Who is to blame?

Posted: July 24, 2008 in Culture
Tags: , , ,

It is just another hot summer’s day in the sleepy town of Hapur in the Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh, a few hours drive east of the nation’s capital. A young, soft spoken South Indian woman hires a rickshaw (cycle-rickshaw) from the local Durga Mandir to her home. The ride begins and the rickshaw-wala listlessly tries to strike a conversation.

Having noticed from her accent that she wasn’t a native Hindi speaker, he naively queries, “Behenji! aap kahaan ke ho?” (“Sister! Where are you from?”)

Ji, hum Hyderabad ke hain,” (” We are from Hyderabad”) the lady politely informs him.

Snap! comes another naive question, “Hyderabad? Pakistan ka Hyderabad ya NTR ka Hyderabad?”

Startled, and also slightly offended by the question, the woman tries to fend off a frown and replies, “NTR ka Hyderabad”.

Achha! aap ‘Madrasi’ ho!”, the rickshaw-wala concludes.

Now, how do you think the poor young lady retorted to this uninformed conclusion? Incidentally, the woman in the story was my mom, a few months before I was born.

Well, my mom, like many other southies, was lost for words. She didn’t know what to say. She thought it best not to argue with him and left it at that. She thought to herself, “the guy knows Pakistan’s Hyderabad, he knows NTR, but doesn’t know that people from Hyderabad are not called ‘Madrasis’, tikkavedhava (Telugu for dimwit, dunce)!!”. To this day, after twenty plus years, when my mom recalls this incident, she thinks the rickshaw-wala’s conclusion mirrors what most North Indians typically think of the South. A teacher that she is, she wanted to do what all teachers do to kids – tweak his ears real hard and teach him the proper demonyms for all the southern states. The poor rickshaw-wala meant no harm, but his sheer ignorance seemed to have scarred my mother’s well-guarded and much treasured sense of cultural and linguistic identity.

This story dates back more than twenty years. Now, let’s fly back into the present. Even today, little has changed in terms of the North’s perspective of South and vice versa. People have started to move across the vastness of the Indian subcontinent and cultures have blended. But a large number of people are still hung up on stereotypes. Why? Is it a lack of exposure to these cultures or the failure to understand them? Who is to blame for the misconceptions? Well, attempts to answer these questions only spawned new questions and answered none. Questions like – when fellow countrymen can’t understand each other who else will? Are people being grossly inconsiderate in taking stereotypes literally rather than just as humorous cultural hyperbole? I understand that not many are affected by the attribution of stereotypes, but for some it doesn’t actually strike the right chord and they end up taking offence. But can anyone blame them for being offended or lock horns with those who are ‘guilty’ of mortifying a fellow countryman?

Now, playing devil’s advocate!! How can we hold anyone culpable for creating a stereotype of a South Indian? (all in good humour, at that!) For a person from the North of the Vindhyas, a southie is someone who utters the interjection ‘Ayyo’ at the drop of a hat. How true!! Who can deny that? South Indians, regardless of the language they speak, hold the sole copyrights to interjecting with an ‘Ayyo’!! Next, a Southie is someone who speaks ‘Taaamil’ (as most Northies call it) or a similar sounding dialect. “Ok! This is true of those from Tamil Nadu, but what about the rest of Dravida Nadu?”, one might ask. Most Northies can barely distinguish between the Dravidian tongues. To them Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Tulu or Malayalam – all sound the same – like Tamil (again ‘Ayyo’ being a common expression)! Now, now! Before we sling mud at anyone, let’s be true to ourselves. How many of us from peninsular India can actually distinguish between the tongues of the North of the Vindhyas – Gujarati from Marwari or Marathi, Assamese from Bengali or Oriya, Hindi from Maithili or Bhojpuri, Haryanvi from Punjabi? Let me conveniently establish that the number is not huge. Also, their addressing us with the demonym ‘Madrasis’ has to do with the fact that most of the South barring Mysore, Travancore (today’s Kerala) and Hyderabad came under the jurisdiction of the Madras Presidency until the states took shape, one after the other. For us Southies, however, everyone from beyond the borders of Andhra or Karnataka are North Indians. We have pulled down the frontiers for ‘North India’ from the Vindhyas to the Godavari! But believe me when I tell you that a Maharashtrian or a Bengali will punch you in the nose if you call him a Northie!!

So, the misconceptions and ignorance are ubiquitous – whether in a Hindi speaking person scoffing at a South Indian for his pronunciation of ‘thoda’ or in a native Telugu speaker cracking up at a Northie saying ‘anti’ for ‘enti’ (meaning ‘what’). Who have we to blame in all this but ourselves? As Indians, regardless of where one is from, we have failed to understand our own compatriots. We need to open up and broaden our horizon of thoughts. The ultimate solution? Well, just let me know if someone comes up with one!! On the top of my head, I can’t think of any!!

