Monday, May 17, 2010

Why? I Am Racist, Too?

When I started learning tennis, Naru told me that it was a social game.

I picked up tennis quite fast, despite the bodily asset that I had built over two and a half decade. I have noticed that if I don't play tennis any of the mornings, I feel irritated. It later dawned upon me that it was withdrawal symptom. I believe when one plays a sport or exercises, the body releases a hormone which builds immunity and also reduces body pain. When you don't play, the hormone is not produced and hence irritation. Pretty much like smoking and alcohol!

And yes, tennis helps one build partnerships. After a period of time, you tend to stick to one partner. Interestingly, one also prefers playing with the same set of opponents. Ah, now I know what Naru meant when he said it was a social sport.

A group of us, who, earlier, went to the same academy to learn tennis, joined the Mylapore Club about four years and have been playing at a particular court. Now, since last week, we are facing a peculiar problem. Two elderly members, who too moved in from a different club recently, are joining us in the mornings. The day I saw new faces on the court, I felt an irritation in my heart. Then as a good human being, I suppressed it and played with them. But when I realize that they probably are not up to my level of tennis, I felt the subdued irritation roar again.

And quickly I realized that my other tennis-mates had similar feelings. So, we devised a strategy. We called the Marker and told him to instruct the two new members to play in a separate court by giving various reasons as to why our gang should be left alone. And if I know how things will turn out, these two new members who are as good or bad human beings as the rest of us will not be playing with us, tomorrow. Problem solved!

Am I racist? 

There are reports that appear frequently in media about racist attacks on Indians in Australia. Such attacks in other Western countries are also well documented and reported. While we happily call others racists, we must keep in mind that the amount of racism and discrimination we practice is, in no way, any less.

Couple of years back, I went to Delhi for a training program. My ex-colleague who dropped into my room said that he knew which channel I would be watching and that I didn't disappoint. Yes, I was watching a Tamil channel. Now, not that there is anything wrong with his comment, but there was a tinge of charade in it.

I use the term Golti and Mallu quite often. Mallus on the other hand call anyone who has a little extra melanin tissue, "Pandi". For those who don't know, Pandi is a reference to Tamilians who generally have darker complexion. Black skin is not that popular in the white North. 

'Kanjoos Marwadi' term is quite prevalent. 'Muttal Tulukan' generalizes that every Muslim is a dumb head. I have seen a board in a Christian's house that one can espouse a snake but never trust a Brahmin. Sardar jokes are legendary. You name a particular caste or sect; there will be a derogatory reference to them.

Take a look at Corporate, Educational Institutes or any organization, you will find that it tends to be a gang of similar. On Twitter, a top executive of an advertising firm tweeted that people from other states should learn Kannada if they want to work in Bangalore. When confronted, he moderated his statement. Well few political parties in Maharashtra aren't that tolerant. Why recently some Andhra political party beat up candidates from Tamil Nadu who went to Hyderabad to appear for BHEL exams.

But why do we behave the way we behave?

It is in our genes. No one is sacrosanct. We are by nature possessive and jealous. We find security in a group of 'like-minded'. Any change in this routine or exposure to a different behavior, hits at the core of our comfort.

Divide and rule is a strategy. It was used well by Brits to rule India. Post independence, it has served our leaders well, too. Geographies have been divided to create a homogenous mix, standardized on the basis of language. While it certainly has its advantages. But after a point, due to the natural instincts, narrow patriotism sets in. Things are taken for granted. People become complacent. Keralites are notorious for working in any part of the world, or as the joke says, even Moon, but in their own state. Bangalore is full of Tamilians. Biharis earn their bread in Calcutta or Delhi and brickbats in Mumbai. Sikhs go to Canada. It is economics. People flock to where the riches are. Remember California Gold Rush? Human race will race to wherever the opportunities are.

It is not an Indian phenomenon by any means. Today there is news which says that Spanish farm owners prefer Moroccans, Poles, and Romanians than their own countrymen. 

Natives realize suddenly there are few of themselves and being dominated by others. A dislike for outsiders and frustration manifests into violent agitation.

What then?

The sooner we realize that as long as human beings remain social animal, the distinctions will be continued to made. Security and social needs are best derived this way. We will continue to seek more of our own. 

Can you break from the cudgels of culture, tradition, religion, race and practices that have been programmed into our DNA over centuries.

It is a tall order.

Am I ready to play with the two new men in my court? No, not just yet.

I am a racist.

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