I’ve been in a foreign country for a year-and-a-half now. The hardest part is not adjusting to the weather or food or the people. Even the accent is not hard, given we’ve all been listening to the American accent right from the advent of cable TV and Star Plus. The hard bit has been to avoid referring to people by their place of origin.
You can’t say someone’s a Jap, it’s racist. You can’t say ‘that pretty Black woman there’. You need to say ‘His accent sounds urban’, not the other thing. Which is hard given I say ‘You sound like a Gult’ or ‘TYPICAL Bong you are’ and pepper my speech liberally with Amit and Isha and Dig and Tam and whatnot when I’m talking to (Indian) friends.
Also, when you ask a Mr. Nguyen where he’s from, and he says ‘San Francisco’, you need to learn to control your impulse to ask ‘Oh.. but where are you really from?’.
Add to this plenty of Op-Eds written about ‘We Indians are so racist ya’. But instinctively, I feel you just can’t compare being called Macaca with being called Bong. I wonder why, exactly…
If anything, NITK has made me more regionalist than I was before. But not in the ‘Slap her, she’s Mallu’ way. To be frank, NITK just confirmed whatever regional stereotypes I was trying to dismiss in mind. While at the same time getting to know the people behind the stereotypes. If anything, it just made the stereotypes more complex and complicated in my head.
The reason the Western world condemns these sort of things as ‘racism’, is because classifying and referring to someone by their place of origin there in the last century or so was borne out of xenophobia and misunderstanding. And a feeling of superiority/inferiority. Whereas, for us, it is not so. There are enough Madrasis in Delhi and there are enough Amits in Chennai that calling someone a Madrasi or an Amit is just a way of referral, not something derogatory. And people from other parts of India in any given Indian city don’t ghettoize and mingle only with ‘their own people’, that anyone would see someone else as only a Bong or Bawa or Dig, or have no idea about anything else about the community than just the stereotypes.
Regional stereotypes in India don’t mean anything. My cousin calls her neighbour Nair-maami, just like she calls her upstairs neighbour maadi-veetu-Usha-maami (Usha-aunty from upstairs). It doesn’t mean anything more. And who the heck takes these stereotypes seriously? No one seriously believes all Tambrahms are paavam vegetarian silent people and no one expects every Bong to have yellow nicotine-stained fingers along with a craze for football and Dada and adda.
If anything, taking the name of your place of origin can only be seen as a celebration of our diversity. Because, heck, we are all minorities and are all so spread out over the country that you can’t say it is better to be a Reddy than to be a Gowda or that you won’t rent your house out to someone with a Maharashtrian surname, the way they do in the Western world. There is not that stark a difference between different communities in India as there is abroad, that highlighting your place of origin means much. To call all this racism in the Indian context would be incredibly shortsighted, and absolutely unnecessary. There’s no point looking at our own culture through the prism of someone else’s culture, take everything out of context to the point that everything appears absolutely wrong.
This is just like a westerner seeing Arab men holding hands in public and assuming that everyone has deep-wrought homoerotic tendencies brought about by sex segregation everywhere.
With one exception, though. I don’t like referring to folks from the Northeast as ‘Chinki’. If we keep doing that, like someone on Twitter said, let’s give up all claim to Arunachal next.
And for the party-sharty crap that infests NITK, the sooner it dies a painful death, the better.
And don’t even get me started on Fair-and-Lovely. But if you do, please don’t call it ‘racism’. ‘Skin fetishism’ is a more appropriate term
I am back to my old life as one of the numerous Saaftware folks in Bangalore, if only for a short while. Yes, that signals the return of all the BMTC rave/rant blogposts.
When I had just restarted the rounds on BMTC, I found I was getting tired an awful lot, and there seemed to be too many catty Isha_123 types who elbowed me out in the rat race to find seats… even given their general propensity to anorexic proportions, the average Isha is way, way more strongly built than Wanderlust after a month of swimming and yoga. And Irvine and OCTA have turned me soft. I have turned much more polite. I say please and thank you every few minutes. The general friendliness in a small town like Irvine have just made me forget that others aren’t used to making eye-contact and conversation with random people. All that makes it harder to nudge my way into any available seat and giving a ‘Take that, witch’ look to the also-rans.
But a week of this, and I quickly re-learned all that that used to come intuitively to me not long ago. And with this guide, you can too. So that you don’t necessarily have to undergo the coupla weeks of two hours on your feet every day with a gargantuan laptop on your shoulder to learn the tricks necessary to a windowseat on the Volvo.
So firstly, it turns out it’s rather important where you, the gone-soft software engineer position yourself in the crowded bus. Rush hours really mean rush hours; once you lodge yourself, it’s hard to shift.
And where do you position yourself? Right next to someone who’s most likely to get off the earliest, of course.
And how do you know who’s getting off where? Allow me to show you.
