Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do desis have a white complex?

A couple of days ago, my husband and I went to the Indian Consulate. Over a decade of living in NYC, and this was my first time there. A few years ago, when we needed to renew our passports, I couldn’t go because I worked for a company with “strict” come-and-leave-at-such-and-such-time policy.

Anyway, I was impressed with the architecture of the building. We can all agree that it’s hard to go wrong with the neighborhood where the Indian Consulate is housed. There is so much character just like Washington DC & New Delhi.

But as soon as we entered the main area, I was dumbfounded. You could have been inside any official building in Mumbai--the typical floors and ceiling fans. As I sat on one of the chairs, smelling nostalgic sweetness of Mumbai on a hot NYC day, I heard a woman scream like a maniac: “Abhi bharo. Mangtaa hai.” (Hindi for fill up my form NOW!!!)

Turns out, this middle-aged Indian lady (let’s call her “angry auntyji”) clad in a kurti, a pair of tights, and dupatta was threatening this polite woman (helping her) behind the window. Thank God for bulletproof glass. I swear, it seemed this angry auntyji, if she had the chance, would have strangled this patient official.

Almost simultaneously, a man started asking for change. No, he wasn’t begging; he literally wanted change for $100. And he wasn’t shy. Once he got one fifty-dollar bill, two twenties and a ten, he screamed again: “Change for twenty? Anybody? Hulloo.”

If you have ever stood outside movie theatres in India (pre-multiplex days) and heard the black marketers sell movie tickets illegally, you know what I am talking about. This guy went on and on in exactly that tone.

Another not-so-gentle man demanded that he wanted to see the “manager” when he was informed that his form was incomplete. Seriously? Dude, stop. You want your passport renewed not return a set of defective headphones at Best Buy. What “manager?” Upon hearing the chaos, when the security guard, an American guy, entered the room, the testosterone-man just shut up.

The officials at the consulate were warm, considerate, and wonderful. But several of these shocking incidents kept occurring. Either someone hadn’t brought a pen with them or else had filled out the form incorrectly or turned the place into a slot machine for dispersing change or allowed their kids to go on a sugar high/run wildly into others. A display of utter disrespect for everyone in that room.

The consulate website has directions for what needs to be done. It’s explained using simple language. Worse come to worse, there is always the option of calling and confirming. Yet most of the folks chose to not do what was required.

Here is my question: The same people must have applied for a US visa at one time. Would they have disregarded the instructions then? I hardly think so. So, do they choose to take unreasonable liberties with people from their own country?

I still remember how things are conducted at the US Consulate in Mumbai. There is a list of items you aren’t allowed to bring inside, and it’s not debatable. Be it your paperwork or your demeanor, you need to be organized. The officials don’t indulge screaming or threatening or any of that nonsensical drama. You’ll be thrown out in two seconds. And that’s how it should be. Consulate is a place of work not a venue for exhibiting irresponsible manners.

Today I am reminded of a professor at Columbia University who’d once said, “Sweta, reverse stereotype and reverse racism is as heinous as bigotry.” Maybe so. But I haven’t been able to shake off this feeling if certain desis have a white complex. How else do you describe this chameleon-type attitude where they behave themselves when a white guy gives instructions and ignore the system when an Indian tells them to do something?

On a separate note, for those of you who’d asked for the link to my live interview, click here to listen to the recording!

More until next time,


Copyright © 09.02.2010


Anonymous said...

Lovely article. Very well written

rajiv said...

thanks for the link. nice discussion.
meanwhile, it must have felt like being in india - seeing indians in their usual true colours. sweta, you will have to accept that we indians can only operate under a sort of "emergency". as i often remember - TN Seshan clearly stated "Unless we accept that there is a problem, there can never be a solution."
Yes, in some things a few individuals may be better but the fact of the matter is that as a nation we are morally totally corrupt and come what may, we are never going to accept that. That was a point he made 20 years back i guess. and we've only gone from bad to worse - worst is yet to come !!