Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cultural Stereotyping: Tale of 2 States

I just finished 2 States, Chetan Bhagat's latest. He tells the 'love' story of a Punjabi guy and a Tamil girl, who want to get married but have to bridge the North-South divide. Though I am a cultural snob and think that his writing is pedestrian at best, I still could not put the book down. No matter how cliched everything is, it still touches you. And makes you laugh. I was laughing out loud ALL THE TIME- and you know why? Because he gets it. He takes all the possible cultural stereotypes, which you already know, and hate (or like) and still makes it sound interesting. He makes fun of everything, be it the Punjus or the Tambis.

Secondly, I could truly relate to the story. I married a 'Madrasi' too- a Telugu guy, not exactly Madrasi, but you know, they're all the same ;)
But yes, there were distinct correlations between my story and the book. It's never easy to bridge the North-South divide. It took time and patience- and I have to admit, my husband did everything. He took the time and patience, I just stood around screaming and making things worse.

I loved all the stereotypes in the book. He puts it all so well and in such a funny way. From eating, talking, dancing, living... oh everything! Its actually almost incomprehensible that these vastly different cultures belong to one country. One line of his captured the complete essential difference in the cultures:

"Marble floors are to Punjabis what U.S. degrees are to Tamilians".
(as in, both can induce mini-orgasms in the respective cultural psyche).

One of the most insightful cultural differences is about how to cut vegetables. I have had huge and often vituperous debates with my friends about this. This is so basic, so innate and so banal, yet so true. Punjabis cut vegetables using their thumb as a base. That's how I cut vegetables, and that's how everybody in my world has always done it. When my world expanded (came to the US, met people from different cultures) I got to know that this was not the only way to do it. Of course, I still do it as I am very used to this and so very very fast using this way- its more efficient and works for me. So this has been an issue with me- after all, I almost alienated a friend by telling him that my way was right!

So when Bhagat actually talks about this, I was beyond impressed. I mean, he knew this small cutural artefact and that this is different in different cultures. It is such perfect attention to detail. And he's a guy- men would never even notice that such a thing exists (I mean, they barely notice the food, different methods of chopping vegetables?). This fact in the book just hit me. And made me love the stereotypes even more.

I am not saying the stereotyping was good. Or bad. That is exactly how we are. We are the stereotypes that Chetan Bhagat captures so well. Yet, he says in an interview that this North-South divide does need to be lessened. As he puts it, its good for national integration. Well, I am glad I have done my bit for furthering that goal :)


Richa said...

Hahaha..I just finished the book and wrote the review! I loved the book as well. Very nicely written. I couldn't stop laughing all through the book, especially the wedding ceremony: Kashi Yatra. OMG, it was so hilarious.

Thanks so much for passing it on!!

Anonymous said...

Rather cool place you've got here. Thanx for it. I like such topics and anything connected to this matter. BTW, why don't you change design :).

Anonymous said...

Hi Rachna,

I know its your blog and you are entitled to have your own opinion but I dont agree with the statement that there isnt much diff between a Madrasi and a Telugu. Yes, by now you might have understood that I am a Telugu girl. Its like saying a cat and tiger is the same as they belong to the same family. hmm...slightly bad comparision but I couldnt think of any. Or lets say some South Indies think that there isnt much diff to a Punjabi and a Gujarati. Hope you got my point - Preethi

Rachna said...

@Preethi-it was a JOKE! Notice the smiley at the end of that sentence?
Of course I know that Madrasis and Telugus are different! After all, I MARRIED A TELUGU!
The joke was ON PUNJABIS- that they don't know the difference and think everybody is the same.

You need to read the book, it makes equal fun of everybody. Punjus even more so. I am one and I laughed at everything the book said about Punjus.

Living in a multicultural world like I do (I live in the US) it is impossible not to know the difference between different cultures, Tamilian, Telugu, Gujarati or Punjabi. And also respect them all.

Anonymous said...

Yes Rachna, I do understand what you say. Arent we all Indians first and then a Tamilian or Telugu? I didnt mean to be harsh or offensive. I stay in Singapore and my colleague here imitates our Indians(mannerisms) a lot. I really dont mid it as long as it is not meant to hurt your feelings.

Yeah, I have seen many N.Indians chopping vegs using thier thumb as do you do that without cutting ur fingers. I cant chop vegs without a cutting board :)

Rachna said...

@Preethi- no offence taken- after all, I have a soft spot for Telugus ;)
And thanks for such a nice and sweet comment.

I think the veggie chopping thing is just habit- I always cut off my nails and most of my thumb every time I use a chopping board.

Nice to have met you, though. Do you have a blog? I'd love to visit!

Anonymous said...

As far as I know most of the cross cultural marriages , especially between north and south mostly based on economics than any thing else ...

Anonymous said...

I also think multicultural marriages are great for national integration :)
Enjoyed reading the post and the comments here :)
I can cut with the thumb as the base but now prefer a board :)