**Warning: This post might effectively be considered racial/regional/otherDemographic profiling, so do not read if you find terms like Vellakaran and Amit_123 offensive **
- Laptop check: This is the first, basic check you’ll have to make. If you are a softie, you’ll probably be travelling to one of the hazaar tech parks in the Garden City. You want to make sure that the seat you’re standing next to will not be vacated only when you’ll also be getting off. The first sign of another software engineer is a Laptop. Because no other sane person totes these unwieldy contraptions on buses otherwise. (Unless of course you own one of those sleek Macbooks which fits into your handbag, but if you own a Macbook, you wouldn’t be travelling by BMTC; Apple cleaned out its offices in EGL within a month or something, I heard). So steer clear of the seated folks with anything that looks like a laptop bag.
- Gender check: If you’re a lady, you should first scan all the ladies’ seats. On a good day, you’ll find a man seated in a seat reserved for women. Your search ends. You don’t have to do any further checks on where the man gets off; you tell him where to get off here
Sadly, there’s no seat reservation on Volvos. Which is one of the perks of travelling by non-Volvo buses. And the other is….
- Age check: Check for older folks. They are most likely NOT saaftware. And are less inclined to make long bus journeys in peak timings. They will probably be getting off within city limits and in older areas – they are most probably visiting other senior citizens in BTM Layout or Madivala or HSR Layout, and will not stay on the bus till Marathalli or Bagmane. Also to be considered are parameters like flowers in hair (for women), amount of oil in hair (for both men and women), and greyness in hair. Be polite to them, and they themselves will ensure that you get their seat when they get up.
Also of note are little children. Pint-sized kids going to school in large gangs. Some of these can easily be lifted and placed on your lap, even by a pint-sized person like yours truly. Sure, you run the risk of being called Aunty or Uncle, but I’d rather be the vibrant Aunty than the tired Akka.
Most passengers on Volvos tend to be Saaftware, and it becomes hard to spot the Pankaja Aunties and Sathyanarayana Uncles and the Chinnus and Putties in the sea of Amits, Ishas, and of course, Rameshes and Geethas. There are however plenty such folks on non-Volvos. Volvos suck, right?
- Skin Colour check: Face it, you will most likely not find a Vellakaaran or African or South-east Asian on a bus. The ones you will think are south-east Asian will be North-east Indian for the most part [Aside: There was this Korean at my workplace who kept getting asked about IIT-Guwahati and Mizoram and Nagaland too often ]. But on the occasion you do find an authentic foreigner on the bus, check for the tourist attractions on the route. If there are none, they are probably headed to Saaftware land. Avoid. Because you are expected to be polite to them; Athithi Devo Bhava, etc. You can also put on your best pseud accent and talk to them about the colours and heat and dust in India.
On the other hand, if they are the naturalized Indian sorts – Bindi, gold bangles, plaited hair, Indian clothes – they have probably grown to love the ‘chaos of India’. You are allowed to be pushy. Same with the ones who’ve come looking for their destiny and purpose in life.
On the third hand, there was this white man on the bus who seemed rather unhinged… he was eating his ticket. Be kind to such folks.
On a more practical level, these folks could be headed to either the British Council or Max Mueller Bhavan or Alliance Française.
- Clothes check: You reach here when you’re past the Age check. You have a bunch of people who look to be of similar ages – 18-35. How do you decide who gets off where?
If it’s a woman in formals or semi-formals, rest assured it’s an Isha (going by empirical evidence). Isha = softie. Or, hell, (semi-)formals = softie… who else wears those ghastly things anyway. Collars are a pain in the neck. You want to avoid other Softies; they’ll most likely get off where you do.
A woman in a saree is a delight to behold for reasons other than aesthetic appeal. I can go all Kamala Aunty and say kids these days have no respect for culture, tradition and India, they don’t even wear sarees, look at my generation, we all wore sarees to college only, but for the fact that I’m one of those kids, and we didn’t wear sarees in college except on one or two special days, when it took us a zillion pins and hours of effort to pleat those things into submission. Getting back to the woman who does brave all the effort, she is normally in one of those jobs which requires her to look intimidating and professional at the same time. One of those can be Hooch Queen, but those types probably travel in a Sumo, not a bus. Another is senior HR, but those ladies drive to work, and get to work early (to stare down latecomers), no rush hour for them. The most delightful however is school teacher, or front desk employee, for they most probably do not work in a softie place.
Also delightful is biochemist and nurse. They’ll get off at CMH or St. Johns.
Not delightful, however, is betelnut-chewing vegetable seller. They will most probably get off at ‘lashtaap’.
Brightly coloured multi-hued clothes, an abundance of denim, along with messy hair and xeroxed notes in hand should put a smile on your face. These are college students. They travel in packs. Which means the entire front two rows will be empty once the ‘College’ stop comes.
Nuns and Moulvis are easy to predict too – the nearest ‘Church’ or ‘Maseedi’ stop. You will not find Hindu priests in buses; they are madi.
