Is There An NRI Stereotype?

Presenting K Mathur who blogs at Never Mind Yaar and has debuted as an author with a book with the same title.  She lives in New Zealand and writes passionately on two of India’s most pressing problems - violence between communities and the Environment. Her debut novel about friendship and fun between three college students from different ethnic backgrounds is set in Mumbai — a city the three girls love but know is fraught with communal tension.  On the surface the story might look like just another college love story but the writing and story telling, according to a reviewer, make it different.
According to the author, “Never Mind Yaar” is an attitude - our tendency to feel defeated by the scale and nature of certain problems, give up and move on with a sigh and a "never mind". We ordinary Indians have so many stumblers put in our path. No running water in our taps except between 4 and 6 every morning? Never mind yaar, we can take it. We are inured – such problems bring out our creative flair – water tanks, large tubs in our bathrooms connected through a series of pipes to progressively smaller ones, an alarm clock set for 4 am... “Even today,” she adds, “when my husband uses his ingenuity to sort out some problem, he crows “Aapan kaun?” and I’m supposed to holler with a high five,

In her guest post for A-Musing, she muses on the stereotypes an NRI faces.......

Recently they showed a movie on TV, here in New Zealand. In the movie some of the NZ public were against the South African Springboks being in NZ for rugby in 1981. NZ was split in two. One side said politics shouldn't enter the sporting arena, and the other, that a mostly white team from a country where the majority are overwhelmingly black was offensive. A lovely movie, denouncing South Africa's apartheid policy, recounted from the perspective of two NZ students who were against the South Africans being in NZ, and a police mole planted amidst them - a young female police officer posing as a student.

Then there was the token Indian.

He was the landlord of the two, strapped for cash, students. He was portrayed as someone who made ingenious observations that made you laugh. "We need to show that even well-dressed people are with you," he said to those students, joining them as they all got ready to march in protest with banners and placards. The students were dressed in their uniform - T-shirt, jeans and keds; and he sported a fawn coloured suit.

In another scene the students were delayed paying their rent. The Indian, their landlord, chased them into their classrooms at University yelling for the overdue rent and causing the professor to gape in astonishment. The students escaped through a back route with the Indian still yelling and chasing. Tiny scenes in a movie, not really connected to the main plot, but providing light relief.

I thought the person who acted in the movie as the Indian did a fantastic job. He is a well respected NZ actor who owns a theatre company in NZ - IndiaInk. I've been for one of his plays, "The Guru Of Chai". His name is Jacob Rajan. Nobody really remembers the actor's name when he simply plays a minor role, as he did in this movie. They remember his character - the character of the ever so slightly, foot-in-mouth Indian. 

Some people in NZ and around the world know us - the entire Indian community, as if we are all identical - through such characters. It is known as stereotyping. We do it too. Remember the old Indian movies where the villainess was always Helen with a glass of wine in one hand and a cross dangling from her neck? The neckline was as plunging as the movies of old dared allow them to be and she flirted outrageously. In contrast the heroine was modestly dressed, didn't touch liquor and was pure as driven snow. That is stereo typing too.

The problem with stereotyping is that some people believe everything they hear, see or read to be the ultimate truth and juxtapose those characteristics on to real live people. They blank out everything an individual really might be. They don't want to know. They hold on with everything they have to the image they've already created. It is difficult to erase. And sometimes, as in the case of the Indian heroine, they get annoyed if the flesh and blood person turns out to be different.

I believe stereotyping has to be politely but firmly nipped in the bud each time it happens. Each person is different and unique, wherever in the world we might come from.

If I feel tempted to stereotype, which, being human, I do, quite often, I know I only have to search within and I'll unpeal a layer or a prejudice I've always lived with, albeit subconsciously. Similarly, if someone is trying to stereotype me and I understand why, their trying to fit me into a box I feel I don't belong in ceases to worry. My feeling anxious and thinking I am not who they think I am, changes to, "they aren't really looking at me but at someone who their press or their prejudice or some movies have led them to believe I am". 

That understanding and the knowledge that it takes all kinds - that there are others who do see me as me - make me feel empowered and able to move on.
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  1. Stereotyping is something that happens too naturally and without giving something much thought. Even the highest of the intellectuals may at times, look back and think that they thought ill or good of a certain community because of one person they met. Of course, what's important is that we look back and enter a paradigm shift, if necessary.

  2. Stereotyping is fun just like backbiting!

  3. I believe the arduousness of working with abstracts leads to stereotyping in humans. Does it happen with other species? Like a deer taking all humans for rapacious monsters? I have no way to learn. But hey, we are the most evolved species on the planet. We can surely provide those gray cell with much needed exercise! People are a lot better and sophisticated than just being Punjabis, Bongs, Madrasis, Bhaiyas, Angrez, Africans.... Is there an end to the list?

  4. Glad to see this post, Purba. Stereotyping is something that happens naturally because it's just SO DAMN EASY! It allows people the convenience of categorizing everything neatly with very little effort. Understanding the individual is what takes real effort.

  5. I guess a country like NZ doesn't have as many Indians as USA or UK. So, stereotyping is easier and probably more harmful for the community too. Here in the US, especially in the tri-state area, there are so many Indians that there is no way natives can live their life without being in touch with more than 20 Indians, at least. They get to see the various faces and hence they refrain from stereotyping. I believe the same would be true for a place like London too.
    However, its the Indians who live up the stereotype. Rash driving, talking loudly on phone (even in designated quiet compartments),trying to become doctors or IT professionals etc. I have seen a lot of people resonate between the extremes of their Americanized versions and their total "pakka-desi" version. Strangely, they behave American with people like me, who are born and raised in India and are new here, and desi (hate this words btw) with the Americans! NO conscious effort to contradict the stereotype at all. They call us "Indians" and have more stereotypical jokes about India than the Americans! Now, that's a sad state. They breed their own stereotypes and see all the compatriots as stereotype except themselves
    And again, movies like Slumdog don't help our cause either.

  6. I agree with Dark Knight, stereotyping is the easier way out and I think everybody does that. indians are stereotyped when in a foreign land and similarly Indians stereotype all the "firangs" so I think its simply human...

  7. Very true. Indians are stereotyped the same in almost all firangi movies:P And so are the foreigners here...India is always thought of as the land of urchins, snakes, snake charmers and swamis:(

  8. Agree with Giribala!What I like better is
    'I believe stereotyping has to be politely but firmly nipped in the bud each time it happens. Each person is different and unique, wherever in the world we might come from.' Well said Ms Purba!

  9. hahahahahah its wokay lady, itna dil pe nahin lene ka. i believe untill ppl meet some1 they tend to form a image of the said person in their mind.they are just being human and most of us cant even stop it.nice post btw u didnt mention the muvi name

  10. Stereotyping is present perhaps all cultures... Funny thing is...we have to be aware of order to not to follow the point that it blurs our vision of the individuality of the person we are interacting with.

    May be, more and more, interaction with different cultures, and with people from different walks of life and societies..will tell us conclusively, that stereotype, if any, only exist in our minds, and every person is unique...(which I believe)

  11. D2, hope that happens. I believe the first step towards that paradigm shift is an awareness of our tendency to prejudge.

    Giribala, :)

    I agree totally, Umashankar, Dark Knight. It is annoying to have to muss up those neat little compartments in our minds.

    Hi Prateek, A few minor adjustments may be called for if we are to assimilate well into our country of adoption. But some of our core personality - the "I" we are comfortable and happy with, which makes us unique - is obviously what we cannot give up. That is what I'd like people to look for. Not labels.

  12. You are right, Purvi, and being aware of this very human tendency of ours, is the first step to not pre-judging a person or not letting someone prejudge us.

    Are you an “urchin, snake charmer or swami”, Cloud Nine? That is why I feel stereotyping should be resisted. They should get to know YOU and ME, not who they assume we might be.

    Thanks Rahul.

    Thanks Maniac Hunter :)

  13. You have talked of old time vamps being portrayed in a particular way, but we still do them in our movies especially in the dress or speech -- which is as alien as the Helen stereotype. But as you say, they provide some light moments in the film, if you are not on the receiving end that is :)

    The book sure looks like it would be interesting.

  14. The more we interact with a broad spectrum of people, the more we learn to relax with them – think of them as normal, not have this urge to put them under a microscope and make them nervous - definitely Kunal :)

    A movie in which people are shown as complex, multi-dimensional and human would be so worth watching, Zephyr. Re the book, I have an “About the Book” page on my blog with excerpts, reviews and a reading. That might help you decide if you like it.

  15. Awesome, spiritual sinner, thanks.

  16. Purba,

    A very thought provoking post. What you say about streotyping is so correct. It happens everywhere. Simile about vamp and heroine in old Hindi movies is so clear an example. Why go far, anyone from south was termed Madrasi till some time ago. We surely need to get over this tendency. I would like to read her posts, so please do give link.

    Take care

  17. its funny in training we were told not to stereotype and all about diversity and all that ..

    BUT saying that stereotyping does happen, when the call comes first you do tend to think it one way .. its only when I reach the scene and get to know what happened that mind set changes .. I guess its natutral

    it happenes everywhere , other then recently if we see old movies etc how is a SIKH man portrayed in indian movies , anyone can guess that ..

    Although I must say that the indian landlord well it is TRUE it happens not to the point of chasing the students in university but other than that It happen and BELEIVE Me on that :)

    Same for the stereotyping of a NRI in india, when I go home I know how I am looked upon and what people say , although one funny thing is they all rush around finding Mineral water for me and I am like why I have lived in india all my life now suddenly what has changed, I drink the same water moreover that Bisleri ki bottle is probably filled up from a tap in some factory :)

    I have learnt a lot in my job, and I just cant afford to stereotype anyone anymore although exceptions are there .. you see a black guy in a hoodie walking you tend to follow them with your eyes ...


  18. Well, I am against any kind of stereotyping but at the same time won't deny giving into it unknowingly at some point of time. Why talk about NRI stereotypes? Within the country itself we have different assumed perceptions of different communities.

