All in a day’s work. Sexism, racism or what have you…

Act 1. Scene 1. (Wish I had a gun to shoot.)


At my office desk


Me (Brown, female); RandomWhiteGuy (a consultant & soon to be colleague, to be referred to as RWG); Boss

Boss: I have the map for **insert name of popular kids theme park in Dubai**

Me: I love **insert name of popular kids theme park in Dubai**

RWG: I am going there. Do you want to come with me, to take care of my kid.

**What happened in my head: “Are you being sexist or racist, you a$*hole?”, takes out her brass knuckles and punches him in his face**

**What actually transpired (and am so proud of my delivery)**

Me: Could you be more sexist? Would you have said that to a male colleague?

RWG: Ah, you said you liked the place.

Me: Yes, to go to with my kids.

RWG: I have no one to take care of my kid there.

Me: Hire a maid.

RWG: I have a maid, she won’t get a visa.

Me: Do you really want to continue this conversation?

Boss: Maybe it started as a joke…

Me: No, it didn’t. It’s sexist, and I don’t have to tolerate this.

RWG: (Looking clammier than he did few minutes earlier) I didn’t mean to be…

Me: I hope so… (cuts short the conversation and continues with earlier discussion with boss)

Me:  (Still awaits an apology)

Fortunately this wasn’t one of those situations where I fumbled, and later, in futility, thought up a response in my head. I am glad I gave it to him directly, to his face. Yet, I am smarting and furious; I so wish I had a gun, or brass knuckles, or something very sharp…

PS1: RWG doesn’t know me. This is our first interaction. So any excuse of him having a banter can’t be accepted.

PS2: I write this in public, because I don’t think this is an official exchange/communication and needs to be treated as a confidential exchange.

PS3: Healing with writing.

Amend: Added location, and the fact RWG will soon be a full-time colleague.


Why do THEY hate us? Us, the Indians…

Why do they hate us? Why do YOU hate us?

Why, despite our much touted-diversity, are we treated as ONE? The whole bunch of a billion plus of us. Do our numbers threaten you? Then how come the Chinese get away with it?

Why are you so surprised by those of us who are successful? You don’t think a civilisation that dates back a few thousand years, and centuries of foreign influence should give us an edge?

Why is the way we speak English so much funnier than say, the way the French or Spanish or Japanese speak it? Or even some Americans. When most of you ‘native’ English speakers can’t get your plurals, apostrophes, Me and I right, why are our quirks so irritating to you?

English is the language of our business and education, of our laws and policies, so yes, we have earned the right to design our own idioms, and unique usages.

That’s Indian English, so live with it.

Ok, ‘the’ Indian accent is difficult to understand.  But, when you say things like “I can do the Indian accent”, you merely sound pompous and ignorant. Because–sorry to burst your bubble–there is no ‘the’ Indian accent. At best you might be able to do ‘an’ Indian accent.

Even in our accents we have diversity. Every state has a unique Indian-English accent, based on what the native language of that group is.

The only reason I can see why you find us and our English so funny and ridiculous is because you can’t accept that we have achieved success despite the bigoted opinions you might have of us.

Yes, there is poverty, corruption, sectarianism, murder of the girl child… any number of issues that make me cringe when I talk about being Indian. None of which gives YOU a frigging right to treat us poorly.

Despite all this, what you will find in EVERY household in India, from the poorest to the richest, is the altar we have built for education. Yes, we’ll live in slums and crap on the streets, but we will still have a revered place for books in our homes. We know that’s our ticket out of the rut we might find ourselves in, or that that was the ticket that got us out of it. That’s the ticket that will help us build personal toilets within the four walls of our homes.

Next time you say ‘those Indians’ with disdain, or treat me or my countrymen/women poorly–we who clean your homes, teach your kids, drive your fancy cars, do your accounts, write your books, fix your computer glitches or sell your produce–keep in mind we are laughing at you too.

