Indians beyond our borders
I always find it amusing, and heart-breaking, to observe my countrymen abroad behave in a way they never choose to back home
It starts at the airport. The quiet belief in lines, the air of solicitousness that creeps in almost imperceptibly, the deference to women, children, the disabled or senior citizens. Indians on the verge of leaving India always seem to have a switch that mysteriously turns on or off just before those international flights turn on their boarding signs.
This takes a while, of course. There is still the pushing and shoving for a boarding pass, followed by arguments about going over the luggage limit, and entreaties for discounts or ways of avoiding the inevitable fines that come with shoving more into bags that airlines ask us to. By the time security is over and done with, however, it's as if our sense of 'being Indian' starts to slowly fade into the ether. We start to wait until the person in front of us has finished browsing through the duty-free counter, start to smile at fellow passengers, use words like 'Please' and 'Thank You' more often, and gently shrug our innate sense of entitlement that usually smothers us the minute we step outside our homes.
Flights aren't always smooth, naturally, because millions of us still believe that the overhead compartments belong to us in their entirety, that elbow room is an alien concept to be laughed at, and that stewards and stewardesses exist for the sole purpose of fulfilling our every wish because we have splurged on an Economy ticket. And yet, the minute our plane begins its descent into a land not governed by one of us, we turn into the kind of people we usually never are.
I have often marvelled at how groups of people who shout out to each other across aisles turn into docile human beings while they wait for an immigration officer to stamp their passports. Families that ruin flights for everyone else by sharing food above the heads and shoulders of fellow passengers start to follow the 'Silence Please' signs. People who scream into their mobile phones even after their plane has started to taxi down the runway for take-off start to glare at those who peek into their phones at Passport Control lines.
From that point on, many of us simply turn into model citizens. We smile at strangers, step out of the way on escalators, religiously follow rules at restaurants, and wait patiently for traffic lights to change before carefully crossing streets. We no longer think of it as our birthright to walk anywhere we want to, cross highways at random while weaving through traffic, or push our way through to get to a train on time. We stand patiently in crowded buses, taking special care to avoid stepping on the toes of fellow passengers, and go out of our way to be courteous to figures of authority from traffic wardens to ticket collectors, conveniently forgetting the disrespect and casual sense of superiority with which we treat public transport staff and traffic police back home.
This is always quite amusing to watch, because who wouldn't find this radical 'about turn' funny? It quickly starts to sadden me though, after a certain point, when I start to realise that we behave the way we do not because we are conditioned to, but because we make wilful choices to do so on every morning of our lives.
We have within us the capacity to be kind and patient, but ignore it because everyone around us chooses to do so. We have within us the ability to follow rules, walk down streets without spitting on them, and wait patiently for the lights to change, but don't do any of those things because we don't see the need to. Our fear of authority is marginal because we know we can get away with breaking rules by paying bribes. Our respect for our surroundings is a joke because we see that the municipalities tasked with keeping our cities clean don't care either. Our hypocritical stance about cleanliness being next to godliness exists within the boundaries of our homes alone, because our neighbours do the exact same thing. We follow rules only when they aren't made for us, and help foreign cities stay clean without according our supposed Motherland the same deference.
It's nice to live with model citizens, who understand and respect boundaries, take their neighbours feelings into consideration and treat everyone and everything with respect. It's too bad that these model citizens only exist abroad and are never our fellow citizens when we all get home.
When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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