We all strive to be unique. But we want to be one of the guys. Therein lies most of the stress in life. Trying to fit in while hoping to stand out makes huge demands on our psyches. Belonging to something provides us safety—a soft blanket if you will, to shield us from harsh oblivion. Soon, the blanket turns into a cocoon we thrash against, trying to shine amidst the tapestry we so desperately wove ourselves into.
You know, for a Gujju guy, he doesn’t wear a whole lot of cologne. He’s fair for a Madrasi. Hey I may be Marwadi, but I spend money like it’s going out of style. She’s Punjabi but she won’t get married at 23. I’m Indian but I tip well. He dances well, you know, for a white dude. Or there goes a black guy with a stable job.
Stereotypes have a grain of truth to them. There are traces of cologne in the air in Ghatkopar well after the wearers have left for New Jersey and a lot of Madrasis are dark-complexioned and wear pants that show way too much ankle for a morning class at IIT. More pennies have been pinched by Marwadis than stewardesses by Warne, and plenty of Punjabi girls are sealed, labeled, and shipped off into matrimony by 23. Most desis would cough up a gall bladder before leaving an acceptable tip at the Olive Garden on a special night. And Caucasian rhythm disorder has been talked about to death. We are all clichés, bundled in statistical noise. As much as it hurts, we are all cookie-cutter.
James Russell Lowell — ‘Whatever you may be sure of, be sure of this, that you are dreadfully like other people.’
But not me right? I’m different; it’s obvious that I stand out. I speak so well—at least it sounds great in my head. And I don’t drive a Toyota like the other desis. I may live in New Jersey, but not by choice. I am South-Indian but I’m lighter, and yes, I occasionally pronounce khaana as kaana, but I cover it up quickly and move on like the smooth operator I am. And I drank Jack Daniels, not Royal Stag, before I started drinking single malt, not Jack Daniels. Even the most thorough meta analysis of how we analyze ourselves doesn’t protect us from thinking there’s something really special inside us. Why did we evolve this delusion? Growing up, whenever I scored average grades, mom wanted me to do better cause I was worth better, according to her. Solid unbiased evaluation there, ma. Who can blame her? We are all Keanu Reeves waiting for a big black guy in ‘what if I told you’ glasses to tell us we are the one and that gravity is just a guideline. So we need to set ourselves apart for the second coming of our personalities.
But non-conformism is a 24-hr job, and it’s thankless and self-defeating because the harder you try to not conform, the more stereotypical you become. Pretty soon, you’re the one watching social trends just so you know what to scoff at. So people dumpster dive into the early songs of popular musicians, or that short film made ten years ago by today’s Oscar-winning director, just to lord their refinement over the lemmings being swept by the zeitgeist. We out-gourmet each other by waiting in endless queues for cronuts and laugh at those shopping at Whole Foods as wanna-be yuppies, all because we buy our quinoa directly from the source at the extemporaneous market that sets up every time the house tries to repeal Obamacare.
In today’s politically correct world, where self esteem is the most endangered species, it seems imperative to tell the newest entrants that they are pretty little snowflakes and each one is endowed with something special that the world will eventually recognize. While it’s true for some—the brainiacs, the athletes, the hunks & babes—for most people, all that awaits you is the realization that you’re hopelessly mediocre with a few sprinkles of accidental genius that might, if you’re lucky, be noticed.
And so, failing to be unique by design, we strive to be unique in our choices. Even in the most pointless ones.
7 thoughts on “The ‘I will not be a stereotype’ stereotype”
I love the phrase “where self esteem is the most endangered species…”
Haha. Not exactly the crux of the article but I’ll take praise any way I can get it
Very well said Bharat….glad to know that someone other than me is recognizes this as a stereotype….and true it is a very demanding exercise personally…and I can identify atleast a few of my past decisions that were motivated by going against the stereotype…so its interesting to see you articulate it so well….
And, yes, I too am guilty of a lot of the stuff I make fun of here.
I’m guilty of trying a little too hard not to fall for the stereotypes, myself. Refused to wear salwars to college just because everyone else was doing it and braved jeans and men’s subsequent leers. Refused to accept that marriage is the be-all end-all of life and told my parents I’d settle down only when I was ready. Opted for a live in with full knowledge of my relatives despite how conservative my family is. And now watching my friends make babies even when I know that I’m not cut out for the whole motherhood shebang.
Somewhere along the way I’ve looked back several times and wonder if I’ve made the right choices; if I wouldn’t have been happier playing house in an arranged marriage with babies in tow being the good daughter/bahu/ girl society expects me to be. That’s when I look around and realise that just me, in this moment, I’m happy with what I chose for myself. Everyone gets to choose their own way, flawed as it may be.
I see what you mean. Living with unconventional choices is never easy, even when it’s the right decision. You’ll sometimes feel like the idyllic domestic life would have been better. If it’s any consolation, I’m sure there are those who choose the beaten path and spend some nights wondering what the more bohemian options would have felt like.
That’s true enough. We all feel that the grass is greener on the other side! Which is why I often just sigh in unison with Terry Pratchett: What’s the point of it all, really?!
On the other hand, there are those who have made unconventional choices, like say – horror of horrors – divorce in an Indian society, yet propagate all other stereotypes including labelling people based on their ethnicity or sexual orientation. So choices do not maketh the person but some wise and more thoughtful interpretations of the world around us certainly do…