Every day, every year, we are  all making ourselves indispensable to the way YOU lead your life. And every racist, bigoted action and word against us will come back to bite you. Because one thing you won’t accuse us of is taking the easy way out, taking our education lightly or doing ‘nothing’ to earn our living. We will work our asses off and we will make our kids study as if they were in a boot camp everyday (even if it’s Indian English along with Indian mathematics and science that they learn). Along the way we’ll learn from you too. We’ll have them focus more on arts and entertainment… we are already there remember?

We’ll be there in your faces everyday for the rest of your lives.

We will buy your supermarkets from London to Sydney; We will make the viruses, we will get the antidotes; We will clean your streets and lavatories; We will also own your banks and steel mills; We will take your sport, and make it our own megabucks venture; We will teach your kids, in your own countries, subjects that you brought to life.

And yes, we will make use of every immigration opening available around the world and move.

So get used to it.

I am sick and tired of the supposedly polite–and deeply racist and rude–questions that are thrown my way.

Am I to take it as a compliment that you are surprised I speak English well or read ‘your’ classics, or that my kids know more about Dr Seuss or Roald Dahl than yours do?

Am I to take it as a compliment that you can hardly hide your shock that I occupy the seat I do, just because you speak a European language? Even if your country is in debt so deep it will not be cleared in your life time, and it rarely ever moves away from the brink of another civil war? Am I to cower because of my Dravidian frizzy hair and brown skin, as I stand before your Aryan greatness?

I know there are some valid reasons for hating us. But that’s true for the rest of you as well. Am sure not a single one of you or your group is beyond reproach or annoyances yourself.

My next question should be Why do we hate OURSELVES so much. That’s for another day, another very long post… our actions unfortunately mirror our grievances.
Sorry Mona Eltahawy for borrowing your now famous line.

Do you have a problem with La Cigale, Doha?

I don't suffer from a persecution complex. Now read on...

Then let’s start an anti-Cigale club.

My first bad experience was about 3 years ago. On a weekday night, a few of us went to the lounge at La Cigale. Appropriately dressed, except that we couldn’t quite hide our nationality.

As Westerners and nationals from a particular Arab country (not all) were allowed in, we were not. Because we didn’t have a reservation to enter the almost empty lounge. A few other similar incidents involving Asians, proved case in point.

It’s not just that. I happen to go to this place on work quite often — I don’t choose to, but when contacts invite me over, I can’t quite turn it down. The reception at the restaurant/coffee shop is always colder than their frozen desserts. So much so, one contact apologised to me when she realised the staff were hesitant to serve me properly.

Get this. Two people of similar backgrounds visit the hotel to meet a senior manager. One is caucasian, the other is from the far east. Guess who was totally ignored?

A friend from the only Arab nation that is allowed patronage there made a booking. When she landed there with a couple of African and Asian friends, the slippery eels out there tried to hide them in one corner of the lounge.

Don’t believe me? Experiment… if you are white, take a non-white with you to La Cigale. Check out racism in action.

PS: I can easily use my journo card and ensure 24/7 access to the place. But who wants that! I am angry…

I am sick and tired…

I am sick and tired
Not just of the bastards who did that to my country – and I don’t mean the politicians alone…

I am sick and tired of those who take on a holier-than-thou attitude

Of those who see demons in everything and everyone

Of those who blame without basis

And of those who dub any opposing view as a ‘generalisation’

Of those who talk about being open to discussion… but only if all that is discussed is in agreement with what they feel or say

I am sick and tired of those who want to act as if sectarianism doesn’t exist in India, or if it does, talking about it makes you a culprit too

I am sick and tired of how bloody indifferent people can be

When I commented here that “I am totally dumb struck by the non-Mumbai folks out here who seem to be rather unmoved by the incident” it was taken as an accusation of me generalising, and making it a Mumbai-nonMumbai thing. When in fact I was making it exactly the opposite!!!!!!!

I don’t care to be rude to people who have an opinion on what I say or write, as some people are wont to do. Because I know when you are rude, your meaning is never heard, only your rudeness causes hurt.

Why did I say that in that comment? There are dozens of reasons why…

I am stating a few here…

1. A friend of mine (born-bred Mumbai, origin somewhere further south) was actually asked with a smirk by at least 3 ‘non-Mumbai Indians’ – What is happening to your Mumbai now? Her Danish and British colleagues showed a lot more sense and sensitivity. They enquired about her family, and then her country!

2. There are quite a few Indians in my workplace. Only some of us were frantic with worry. The others barely showed a passing interest. They didn’t have family there, they don’t know what or where Colaba and CST are. So the attack didn’t deserve more than a ‘ha, yes…” On the very day we were out on work, and at that meeting so many of the foreigners came up to me and asked me about the situation. They saw me as an Indian, and asked me about India.

3. Sun TV carried wide coverage of the cyclone (which all the ‘national’ channels totally ignored. Close to 100 dead and thousands displaced!). Sun TV’s coverage of the Mumbai attack was at best indifferent. While it showed a 15 minute footage of that nepotistic MK distributing bread to the cyclone affected, it dismissed off the ongoing Mumbai crisis in a couple of minutes.

4. When a fellow South Asian told me (in reference to the young terrorist) “When you see bad things, you do bad things”, the other Indians who were with me just nodded. They couldn’t even be bothered to take offence at what that guy was saying. The people who were so brutally murdered, deserved it?

5. Someone who obviously was not following the news told me, ‘I am sure they let go of all the Muslim hostages! And no Muslim died’

6. And more than a dozen people told me, “oh Muslims, no wonder!” I almost prayed then (and I never do) that not one of those terrorists turns out to be an Indian. Because we know what would follow.

7. Then 2 people on Thursday told me that this is in response to what ‘the minorities endured’.

8. I stopped counting at 10, when people either invited me or spoke about catching the latest releases that night.

9. And when I spoke about the indifference of some here, I was asked by a friend, “What if it had happened elsewhere. Not in Mumbai or Delhi or Bangalore… Would you still be so upset?” Would I? I seriously hope so. I would probably be far more devastated if it happened in Chennai, because it is my city, and the victims could well be my near and dear ones. But I would be scared and angry wherever this took place… I would feel threatened for my country.

10. One person told me (must be a cousin of R R Patil) that the whole thing seems so much bigger, because of the live coverage.

11. And then so many didn’t even mention the attack.

12. And well, every single person who had these weird comments/ideas was a non-Mumbaikar, they couldn’t identify with what was happening.

Does that mean I found no ‘Indian’ patriot here? It doesn’t. Fortunately, R & I are picky about our friends, and they (and their friends) were all angered/saddened/upset/concerned by what was happening.

Unfortunately, during the course of my work day, I interact with people who are not all to my taste or liking, many of whom are Indians. And quite a few of them figure in the list above.

I speak of my experiences, not my personal opinions, so how the hell can someone question that? Don’t we all make up minds based on our experiences?

I am not going to bury my head in the sand and claim every single Indian was affected by this. Because every single Indian obviously was not. And they anger me almost as much as those who did that to India.

We are so divided as a country. So bloody divided. North, South, West and we don’t even give enough thought to the East!

I am also sick and tired of people talking about my right to comment on India because I don’t live there… I have whole different take on that, but will save it for another post.

And one more thing, I here voices out there saying we can’t brand all Pakistanis as our enemies. Yes, let’s not. But Pakistan is, whether we like it or not. At the height of the Kargil crisis when R & I refused to buy Pakistani produce here (we work with Pakistanis and are cordial enough with them), people mocked us, saying we were new to the Gulf, and will soon forget all this. We haven’t. We still don’t.

I agree we cannot blame X who lives in Islamabad or Y in Lahore for this. But as a country, they can’t shrug off their responsibility in escalating terrorism.

I am not done with this rant, so will continue soon. And unlike some, I don’t mind being disagreed with, as long as it’s done civilly.

What colour success?

