Some years back, I shifted from Mumbai to another city on a transfer. I reached that city one evening and checked into a hotel. The next day, I visited the house arranged for me by my company to get it spruced up prior to my moving in.
I unlocked the gate and was walking towards the main door when I heard somebody call out, “Excuse me!” I turned around to see a middle-aged woman outside the neighbouring house. As I walked towards the hedge between the two houses, she asked, “Will you be living in this house?” As soon as I replied in the affirmative, she asked me, “Do you eat envy?”
I replied, “I’m sorry, Madam, I don’t understand your question.”
“Are you vegetarian or do you eat hens and goats and all that stuff?” she asked, her face expressing disgust. Then it struck me her original question was, “Do you eat NV?”
I decided to have some fun, so I replied, ““Madam, I eat and drink anything that’s edible.”
She was silent for a few seconds. Then, she asked, “But you look vegetarian. What’s your name?” When I told her my name, she smiled broadly and said, “Oh! That means you are an upper-caste person! So you are a pure vegetarian, thank God!”
I decided it was time to clarify things. I said, “Madam, I was born in an upper-caste family. But, I do not follow all the restrictions. As I said, I eat and drink anything that’s edible. However, let me assure you that you will not be disturbed in any way by my food habits or anything else. In future, if you face any inconvenience because of me, please tell me and I will take corrective action.”
A few days later, I moved into the house. This woman and her husband were extremely helpful people, but she kept making uncalled for remarks about ‘NV’, about ‘you Bombay people’, and about anything and everything about me that she found ‘different’. A few other people behaved similarly with me. But most people I came in contact with treated me as one of their own. In addition, I was a ‘resilient’ Bombay guy, educated and with a secure job. Hence, I could take these remarks in my stride, almost treating them as a joke, choosing to appreciate her helpful nature.
Imagine a person from the north east or any ‘underdeveloped’ state, perhaps a student or a person in search of a job, looking ‘different’, speaking with a ‘different’ accent, facing such remarks from many persons hostile to them. Such a person would feel totally alienated by such remarks.
I have seen how this happens all over our country. All of us feel bad when we are treated as ‘outsiders’ when we travel outside our ‘home state’. But in our own ‘home states’, many of us treat people from other states as ‘outsiders’. We poke fun at the accents/dress/customs/etc. of people from other states. But we feel bad when people from other states poke fun at our accents/dress/customs/etc… This fun is neither harmless nor good-natured. It is not limited to states. It applies to religions, castes, languages, etc., etc.. Yet, we boast about our nation’s ‘Unity in diversity’.
I think our ‘Unity in diversity’ is a big myth. We are genuinely united only when we are watching India playing international cricket matches. Otherwise, we are a divided lot.
Do you agree?
What should we do to achieve genuine ‘Unity in diversity’?