    My best wishes for the book KeyEm.Are we all gonna get free copies of it? :D

  19. Thanks ack. This post is a musing on Purba’s riotously A-musing blog.

    I guess we all are guilty of stereotyping to an extent Bikramjit. Hopefully, if we are aware of our prejudices, if we recognise what our ruddy minds subconsciously do, we might be able to consciously change our behaviour.

    Thank you for your good wishes Prosenjeet. When it gets published in India (my editors want to get rid of my explanations for Indian words like chunni and Chacha – even if they were useful for New Zealanders, I agree they might be redundant in India :) I’ll hold a competition and give away a few copies to the winners. I’ll announce it on my blog.

  20. Interesting post!

    I think we all stereotype things. Its a matter of whether it gets picked on, or goes unnoticed.

    Its probably human nature. You always, always have a preconceived notion about something, which will not be easy to change.

  21. Yeah, those explanations would really be of no use here. And the contest idea is a great one. I recently participated and won one organized by Blogjunta.So may be I can have the one from you too. :)

  22. Purba ji,

    Happy to nominate you for the Versatile Blogger Award

    Plz Check out

  23. Stereotyping is sumthing which comes to us autoimatically...
    There never seems to be a conscious effort by sumone to stereotype i believe.

    Looking forward to read "Chalta hai yaar"

  24. We might pause to ask though if it is our preconceived notions or really them. Thanks Pzes.

    :) Prosenjeet

    Strange you should mention “Chalta Hai Yaar.” I toyed with many titles including that before settling for “Never Mind Yaar”. Thank you Mani.

  25. Stereotyping happens even subconsciously. What helps is exposure. The more one meets and reads about different people, the easier it is to do away with these stereotypes. Their portrayal can be funny as well as obnoxious like certain movies I recollect. It could also be playing to the galleries through movie portrayals.

  26. KayEm :) you don't even know the favor you are doing to us as individuals by posting such views... these are some insights all of us have but are not capable enough to give them words and directions... kudos to you! you manage to do that!!! thanks a ton for this post!!! it was a fresh change of routine ! am thankful to you not only as an Indian but loads of other social groups who go thru this ....

  27. hi.i just came accross through some successful blogs and i like your blog.if you don't mind can u suggest a few ideas to mae my blog is my blog address
    lease give me suggestions

  28. Stereotyping is fun to a certain extent. But if it becomes a way of life, it goes haywire and we’ll be victim of circumstances. My take on the NRI stereotyping

  29. You are right Rachana – one starts seeing the individual behind the stereotype.

    I hope we don’t become too pc when it involves a bit of good natured leg pulling between friends. Take Bawaji accents (and I am one), I have yet to meet a Bawa who hasn’t enjoyed Hindi movies with caricatures of themselves. That is because Bawas sense a thread of affection underlying all the leg pulling. The type of stereotyping we should resist is when people consistently refuse to see who we really are or if the intent is malicious.

    Flying High - I've spoken to you a few times and to me you are warm hearted and articulate.

    Rockstar, if you enjoy writing and there are topics you feel strongly about, you cannot go wrong. Hope you visit some of the bloggers who I've met through Purba - the owner of this blog. You'll pick up heaps.

  30. stereotyping should be an offence by law-i try to avoid it as far as possible but i'll probably also be in jail then!

    i hate being judgemental and opine views over something that i have no backdrop clue whatsoever. even then i refrain-because it is just not fair!

    let's see individuals...let's not allow the mind to dictate what we should perceive till it understands whether it should:-)

  31. That's the stuff, Suruchi, let's. It is silly to think we know complex individuals through our preconceived ideas about their community, gender, physical dis/ability, where they come from...

  32. I always say that stereotyping warps our judgment....but only those indulge in it who are ignorant.

  33. Well said, Alka

    Thank you, Tariq

  34. Stereotyping happens,no big deal. Take it with a pinch of salt.When people know you better they will understand you.Those who stick to the stereotypes even after that , do not deserve a second thought.

  35. You've got to know when to treat it lightly, let it pass or challenge the perception. That ensures the preconceived notion was accepted on your terms. Thanks for your input Indu.

  36. Hi Purba, you have been nominated for the Versatile Blogger Award.

    Check this out :

  37. You know I used to shamelessly stereotype when I was in college. I didn't even think anything of it. It was after I moved overseas and was at the receiving end of people's assumptions that I realised how easy yet wrong it is to do so. I have since begun to restrain myself from saying/thinking things that 'categorize' people.

  38. I guess it takes more effort not to stereotype, it's 'never mind yaar' easy to slot people into fix molds, even when they don't fit into them.

  39. Hi Gayatri, It is easy to put people into moulds and as Indian Homemaker says, takes more of an effort not to. Here's just one of the side effects if it is done or accepted too readily. This is cut and pasted from a news article in NZ. "Many (immigrants) experienced 'considerable downward occupational mobility', with recognised credentials but no suitable job opportunities and few business networks." I do hasten to add this isn't always the case but why should it happen at all?

    Indian Homemaker Ha! Thanks for that comment. I agree a hundred percent.


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