgets, music, videos and games become famous (or infamous) overnight. Social networking on the internet is the catalyst responsible in this rapid flattening of the world and making it truly a global village, almost like one where you can recognize your neighbour by the smell of their fart.

However, this post is a little more specific, it is restricted to one amongst the many trends that took the world by storm.

Welcome to the world of “Bieber - bashing”.

A few years ago, what would you do if you heard a song you didn’t like on the radio? You would switch the station, or better, turn it off. Would you dare listen to it again? I doubt it and that’s what any sensible person would do, right? Wrong.

Pic a) Justin Bieber
For those of you aren’t aware (and aren’t sucked into this trend yet), Justin Bieber is a singer from Canada, who became an international sensation at age 16 thanks to his mother, who uploaded a few videos of his on Youtube. These were accidently seen by a talent manager and life hasn’t been the same since. (Read more about him here).

His music got popular (especially amongst teenage girls), he made more money than most people would in 7 lifetimes put together and every move of his made headlines; all this and more at the age of 16. What followed this fame was something not many expected; HATE!

This sudden transition of an ordinary 16 year old kid to a super celebrity didn’t go down too well with everybody. People criticized his music but this time around, no one was turning off the music player. In fact, in an almost reverse psychological way, his music was played in repeat. His music and his life were put under a microscope and everything he did was ridiculed and for that matter, everything he didn’t also earned him flak. I’m a big fan of statistics and I’d like to bring in some here to substantiate my claims.  

His record breaking single “Baby” has 699,126 likes and 1,425,025 dislikes on Youtube*.

So numbers show that people generally don’t like Bieber’s music. Then how the hell did his video get over half a billion hits(560,143,072)? Where is the logic? If they hate him so much why would they watch his video time after time and discuss how much they hate him?

“Bieber bashing” took a whole new level thanks to the entry of Rebecca Black. She entered with a bang and broke all of Bieber’s (in) famous records (FYI, she is 14 years old). Her single “Friday” has earned the distinction of being labelled the worst song ever and it has got 161,573,426 views on Youtube of which there are 439,381 likes and 3,123,770 dislikes. These numbers are more than the population of certain countries. And if you're of the opinion that these are all unique hits, then think again.  

Pic b) Rebecca Black 

Since we are already in the statistics mode, let’s add some more fuel to the fire.

To make things interesting, let’s compare these numbers to the ones of the top three songs on the Billboard chart (the kind people actually like listening to, apparently!).

1) 72,344,539 views --> for rolling in the deep, Adele

2) 27,150,472 views --> Give me everything, Pitbull

3) 80,354,589 views --> ET, Katty perry

The combined total of these “popular” songs is just marginally higher than Ms Black’s Friday and isn’t even half of Bieber’s Baby. Is this normal? People prefer listening to songs they don’t like over songs they actually like? What the hell is happening around here?

 It’s a trend that’s quite worrying. Honestly, these kids are no Mozarts but they definitely aren’t the worst singers in the world (if you don’t believe me, I would sing for you), but people can’t digest the fact that mediocre singers with pretty faces become Billionnaires even before they hit puberty.

Why would people who make statements like, “I want to cut my wrists everytime I listen Bieber sing”, keep going back to him over and over again? Do they derive some sadistic pleasure out of it? Is it really just the music that annoys them to go to such fanatical extents? Maybe it’s more; could be jealousy thanks to all that money, fame, girls, etc, or it could be nothing at all, just plain fun, not something they think too much about. Whatever the reason, they are ensuring that these kids never get off the spotlight.

Hopefully this is just one of the many fads that come and go but there sure are some happy people who are cashing in on this mixed popularity business and giving PR guys some innovations to try out. Till then, let's fold our hands and pray, "It's Friday, Friday, goto get down on Friday..."

Confession: I listened to “Friday” almost every Friday for weeks just to annoy people around me and to celebrate the coming of the weekend (which she has explained in detail in the song). I admit I was carried away in this wave and it was only when I saw some interviews of Rebecca Black did I realize that she is actually human with feelings and that’s when I realized that I was being quite hurtful. I'm a changed man and haven't made fun of any day of the week ever since. While I ponder on more such world's problems, I'd leave you to enjoy Rebecca Black's hit single, Friday...

*Statistics as on 08th June, 2011. Only views of the official videos on Youtube are considered.

Picture Source: