Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Side effects of being Indian

They raped a girl and hurt her so badly that she died of her injuries. No matter how much time goes by, there will be one family who lives with that grief forever. And one entire generation of women will feel an ache every time we remember the weeks we prayed for a nameless, faceless young girl to live.

This was one event, one of many such. They leave us feeling much - bereft at what was lost, scared to walk back alone after parties, or charged up to fight and look at that groper in the eye; but they do something else too. There's this one side effect that distresses me more than all the others - they leave us with an inability to trust each other. Strangers are no longer friends waiting to be made. They're just potential rapists and murderers. This particular side effect, this paranoia that we will all live with forever, damages us in two major ways: 

1. We don't have magical chance encounters.  I remember reading a story on Tumblr some months ago - about a guy called Gare who always stops to help hitchhikers and people with car trouble, and makes great friends in the process. He started the tradition because a family from Mexico once helped him when his car broke down in the middle of nowhere. He begins by saying - "This story is one of my motivations to becoming a better person." It's an amazing story and makes me feel emotional every time I read it. (You can read it here: Today you, tomorrow me) My point is that it's a blessing that our man Gare did not start practicing this philosophy in India - he'd have been raped and left for dead long before he had a chance to help hitchhiker no.3.

It depresses me that I view every unfamiliar person (and some familiar ones too, come to think of it) with suspicion. A potential flatmate called me last week to ask if she could come see my flat after work that evening. She then called at 10 PM - "I'm so awfully sorry, but I'm leaving work only now, can I come to your place right away? I need to take a decision about the house tomorrow.." Part of me was annoyed. Is she crazy? This is Delhi! This sounds like such a con, and I'm alone at home! But part of me wanted to fight the paranoia. She could be someone just like me, a regular girl, stuck late at work and needing to figure out a place to live. I realized I was punishing her for what the five rapists had done in December. This was the full extent of their crime - ordinary people going through life looking at each other with doubt and fear. She was profusely apologetic about putting me through the trouble, and I decided to let her come. I was right, she was a lot like me - I even have the exact same jacket and skirt she was wearing. But I did not feel any victory over the paranoia. I had palpitations in my heart, and my hand on the speed dial button all the time she was in the house. And she was equally jittery. She was in and out of the house in less than 10 minutes. I did not offer her coffee.

2. We leave each other to bleed on the road. This happened in Jaipur a few hours ago. And it happens often. I cannot quit thinking about this - would I have stopped to help? I think I would have. And so would a lot of people I love and respect. But the people who didn't...they carry in their hearts the memories of hundreds of crimes, and those memories can block the cries of a four year old who's asking you to stop and help his mother. I don't blame them. It's the awful side effect of being Indian.

My friend Mehul would say that this rant is unfair because isn't as if there aren't crimes and negligence in other countries, and I agree. And yet there are places where people grow up and live in relative safety. Perhaps the trust that people have for each other is directly proportional to that safety? It makes me so envious that there are places where strangers smile at each other (which is different from the leering we're familiar with). The highlight of my week in Geneva was that every time I would stop at a street corner and open my massive map, someone would stop and ask if they could help. And they did it for everyone. I got a lump in my throat the first time it happened. I envy them this naivete even more than the utter beauty they live in. How wonderful must it feel, to live in a place, where you can roll down your car window and ask - Can I help you?

Side Effects of being Indian, Part 2


  1. This is beautiful... bitter sweet... Straight to the heart.

    I love you for your sensitivity, and for your effort of penning your thoughts down and sharing them with us... Thank you.

  2. what you say is very true & you put it aptly..The last few lines make for a wonderful way to conclude..

  3. What a beautifully written post. I agree with everything you have said and identify with it even more strongly.

  4. Well compiled rant. But your arguments are a bit biased by the recent unfortunate events and the city that you are currently dwelling in. And I would disagree with the generalization in the title of the post. There are a lot of 'developed' countries in the world where the situation that you describe above is very grim - downtown LA, Frankfurt, parts of London, Johannesburg - you are not advised to be on the road post 8 pm. In Spain, people were reluctant to help with directions or suggestions even when asked for it. In fact they got pissed off by the fact that we were asking then in English. In Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and most places in the southern part of the country, you can stop your car, roll down your windows and ask for help from anyone on the road, and people are super eager to provide that help.
    Having said that, the society has seen degradation over the last 2-3 decades and there has been a significant change of attitude - for the worse. People are becoming more self-centered and selfish, and what's worrying is that its a feature of the so-called developed parts of the country. India is a country of complexity and chaos, and sadly, the Utopian state that you are referring to can never be achieved across the nation.

    1. what you are telling may be right but its not northern states which are under scanner other parts also the story is similar (but may not be in hyderabad chennai KOL MUMB, bengalore,,) BUT it certainly is in the states- andhra, TN, WB, maharashtra , karnataka, where still people dont talk to you if you dont speak their local language... dont forget the population & no. of migrants are much more in delhi STATE & NCR and being the political hotbed everything is blown up...but it surely should happen & proceed like this ..so that we can soon move towards a better future (& hopefully rest of the nation will follow)..where every unknown face on the road smiles at you and says hello (which i have seen in some developed countries)

  5. I totally agree....

    and btw Anal, I dont think any of this is a phenomenon of the developed parts of the country. I'm pretty sure the poor and underprivileged across geographies feel a lot more insecure than people in developed parts of the country. It's this insecurity that breeds suspicion and distrust.

  6. You are the voice of a billion. We need you to write more often.

  7. My exact same thoughts!

    I hate how we can't smile at strangers (our own "brothers and sisters") or as much as be human to them? But abroad, this comes to us so naturally!

  8. What a coincidence, Manjot! Was telling Pronil just last week that if God consents, would like to be reborn in Switzerland next. I know it doesn't sound patriotic, it doesn't even seem to be the message of hope or optimism that a father should be motivating his 11-yr old with. But couldn't help it! :-(

  9. Don't publish this comment, but I remembered reading this once, so I looked for it..

    Maybe not ALL magical chance encounters need be missed:


    *shrug* doesnt change what you're saying of course, but in case you are feeling particularly depressive I thought a good memory might cheer you up.

  10. Pain and hope. Your writing made me think how they can't exist without each other. It beautifully conveys the emotion of the tussle between the two, through things that move you, the writer! It left me hoping for a sunny place, with people who harbor love and care more than an intent to hurt, destroy and damage their fellow denizens...

  11. Nice write up..... we need to help each other and the world would be better


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