Thursday, March 27, 2014

I confess

I have turned into someone I used to dislike. Two-faced, elitist, a hypocrite. I have conveniently forgotten my roots in order to ease into a more comfortable environment — one from where I condescend, belittle, and snark.

I think it stems from my tendency to be passionate and over-zealous about my current set of beliefs and ideals at any given time. My ever-so-eager attitude to judge and to conclude fuels it. My insecurities and a certain lack of self confidence lead to a constant need to feel superior; worsening the matters.

Let me illustrate with a few examples:

English-Vinglish
“Congrates!” “Hello, I am motivate about u r info.” and the list of incorrectly spelled, grammatically incorrect messages goes on and on. “Ugh! Stupid people can’t even speak a sentence properly.” I think. At once, my impression of them is a low one. The other part of my mind says, “Sujeet, remember…”

I remember. I was 16. And I hadn’t spoken a word in English. English was solely limited to one subject in school: English! Funny part? Most of it was taught in Marathi! Fast forward seven years. Today I communicate in English, express, study, argue, plead, flatter, and cajole in English. Heck, I even think in English. Because I need to. Because I had to and I have to. Because life has  put me in these situations. And yet, I am not even half as good with English as many of my friends.

The people I laughed at, whose English skills I made fun of — they would once have been in the same situation I was in seven years ago. For them, maybe, life wasn’t enough of an anglophile to throw them into the situations I was thrown into. I understand. I struggle to not show the repulsion I experienced, but nonetheless it exists. That worries me.

You misogynist morons!
Just yesterday I wrote a Quora answer about what misogynists say:
I recently learnt how to make chapatis. My mom had created kind of a build-up by saying that it is quite difficult and requires a lot of skill to make chapatis. When I made as good chapatis as her at my first attempt, I was so damn excited and proud that I posted pictures of me cooking on Facebook.

The next day, one of my school 'friends' said, "You learnt cooking, now what? Learn to do dishes, wash clothes, wear a sari? Too bad you won't be able to breastfeed your children, miss Gholap!" Some of other friends hi-fived and started laughing.

Apparently it was a really funny and witty joke :-/
When the joke was made, “you misogynist f*cktards!” I screamed inside my mind. “What a bunch of losers!” Smugly I thought. That ‘other’ part of my mind asked “who are these people?”

Forget a metropolitan city, some of these haven’t ever left the town. Even more are those who haven’t seen the world outside the district. These are people who have seen women doing precisely that — cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. Most of them housewives. The ones who work, work in addition to doing these things. They come from homes where sisters are made to sweep and wash while brothers play cricket. They go to colleges where the few girls that are in the college care more about make-up, looks, and gossip than studies (if at all).

These are people who haven’t seen any data-points countering their world-view. Misogyny is a ‘given’, a natural thing for them. Kiran Bedi? Medha Patkar? Well, those are examples, ideals. Difficult to personally connect with and relate to. Those are distant, other-worldly realities. Oddities. These are people, who unfortunately have never been exposed personally to the more liberal, free thinking world. Their thoughts are stagnant like water in a pond and their world-view, blinkered. Almost all due to lack of opportunities.

Is it really their fault that they show misogynistic tendencies? I understand. I realize that calling them ‘f*cktards’ is neither the answer nor the cure. Condescension is the first thing that should go. Understanding, empathy and a friendly approach toward (for the lack of better term) ‘opening their eyes’ is what I should arm myself with. Again, I don’t show my anger, my repulsion. But they exist. And, maybe in a moment of heat, I might act upon them. That worries me.

An ‘open’ mind
The other day a friend was talking about a Muslim rally. ‘Those people’ are like this, ‘those people’ are like that, ‘those people’ foobar, ‘those people’ blah. He was talking about them as if they are a different species! Another friend had his revolutionary thoughts about gays “we should exterminate all the gay ******”. “This narrow-mindedness is so sickening!” I thought. “A worthless bunch of losers” was the knee-jerk description of them that came to my mind. That same ‘other part’ of my mind said “remember Sambhaji Brigade? When you were 15?”

I remember. Just like now, I had quite strong views. Way too different from now, but strong nonetheless. There was this huge anti-Brahmin propaganda being perpetrated by this Maratha-caste chauvinist organization called Sambhaji Brigade and I had totally bought it. I hated Brahmins. I hated them for the alleged robbery of opportunities they perpetually indulged in. I hated them for allegedly plotting and scheming against, and eventually bringing down the great Maratha King Shivaji and his son Sambhaji. Boy, let me tell you, the propaganda was effective (well, at least so I thought at the age of 15), appealing to your feelings, appeasing to your sense of superiority. Hammer the same bullshit a million times and it becomes the ground truth.

So, what moral right do I have to condescend on the so called ‘narrow-minded’ people when I myself was one? I was fortunate to get out, get into a diverse peer group, see various things, and have interesting interactions. But what of those less fortunate? Similar argument as the one I made in the case of misogyny should follow.