ETA Post Script

This really weird and depressing news item appeared in Outlook last month. Where will we Indians, draw the line? Why are we so obsessed with being fair — meaning complexion, not just. Firang sperm? Give me a break!!!!!!!!!
If we obsess about the colour of our skin, there are other equally discriminatory, ego-mocking rituals elsewhere in the world.

Here in the Middle East 16 and 17-year-olds undergo invasive procedures to get that almost unnoticeable tilt to their nose, plump up their lips, curve their cheek bones… Who told them that they are not good enough without thicker lips and higher cheek bones?

I am surrounded by looks-obsessed folks out here. I know people who would skip a doc appointment in favour of a beauty parlour session.

How bad can our self esteem get?

Whether we are conscious of it or not, we are bombarded with messages that tell us we are not good enough, as we are.

Have you seen the Garnier wrinkle ad — where are the wrinkles on the model’s face? Why the hell do we have to worry about something that would be visible only under the most advanced microscope.

Yes, Dove runs real beauty campaign. But it is just a bloody ad gimmick, as the same company produces the mother of all self-esteem crushers Fair & Lovely.

Our hair, our face, our skin, our laugh lines… why is ageing or looking like normal human being seen as such a blight?
I have cousins, otherwise smart and reasonable, who are so hung up about marrying fair women. Why is fair equated with beautiful or even presentable? It’s common knowledge that fairer the skin, earlier the ageing!

Now the obsession with skinniness. Different races have different body shapes – a shape determined by nature after zillions of years of research on what would best suit the climate, environment and other conditions of the native region. Why mess with that?
I am not talking about slim vs obese. I am talking about anorexic-thin vs normal bmi.
Yet, even Indian stores stock sizes that would only fit a much smaller build like those from the Far East. Indian women have hips and boobs, and bit more in the middle. That’s why they look drop dead gorgeous in sarees.

If it is not how we look, then it is about what we will become. So bloody well give your child Horlicks, or woe behold he/she may be disinterested in maths and take up arts! What the eff?

What’s wrong with dark skin?

What’s wrong with child bearing hips?

What’s wrong with a little flesh on the booty?

Is it the end of the world if your eyebrows are not quite aligned?

And what the heck is the problem with a bit of fizzy hair now and then?

I am all for grooming oneself well, being presentable and doing what it takes to feel good about self.
But the sad thing is, the more obsessed we get with the way we appear, the more we invest in products and treatment, less happy with ourselves.

When O was born, the first (and last) thing everyone seemed to notice was the colour of her skin. I was ready to throw up my post-natal health food on them… why couldn’t they notice how cheerful she was with visitors? Why couldn’t they notice how amazing genetics is, and she has a mole in the exact same spot on the ear as her dad? Why couldn’t they comment about how healthy she was?

Nopes. Those were not as important as the light skin.

Because R & I are BROWN, and O is a deep beige, people openly wonder how I managed that? What did I eat when I was pregnant? Bleach and Fair & Lovely, pals.

I didn’t realise that this was having an effect on her till a couple of years ago. We were planning on adoption then, and were slowly introducing the subject to her… and O told me she didn’t want a brown baby. That’s when R & I consciously started talking to her about how flippant and unimportant these things were. How could I blame the 5-year-old? She was constantly hearing folks talk about fair equals cute/beautiful. That’s all that she saw on TV, except for the annoying Raven. Fair skin, light hair, make-up. Kids’ channels reinforce these stereotypes too.

I have always been partial towards dark skin. Give me a well-dressed guy with dark skin, a day-old stubble and a smile, I will swoon! I feel light skin only augments all your facial flaws.

Just look at the folks below… can you imagine anyone of them fairer and better looking?

PS: A friend called to ask if I have a problem with ‘light skinned’ folks. No, I don’t. My mum and 2 sisters are ‘fair’ and gorgeous despite not because of that. I just feel that a majority of us in India are not light skinned, and we shouldn’t feel like it is a disadvantage! Does it really matter? And as MG said how boring if we all looked the same. Fair skinned, silky hair, ‘perfect’ nose or whatever…