Monday, May 09, 2005


Here are some behaviors I have encountered that are counterintuitive to me. The fact that these peoples' behaviors surprise me is probably indicative of the stereotypes in my mind and reflects my distorted view of how things work.

1. A waiter writing water as H2O - I was lunching at Primo Patio with a friend and while ordering we asked for 2 glasses of water. The person taking our order wrote water's chemical symbol down next to our order. This surprised me because I think that using chemical symbols casually would only come naturally to people have studied/used such chemical symbols extensively. And someone who is as well versed with chemistry should be doing something more academic than waitering. Imagine a bartender writing down my order of Cosmopolitan as lime + CH2OH.

2. A bum reading in bookstore - One day during my lunch break I went to Stacey's near work to pick up some books as a friend's birthday gift. There I saw a homeless person sitting and reading. It just seemed odd to me. I guess to me anyone who is educated should be able to earn a job and a home.

3. A child beggar refusing food in CP - I acquired an excellent habit from a friend. He always offers to buy food to any homeless person who asks for money. I decided to implement the same on a recent trip to India. I thought it would take care of the debate about whether giving money to beggars is encouring begging or helping the poor. So in Connaught Place in Delhi, when a child asked me for money for food, I offered him food that I had just bought at Wengers. To my surprise, he refused saying that he actually wasn't that hungry. I told him that it was vegetarian, thinking maybe he wasn't sure what it was made of, and even offered to buy him something new from anywhere he liked; but he just refused. The only way I was able to reconcile his behavior in mind was by thinking that someone forced him to beg and was monitoring him somehow.

4. A graduate auto rickshaw driver in Bombay - One day in Bombay I took a rickshaw for a fairly long ride and ended up talking to the driver about his life. He told me about that he led a crappy life in the city. He remarked with a hint of jealousy that I must be leading a great life abroad with no dearth of material wealth or love of family/friends. I retorted that I studied/worked hard to be where I am. He agreed that he had played most of his life and never studied seriously, but also said that studying wouldn't have helped since he had a lot of friends who were graduates and led the same life as him. I couldn't justify this in my head. Again, according to my distored view, every one who has studied and has a degree should be able to live a decent life.

5. A young girl not giving up her seat for an older person on the bus - I took the bus to go to work today and it got crowded after a few stops. There weren't any seats left with mostly elders sitting and younger people standing. At one stop an elderly woman boarded the bus but there weren't any seats left. One young woman who was sitting looked at her, but did not give her the seat. I couldn't understand how she could just sit there while this elderly lady was forced to stand during the bumpy ride.

These are some examples of the every day encounters that go opposite to the view I have formed in my mind about people and society. These constantly force me to reevaluate how I think. They also remind how little I know about the world around me.

Three kinds of Indians

A couple of weeks ago I took my sister to Whole Foods in Berkeley for dinner. I ordered a burrito and didn't quite like the way the guy was making it so I started complaining to my sister in Hindi. We always use Hindi for such things. It's great to have a secret language that no one understands; that's one thing I really miss when I'm in India. Anyhow, a middle aged Indian lady was standing nearby. On hearing us speak in Hindi she turned around and gave us a huge smile. It threw me off for a minute, but then I smiled back. She kept glancing at us the whole time we were in the store. I remember acting the same way when I first came to the US and didn't have any Indian friends here. I used to not be able to stop staring at any group of Indians I heard speaking in Hindi. Maybe because I missed speaking in Hindi so much.

It is rare to see another Indian woman in San Francisco/Berkeley smile at me. I was talking to some friends about how other Indian women I see walking on the road always give me a weird look and hardly smile at me. I'm not sure if I smile at other Indian men/women anymore. My friend mentioned that there were strange dynamics between Indians living here. She categorized the Indians living here in 3 buckets -

1. Indians who came from India couple of years ago like me
2. Indians who lived in another country then came here
3. Indians who were born here

According to many people who have gone to school in the States, including my brother and sister, these different "categories" of Indians don't like to interact with each other. In fact, the ones who were born here think they are somewhat superior than the ones who came here a couple of years ago, and those in this category consider themselves superior to the ones who just got here. I read about the same phenomena occuring with students from other Asian cultures such as Japanese and Chinese students.

According to my own observations, this behavior seems to disappear as these people age. In their late twenties, Indians from all categories seem to be more open to mingling with each other. I am friends with Indians who were born here, Indians from other countries, Indians who came here in late 90s, and Indians who have recently come here. However, my closest friends still remain the ones who came here when I did.

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