I think, empathy isn’t bred out of thin air. It is difficult to remain homophobic when you interact with someone gay, see them for the perfectly normal human beings they are. Same goes for hating Brahmins or any religious / ethnic / national group for that matter. You mix and mingle, you interact and connect, empathy follows. At the end of it, isn’t “being accommodating and accepting of even those who aren’t open-minded” the hallmark of open-mindedness? But this doesn’t help. The condescension remains. Urge to feel superior by belittling these ‘narrow-minded’ people remains. That worries me.

Guide me, O wise one!
“Sir, I am really inspire the you. I too wanna become IIT. Please you can guidance? What books using?” I have already addressed the language aspect of this. But it isn’t just limited to that. “Do you know that there exists a thing called ‘Google’? Go, first search for ‘Sujeet Gholap IIT preparation’, read my blog, and come back! Wasting my time just like that!” I am ashamed to admit, but yes, that’s the reply that springs up in my head. It irks me beyond measure that before pinging me, they haven’t done even a cursory Google search. After all, why should I be the one to tell them “so, to get into IIT, you should choose maths and not bio for your +2”.

But then I remember… I was in 9th standard. There was some vague government circular in school about these exams called ‘Olympiads’, pointing to something called a ‘website’ for further details and application procedure etc. “what website?” “what internet?” I hadn’t a clue! (I mean, I just had a really really vague idea that internet is something in a computer which gives you loads and loads of knowledge but my computer doesn’t have one) Fortunately, there was a postal address of certain Professor Uglipurkar (name changed), some kind of convenor or something. Well, what does a 15 year old, ambitious, but exposure-lacking kid do? Write a letter? Yes, I wrote a letter to him. I am pretty sure it wasn’t much better than the “sir, I much inspire you” kind. No reply! I was crushed. It was akin to telling me “you don’t really matter.”

For whatever this piece of information is worth, I would proudly like to tell, three years later, I was part of the team representing India in International Olympiad of Astronomy and Astrophysics. I fetched a silver medal.

By being dismissive and condescending, am I not being just another Uglipurkar? (I don’t care a whit that he’s a professor. For me, he would remain a man who couldn’t care less about his supposed mission of spreading science-awareness in general and awareness of Olympiads in particular in far-reaching corners of under-developed India.)

And because I don’t want to be another Uglipurkar, I keep calm, reply to every message asking for guidance, helping them, pointing them to the right resources to the best of my abilities. Most of them expect to be totally spoon-fed. Asking help for everything and anything. I oblige. I don’t want some other version of myself missing out on things just because some dude didn’t reply. 

That’s the action part. What about the thought part? Yes, I find these irritating. The questions, the requests for guidance, the lack of prior cursory searches. That irritation worries me.

...

I guess, it all boils down to realizing, and more importantly, internalizing the fact that it isn't the people that are in the wrong. It is the ideas, beliefs, notions, and tendencies. That's what you should fight against. But believe me, I find it extremely difficult to refrain from attacking the person instead. It is hard for me to dissociate the idea from the person and attack the former. That, again, worries me.

“You aren’t your mind, you are the filter that’s sitting between your mind and your actions”
Yes, yes, I get that. But suppressing all these urges to condescend, to ignore, to disregard — that is a significant cognitive overhead. My measured actions differ from my more primal and (IMO, bad) tendencies. My true reactions, the display of condescension is limited to myself and sometimes to closest of my friends.

I have seen people who are genuinely helpful, open-minded. While, many times, I find a need to stop and think “what would ‘good guy Gholap’ do?” I don’t think they go through the same struggle of overcoming what the mind tends to do with what a good person should do. What’s their secret, I wonder… When am I going to become one? What should I be doing so that these measured actions actually replace the knee-jerk thoughts? I am clueless…

Right now, this ‘other part’ of my mind is what keeps me grounded. “Remember where you came from” it tells me. “Don’t you ever forget your roots!” it warns. But sometimes I sense it getting weaker… Sometimes, I just want to make snide remarks like “Ugh! These ‘country’ people!” Anyway, the struggle goes on… and one day, I hope, I really really hope, I would succeed.

4 comments :

  1. You will.. Bro.. My best wishes for that..

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  2. It's good to introspect, but thoughts aren't enough. You may not be able to help everybody, but try to help those who really have enthu. Try some clever auto reply robots if you are flooded with help requests. Good luck!

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  3. I think the Jekyl-Hyde ish conflict you described here so well is something that all of us experience. I can totally identify with that struggle with your internal voice. You deserve credit for being able to make such remarkable distinctions about a person and their circumstances, even if it isn't your knee jerk reaction. I don't know when your transformation will happen....but I hope you arent too hard on yourself in the process. At the end of the day its your actions that define you, and on those scales I think you are doing a damn good job!

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