Salwar-Kameez on the other hand is too pervasive across all job descriptions.
- Gesture Check: If someone begins fidgeting with their belongings, they’ll most probably get off soon.
However, avoid sleeping people, or people with their laptops open. They KNOW they won’t be getting off for a while.
As also gossiping-chatting ladies, especially the middle-aged ones in sarees. These are the ones going all the way across town for someone’s Sathyanarayana Pooje or housewarming, and they will not be getting off for a long, long while. They come fully prepared with company and loads to gossip about. Entertain yourself listening to their conversation (does not apply to Amit/Isha… but then you are probably entertaining others with your own phone conversation where you are sharing your salient observations about Bangalore with pals from your regions).
- Software Company Check: Yeah, you avoid softies with all your life, but then what if you avoid that laptop-toting guy, and it turns out he works at CGI and gets off at Silk Board, two stops away? You’ll kick yourself, that’s what, and say “Priya, your methods suck!”. Fear not. I haven’t missed that. This is a necessary step for anyone travelling by Volvo.
Check ID cards. It might look creepy, but you soon can master the art of sneaking glances. Even the strap of the tag will do. The dude with “Life at iFlex Turns Me On” (yeah, they really have that) on the neck will not be getting off until Bagmane.
Check laptop brands. Lenovo and Dell mean they’ll get off at EGL. Mostly. HP however can mean a variety of places.
Check Tshirts. Usually it’s the Yahoo and Google folks who flaunt those.
Eavesdrop on conversations. If they mention “Manyata Office” AND “Bannerghatta Road Office”, it could only mean they are from IBM. “Nice HR people at Bannerghatta Road” means they are from NetApp. This bit is an Art, and you get better only by practice. Do not feel shy to listen to others’ conversations. If someone’s whining about office in a public place, they deserve all that that comes to them.
- Language Check: I find this rule useful while travelling in East Bangalore. Anyone speaking Tamil normally gets off in Old Madras Road.
- Other General Advice: Given all the Volvo rants, it seems miserable to travel by those buses. The rates are more, and the assurance of finding a seat is much lesser than a non-Volvo. This however is true only on the routes on the Ring Road. If you are lucky enough to work in the heart of the city, Volvos rock. Otherwise, you are better off travelling by some other bus.
Except if you want to look presentable the moment you enter office. Non-volvos are more sweaty, which will easily mess your makeup or render it useless. Ironed clothes have no hope here. Oh, and you’d pick a Volvo if you like your oxygen.
Remember the stuff your Science teacher in school said, that went went like “Wear a white shirt and go roam around [Insert name of big city] and it’ll come back black” to illustrate the pollution problems in cities? Well, he might have been kidding in his day, but that really happens now.
- Caveats: There will always be that laptop-toting amit_123 who will get off at Basavanagudi. That ancient man might just get off at Marathalli because he’s buying a shirt in those hazaar Factory outlets. Those two nuns will probably get off at the Last Stop; they got in at ‘Church’ stop. And all these rules reverse for the evening rush hour.
This guide is by no means complete. And I don’t always follow these rules myself. But I find a marked success in finding seats when I consciously follow these rules than if I just squeeze into the first available space.
I have left out the rules for the trip back home not just coz I’m sleepy at this time, but also as ‘an exercise for the reader’. It is, as this nice BMTC post by Thejaswi Udupa says, the best way to ‘learn’ a city.
Yes, I realize I sound racist, regionalist, lackingScruples and just generally rude while profiling folks and elbowing them out, but that’s what rush hour does to you. It’s a rat race and you are still a rat when you win it, but atleast you’re a more comfortable, relaxed and satisfied rat.
Plus, average bus travel in the city is not thus; it’s a lot more civilized, and you tend to meet a lot of interesting people, if you get out of your xenophobia and gen ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ mode. People are way more polite. Hell, even I’m polite when it doesn’t come to finding a place to sit – you ask me random stuff – bus routes, autorickshaw-fu fundae, restaurants, housing – I’ll tell you, even if I’m hanging on for dear life on a bus. And that can be generalized to the rest of the residents of my beautiful city.
As for regional stereotypes, they don’t arise out of nowhere. Statistically, it’s more likely that a North Indian heads to a software company than to Max Mueller Bhavan or St. John’s. And of a gang of Tamil-speaking college girls getting off at Old Madras Road than at Richmond Circle (in the evening). If you trained a classifier to do these things, it’d do the same based on the evidence… it chooses the ‘best bet’ based on all the historical data it is trained on. Our minds are no different. You needn’t go to the extent of changing the alphabet to “Indian-Americans, E, F, G, H….X,Y,Z” (via twitter) to be politically correct.
Here’s wishing you much fun on your bus trips around the city.
Like they say, ‘Use BMTC, save trees/fuel/Earth’.