I woke up last weekend and, as is custom, curled up on the couch with my Mid-day and the TV tuned to one of the many news channels it is now the privilege of the Indian consumer to peruse.
The first had a special report (one hour or so) on the entire racism and Shilpa Shetty thing. After a bit I got sick of it and clicked to another channel. They had an interview with Meghnad Desai about the same thing. He soon made that famous statement about Big Brother being a "third rate show being watched by third rate people". But by and large, for a person whose hair must frequently disrupt time-space continua and bend light if he is not careful, he made sense. But then there was only so much racism I could handle on a bright Saturday morning.
I switched off the TV and walked away. Eggs needed scrambling and tea needed brewing.
An hour later I switched on the TV and, VOILA!, like a love scene in a Lustbader book which is so revolting it runs around in your head making the rest of the book a vague haze of prose, there was that racism thing again. Now I understand it is a serious issue and several bloggers have written about this in no uncertain terms, I am not one for that sort of debate. A combination of ignorance and adequate perspective makes me not take such controversies seriously.
So when I could no longer stand one more mention of the word race I switched off the TV and turned to my missus who had just returned from her Satruday morning beauty bath.
"So what do you think about this entire race thing?" she asked me gently unwrapping her hair from the water-sucking confines of a towel.
"How dare you ask me about the one thing that has completely riled me up? I have half a mind to pick up this heavy coffee table book about the second world war and plonk you over the head with and then run for my life as you unleash your remarkable punjabi strength and wrath upon my meagre frame!" I did not say to her with furrowed brow and quivering lip.
"Oh nothing really. Reminds me of the time I was the victim of vile racial profiling myself." I told her with an indifferent shrug of my shoulders.
"Oh my god! And you did nothing you ninny? You did not fight for your rights and dignity? Did he call you a brown-y? Was it some sheikh? Did he call you a poor Indian? Something like that?"
"No no. It was an Irani guy. But it was no big deal."
"As in you heard all his racial rants and then walked back with your tail between your legs."
"No dear. I did not. I made him buy me dinner."
"????!!!" she said with her eyebrows.
I told her what happened seven years ago in the dusty by-ways of Dubai Port.
Now this lab is the sort of place that would make an ideal setting for a merry Ruskin Bond novel. If Bond was an engineer he would have loved the people there. For one there was the two Tamilian brothers who ran the place. The elder one was Saravana. He was sort of like the lab manager and everything, impact tests, corrosion experiments, all happened under his watchful eye. Then there was his younger brother who was a much more playful fellow who ran around and did all the cutting and polishing and chemical mixing. I do not remember his name but he plays no further part in this story and therefore I will not make up a fictional moniker for him just to prove a point.
There were two more people. One was a big, strapping firang (swedish? polish?) guy who was in charge of all the science. He knew all the tests and numbers and tricks of the trade. And he always came to work piss drunk. I mean 'second year B.Tech mallu night after last exam' drunk. He would walk in through the doors every morning and we could smell the vodka on his breath right across the lab hall and even out to the corrosion testing trailer in the back. Even the Hydrogen Sulphide chamber out back was no match for his Stoli-drenched breath.
But of he course he was really sweet and not racist at all. Every morning he would walk in and not know who I was. "Summer Trainee" I would tell him and he would hug me and welcome me to the lab. I would then sit by the microscope waiting for the spinning of head to pass. He always brought cake and pastries for us every few days. He was a good fellow.
But the villain of this piece was the evil Irani middle management guy. (By Irani I mean a fellow who was from Iran. Mumbaikars please note.) He was the owner's relative and had a great loathing of people from, strange this, Kerala. He hated mallus. He loved Tams. He had no issue with Saravan and (what the heck!) Thirujnanasambandham. But mallus he could not stand.
So I was a little surprised when Saravana introduced me around the place as a friend of his from Tirunelveli. Irani was more than happy to have me around. "You are from Tamil Nadu yes? Not Kerala?" Before I could answer Saravana interrupted: "Yes yes. He even wears his lungi with the ends stitched together just the way we do. Malayalis hate that."
Before long I was part of the team. I was cutting and polishing and micrographing with them every day. I was doing well. They liked me. Even the Irani.
Then one day the Irani guy offered to take me out for dinner. I was pleased. It was a great way to learn about other cultures and lifestyles. I eagerly hopped into his SUV and he drove me out to this nice Irani place in Deira.
"The first time I saw you I thought you were malayali. I hate malayalis." he said.
"They are evil blood-sucking parasites. They are everywhere in the gulf. Grovelling, begging and undercutting everyone else. I hate them. Tamilians are ok. They have more... dignity."
I was getting a little uneasy. This was blatant generalization and racial profiling.
"Well they need to make a living too you know."
"So do us Iranis. But we don't run around stealing jobs and pushing down salaries. We live well. They... they live like animals in their labour camps."
"Hmm... but still I know at least a few good malayalis. Nice respectable people."
"They must be Tamilians then!" he said laughing loudly. "I will feed you nice Irani chicken and rice. You will like it."
Off we went to this cozy little Irani restaurant run by a middle-aged woman who cooked everything herself. The chicken and rice was remarkably tasty. The poultry was cooked with little oil or spice but the flesh fell off the bones effortlessly. The rice too was light and blended with a divine green herb that looked a little like coriander.
Now at this point I may look like a ninny. Why did I not stand up for my race? Why did not I tell him that he was an ignorant idiot who had the intellect of a lion-tailed macaque? Why did I not tell him forcefully that generalization was the device of the weak and narrow-minded?
Did I fall for the chicken and rice? Did I set aside my mallu pride for a full FREE meal and some dessert?
Now that is a tough... burp... question to answer.
For one thing I didn't care what he thought. He was a stupid imbecile who worked with me. What he did or did not think did not affect me or any other proud mallu. He clearly had issues and history that he had not revealed. That sort of generalized scorn always has a reason that is never justified. Would anything I have told him changed that? I would doubt it. As long his beliefs remained in the crap-lined confines of his crummy cranium I did not give two hoots.
I let him be.
A month, and another three chicken and rice dinners later, I was done with my stint and we had a little going away party. I was gifted with a pair of light blue workmen overalls and gloves and a little cake from everyone at the lab. It was a nice touching moment. I went around thanking everyone and finally went to speak to my friend the Irani.
"Off I go sir. Good to have met you."
"You too. Maybe if I come to Tamil Nadu sometime I visit your house."
"Oh you must come home. This is my address."
I wrote my Thrissur address down on a piece of paper and handed it to him.
"Thanks for all the dinners dude. It was great fun. You take care of yourself yeah..."
As I walked out of the lab, past the polishing machines and impact tester, I could hear my friend the Irani screaming out what sounded like prose his mom would have got miffed and sent him to bed without chicken and rice for.
I confess I gloated just a little bit.
"Oh it was excellent. We must get that recipe from somewhere."
"Is it better than my rajma chawal?"
"What are you saying? Of course not. Your rajma chawal is better than stupid Irani food any day."
She relaxed her forearms, smiled and picked up the newspaper.
Punjabis are scary.
And that is NOT racial profiling.