Post Script: This post is inspired from the various rants I’ve read from other fellow bloggers on the North Indian preconceptions about those from the South of the Vindhyas. I thought it was time I voiced my thoughts on the subject. I intend no offence whatsoever to anyone whosoever, through my ramblings!


Here’s to a clash of civilisations!!! Enjoy!!

  1. nikhil says:

    So whts ur take…. u hav a problem with southies being stereotyped or they being stereotyped not the way you want them to be ??

  2. sthitapragnya says:

    It’s not the stereotypes that bother me, it’s the kind of image they create of people. They can be a tad bit misleading in understanding a culture. So I think, they should not be taken literally, to the point that an entire region being branded with a certain demonym which may be considered offensive!

  3. Somya says:

    Truely said kartik, the differences we create in our own minds are somewhat attributed to the first look or actually even before that when we know any information about the person (even the name). It creates a image of them and we tend to view the person in the same one no matter how much we interact with them. This has been the sole perspective of a indian to differentiate between ppl. But the upcoming generation will have a different one because of the very same reason of migration from north to south or vice versa, and lets hope for the very best.

  4. sthitapragnya says:

    I hope so too Som! I just want stereotypes to stay that way and not become a benchmark for judging a people. I know there are many who live the stereotypes, but still.

  5. nikhil says:

    I beg to differ…
    I wudnt like 2 c stereotypes in da -ve lite as u ppl are seein..”stereotypical” image(of nythng) is not created by a sngle person overnite, from his assuptions or imagination… thy form by popular opinion.Ofcourse like nyother rule, even stereotypes have exceptions. But thy genuinely serve the purpose of providing an abstract overview of a region,sect or even a country as a whole for tht matter. The usual prob which, i thnk, ppl have with bein stereotyped is tht thy not bein branded da way thy want to be. A south indian modernist mite be uncomfy by he bein branded as conservative, but im sure thr r ppl who r proud of it.Its jus da matter of individual opinions and the very concept of creating a stereotypical image shld not be undermined.I wud rather call it an abstract overview or an overall picture, whch sounds much more +ve.Im in so favour of this stereotypism(if u will…), coz its brutally honest and truly democratic(popular opinion).

    Well, as I said I don’t have a problem with stereotypes. I know they are created in good humour, but think about it this way – if one had a kaleidoscope, one would only appreciate its beauty when one can individually identify each of the colours, not when the person is colour-blind. Now, that’s what stereotypes do, make us all colour-blind! Instead, I’d say, stereotypes should be viewed as one of the colours of the cultural kaleidoscope. Stereotypes can be a part of understanding a people, a culture, but they should not be given the role of an emissary. Besides, I have played devil’s advocate to claim that the attribution of stereotypes is not unique to a particular region, it is ubiquitous. The question here is not the creation of stereotypes, it is of dispelling misconceptions.

  6. chutney says:

    Manchidhi post stithapragnya garu! 😀 And yes, naaku telugu telsu. 🙂 But only konjam I’m afraid.

    Ina country as diverse as India, its hard to not be stereotyped. The broad stereotype would be the fair north indian (‘seth/saettu’) and the dark south indian (madrasi). I do believe that we south indians have our own internal stereotypes. Hell, us tam-brahms are commonly referred to as “iyerrru”. Which is annoying cause I’m iyengar. O well, the important thing is we all support the Indian Cricket team. 😀

    Impressive! Ur Telugu is pretty good! 🙂 Anyway, u’re right about the internal stereotypes. We Telugus are called ‘Gults’ which is waaaaaaay beyond annoying! It’s insulting! Bleddy naansense warasht fellows! About the cricket team, I need to think about it. 😛

  7. […] eh? Let’s see. Well, I don’t have posts exclusively written about my family, may be this will qualify. It mentions my mom and her […]

  8. kr says:

    Telugu’s are called Gults? But why? Haven’t heard this one before.

    I am not trying take sides here, but can’t help mentioning a couple of stereotypes out of so many, which I keep hearing on day to day basis.

    When it comes to figure, “hey, you don’t want to look like a southie” is the most popular one.

    “u southie’s eat sona masoori rice” (apparently this person is under the impression that southie’s eat sona masoori coz it is cheaper than basmati, and this guy is mighty proud that he eats basmati everyday).

    I try my best to not take offence and try to bring some awareness, but then not many actually listen, ruling it out that I am trying to defend southie’s. What else can be done here other than keeping quiet?

    on retrospect, thinking I should be more careful when trying to stereotype anyone’s habits.

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