People we thought we knew

Updated: 10 October, 2020 07:26 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

It's interesting how we lived with bigotry for years because of how well it was disguised by those around us

Representation pic/Getty Images
Representation pic/Getty Images

picThe older I get, the smaller my circle of friends and acquaintances appears to become. This is at odds with what I believed when I was younger when every year brought a new group of friends, and every office yielded people I thought I would be around for the rest of my life. I assumed the point of living was to die knowing more people, not fewer. Until India proved me wrong.

I suspect this surprising development has everything to do with my lower tolerance for bigotry and prejudice, and the rapid unmasking of those around me. When I think of people I went to school with, for instance, I realise that some of them were simply pretending to be what they were not.

I went to a Christian school, and these institutions have slowly been painted as dens of immorality, where priests and teachers lurk at every corner trying to trick unsuspecting students into abandoning their religious beliefs and converting. This didn't happen to any of the classmates I was with, who openly continue to practice their religion quite safely as adults, but it hasn't stopped them from complaining about minorities on their Facebook walls.

Today, the India I engage with daily is radically at odds with the country I once thought I knew. Neighbours and former colleagues now come across as strangers, because I can't reconcile the time I spent with them with what they say on Twitter and WhatsApp groups. I have ended ties with more people over the past five years than at any other time in my life, and the saddest thing is how the ending of these relationships has left me happier, when the opposite ought to have been true.

I keep asking the few friends I have left to evaluate the kind of people they still have in their own lives. These may all be helpful, kind, generous folk who will turn up with support at 2 am if there is an emergency. I ask them about their views towards everyone else though, because it is one's attitude towards strangers that often best defines who we are.

Much has been written about how we seem to have turned into a blood-thirsty nation, our daily struggles and difficulties overshadowed by our inexplicable need to inflict pain and trauma on those we think are different from us. This hate has only been exacerbated by technology, allowing political parties to fan our prejudices and exploit our insecurities, turning us against each other to ensure that a few men can control our collective purse strings.

There are all kinds of advantages to turning older, one of which is the clarity with which one starts to examine one's priorities. Everything I once thought of as critical to my well-being — from financial security to careers and stable relationships — has turned out to be less important than my physical and mental health, and the ability to find happiness in smaller, less tangible things. Everything we once took for granted has been undermined by a virus.

Cutting out people who are toxic has been a pleasure because it allows me to surround myself only with those who share the same commitment to inclusivity that I believe we were all once taught to embrace. Every first page of every textbook we opened in school reminded us that all Indians were our brothers and sisters. We were constantly encouraged to respect all faiths, cultures, and belief systems. None of those lessons has stayed with a majority of adults in India, which explains why we have been obsessed with the wrong things even as our jobs disappear, our public institutions are sold to the highest bidders, and our rights have been taken away without protest.

I sometimes worry that I may end up painting myself into a corner, cutting off everyone until I am left with a handful of people, forcing myself to grow old alone. Then, I remind myself that the only way we can change things for the better is to try and have an influence on those closest to us. Take a look at what people in your life say, and how they treat other human beings. Think about whether their behaviour is compatible with who you are and what you were raised to believe in.

If you want to surround yourself with people who can't tolerate the idea that everyone has a right to live in India, irrespective of colour, gender, race, or religious beliefs, the loss is yours alone.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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First Published: 10 October, 2020 05:20 IST

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