Hey! Are You Indian?!!

I have invariably faced this inquisitiveness whenever I have travelled out of my native India. An affirmative “yes” follows, but what sadly ensues oft is a vagary of perception about the Indian lifestyle, clothes, people and also animals! Are Hindi films to be blamed, I wonder.

“You’re allowed to wear pants, is it?” a 40-something American woman, my neighbour during a recent flight from Newark to Delhi asked me as she took a closer look at what I was wearing for the 16-hour long journey.

“Of course,” I said with a sense of obviousness.

Just around five days before my flight, after savouring a fulfilling Thai meal, I stood against the changing colours of the hyped Empire State Building, to do what most excited tourists, and not just from India, would do – get photographed for a happy memory.

But there, in the most unexpected way, came an unsavoury remark from a passenger on the move in a cab.

“Hey, are you Indian?”

Why typecast? What’s wrong with capturing a memory? And what’s so Indian about doing it?

I spotted people from China, Japan, Italy, Africa and more like me from India doing the same. Then what’s the mindset that forced the stranger to shout so insensitively in the middle of the street?

I laughed it off at first, but the remark has stayed with me longer enough than the flavour of the meal.

On another trip to Abu Dhabi and amidst a host of “intellectual” journalists from reputed media organisations from London, Los Angeles, Dubai and other nooks and corners of the world, I found myself seated with a woman from London during an Arabian Nights-themed party.

“Hi, I am from London, and you?”

“India,” I responded with pride.

“Oh! I’ve heard parents arrange their children’s wedding there. Is that really true? And that you don’t cross the road if a cat passes by,” she asked.

“Well, no, not necessarily,” I responded with a nonchalance that most girls my age and in my social circle would replicate.

Now that I am going down the memory lane, I recollect being asked at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport: “You’re Indian? You don’t look like one!”

Now how does one look Indian, I wonder!

I guess whether you look Indian or you don’t, the fact that you’re from India itself leaves a lot of foreigners just as curious as I am about their concept of an “Indian”.

As a journalist, who primarily writes on cinema, I see Indian films are credited many a time for fuelling perceptions – good or bad – about the country at large.

Be it about its tourism, rural life, urban lifestyle, culture and tradition or about the crime, economic state, political scenario and the like – films are like a window to society – sometimes in all its glory, and sometimes its gore.

But I have my doubts if Indian or Hindi films, to be precise, help them build the conservative image that they harbour about the country and its citizens.

Each country, I believe, is made up of people with different mindsets, a varied idealism, the rights and wrongs…so on and so forth. Why attach a stereotype with each?

Of late, most Bollywood buffs would agree, Hindi films more or less stick to a realistic portrayal of India’s metro or rural life.

If the forthcoming “Shaadi Ke Side Effects” promises to give out a peek-a-boo into the comical events of an urban couple’s life, there’s also “Gulaab Gang”, a real-life inspired take on a village woman who leads a group of sari-clad activists and takes on the perpetrators of crimes against women.

There was also “Shuddh Desi Romance”, which shows the changing mindset of the younger generation in small towns. They are more at ease with a ‘taboo’ like a live-in relationship.

What’s impressive is that melodrama is out of the screen – there are hardly any stories on home-bound and domesticated women and chauvinistic men. Concepts of “Sati Savitri” and “Pati parmeshwar” have almost disappeared from Hindi cinema.

The women stand as tall, sometimes taller, than men on and off-screen.

And as much as it leaves foreigners surprised, a lot of Indian women also now wear the “pants”, everywhere, literally!

~  by Radhika Bhirani




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  • Not only the author, its quite a common phenomena we all encounter out of our country. Even I had to confront these typical questions, and believe me, sometimes these questions get on my nerves. Once I was asked by a Japanese woman,’ Do Indians have their own houses? I have heard they sleep on roads’. I was entirely in a fix how to answer her question but realized that she was not the one to be blamed. The sole responsibility lay on all those people and creations which have depicted our country in substandard way without doing full justification by portraying the actual image of our country. But as we realize the importance of these problems we need to perfect their perception by eradicating their fallacious conceptions of India.

  • Bollywood is crap They should be bombed to dust as they have tarnish the actual Hindu tradition and ethics of life. I have no respect what so ever for bollywood (fuckin copycat) and I will do all I can to destroy their existence. They have ruined the society with their unethical view and how they portray Indian in International arena.

  • So true!
    My general response to such “foreigners” is ‘Ohh I guess you are not well travelled thats why you are not aware about India. Go take a holiday break and see what really Indian really looks like’

  • I agree with Maggi… I would frame it “Ohh… you are such a slave to TV.. believing everything shown on it.”.. Have really gone to India?”

  • I guess the first thing that comes to their mind is india as a country where there are superstitions and illiteracy than inventors of zero and yoga which they enthusiastically follow(well,many of them. not everyone).The question that needs to be answered is,who are the people showing India in this shade rather than a positive shade?
    It’s time to show the world what india really is.Bollywood,I guess,its not talented enough for that.

  • My most sarcastic response has been, yes, and I have a 8 litre turbocharged elephant that I travel to work in. They won’t know what a suzuki is anyway. The question I am asked is anyone’s guess.

  • No American would ever say ‘Is it?’ like that. If you’re paraphrasing why use quotation marks? Sadly, all that these people allegedly said, is only wrong when applied to the whole of India, but remain true in some parts or even most parts of it. Just because you’re in a good place, why turn a blind eye to the atrocitites that happen in India? Do you know India beyond the celebrity gossip in Times of India or Bollywood films that are as far removed from reality as to make no sense?

  • If the Americans are judging us by bollywood, then we shall also judge them with naughty Americans…. And what’s wrong in having arranged marriages at least we don’t have such a high ppercentage of divorce cases unlike them

  • I would rather suggest not to complain but to act. We all know how we Indians are serving in other countries. What if the same work we will be doing for our country. Yeah, I know there are complications in India. But, If we all stared leaving the country because we feel uncomfortable here, then they are right about our country!

    We ourselves assume our country imperfect that’s why we leave it. I would say why not to fix the problems rather than running from them. One we will be(We are nearly) on the top of the world. All it needs is the collaboration. Collaboration of people who feel bad after listening negative about our country.There’s much in our place people aren’t aware of.

    Remember : Respect is earned, not something what we can asked for!

  • Yes but no thank you. I am not Hindian. A Mughal court’s language is imposed over thousand year old languages and they were vanished by this union which is unfortunate and make us feel bed of being Indian

    My mother tongue is Rajasthani which is declared as dialect of Hindi. I am not sure from what angle they think that this is dialect of Hindi. Rajasthani’s literature, grammar and volumes of words are far better and huge then this newly born Hindi which adopted and steal words from other languages.