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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Australiana #6: Prejudice

We Indians are pretty crooked. Tell us to do something by the rules and we'll find ways and means to bypass it. If we do not like something someone said, we'll tell everyone but that person about it. The one person who mattered. We almost never say no when we mean no and don't always agree when we say yes. We read between the lines more than we should and look for subtexts and plots where there are none. And then we land up in Australia.

Suddenly, we become very aware of who we are – the colour of our skin, the languages we speak, our giveaway English accent and our desi roots. We look for fellow desis and then try to categorise them: people born of Indian parents in Australia, people born of mixed-race parents in Australia, people born of non-resident Indian parents in other countries, Fijian Indians, People of Indian Origin (PIO) from Mauritius, Indian Filipinos, Indians with Australian passports, Indians with Indian passports and Australian working visas, Illegal immigrant Indians, Indian students and so on. Once we've ascertained the “how many years have you been in Australia” part, we look closely to judge where in India they hail from. We note their colour, the texture of their hair, the size of their eyes, their dress, the words that roll off their tongues, etc. If we find that the person is from a similar cultural background as ours, we'll immediately strike up a conversation. If not, we'll pretend as if they did not exist. We carry on with life. It does not matter anymore.

Then why does it matter so much when a white Australian guy does the same? When he thinks, “Skin colour, brown, so Indian/Pakistani/Filipino/probably African/from somewhere in the Caribbean. Looks like a student with a backpack, or could even be a tourist or a software engineer...” He's checking out how brown you are while you are noting how white he is. He tries to chat you up, asks you about your country and what you are doing in Australia. Your answer is laced with suspicion. You wonder why he is so interested in you. Could he be a thug, an agent or somebody dangerous? What's the subtext here? You don't give him direct answers. He's trying to be polite and continue the conversation while you're being evasive. You cut him off abruptly and briskly walk away. He thinks you are rude. He knows you're Indian. He develops an opinion, “Indians are rude.”

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