I recently was inspired to label my spice rack. As I stacked the jars, I got thinking about labels in general, how in life we get painted a certain hue ourselves. Short, dark, fat, thin, shy, south Indian, north Indian, uppity, good, bad, and so the list goes. I understand this makes slotting easy, case in point the spice rack exercise, but when applied to people it just makes for a mess, an anti-thesis of the labelling effort in the first place, which is to demystify and make comprehension easy. However, it is anything but easy; all I have seen it lead to is numerous assumptions and misunderstandings. You remember those old hindi movies about anglo-Indians where it was assumed all these people were jolly drunkards who had buxom wives and whose daughters wore skimpy clothes. Hated that; how could one not?
I have been fighting the battle against labelling myself, from very early on. Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I am a single child, so two labels that I got stamped with early on were of being spoilt and pampered. Then came the issue of my cultural identity. Born to a Sikh father and a Malayali mother, living in the north Indian of all cities (read Delhi) with grandparents who came from across the border, no wonder the “cultural” aspect of me was such a mystery. Not to me of course. I remember once answering the question of “So what are you?” with my entire family history and ended with “So what do you think I am”.
Following close on heels of this thriller was the question of what religion I was. “Confused” is what a friend’s mother appraised me was my status as we chatted over lunch. Her assumption made on my statement that I followed the tenets of both Christianity and Sikhism. I wonder what would her analysis be if I were to tell her for me all religions are as sacred and I make the best of what I learn. But I resisted the temptation.
But my favourite pet peeve of all times is when people assume that I am an arrogant bitch who thinks she is better than all. This label too was stuck on me right in school. To be fair I never really bothered with it, because then I could pick and choose friends, not because I was a snob but because I was painfully shy. But my silence or picky ways were thought to be a sign of inherent snobbery. Till date there are folks who think I need to get off the high horse. Never has anyone bothered to scratch the surface and find out more. Ah well.
There are many more boxes I have been tried to be fit into and the struggle to not conform continues. My very obvious problem with all this categorisation is that these are made on assumptions, and usually for the worse. Propagated over a period of time, these assumptions became reality in the labeller’s mind, the reality of the labelled’s personality. Is it laziness or arrogance that they couldn’t be bothered to find out just a bit more about the person who was so quickly categorised under a head. And then recycle this perception when another bloke from a similar background comes along.
For example, I had a friend from Delhi who went to a prestigious med school down south in the country. For one year, she was made to go through hell and back, only because everyone assumed she was from Delhi and based on that virtue, she was one who needed to be brought down a notch. Not because she behaved like a snob but because they believed she would be one since after all she was from Delhi.
While I agree that there are traits that certain sections of the society have, there is a lot be said about individual personalities. It’s OK to have reference points when dealing with another culture or background but to assume that there’s nothing more to a person but these is a limiting thought process.
I have found that by resting one’s case on these notions robs one of many interesting insights, maybe of a culture or of a life lesson, of experiences or maybe even an opportunity to gain a friend or a well-wisher. Giving somebody the benefit of doubt never made someone a smaller person. In fact, it is the beginning of evolution, of our mind and our personality.
P.S. Today’s post is extra special because the illustration going with it is by a great friend and brilliant artist: RoopaBee. There’ll be many more illustrations by her on the blog. So watch this space!