Monday, March 26, 2007

The Intellectually Snobbish Bitch

I hate to be judged. More than that, I hate to be judged wrong, wrong by my standards. If you have to judge me, please to look into my ‘Personal Guide to Judging Kumari’ and pick the adjectives I have marked in Red.


I know I am a bitch. Or an intellectual snob, if you please. I can make polite conversations to you about the weather, the global warming, the shameful exit of the Indian Cricket and on why it is morally wrong to throw stones at them for the same reason though deep down you just know that even stones aren’t enough.

So as your colleague, I can make those customary grunts, fill the pauses in your monologue and nod in agreement when you cry, ‘Death to BCCI’. And when you proudly claim, “I don’t read. I just can’t sit through 100 pages’, I don’t know if I should laugh or cry.

How can I talk about the bloody cold and unpredictable New England weather for the entire tenure of my job? How can you work in a prestigious educational institution and NOT read? You don’t have to have read Henry James but darn it! You must’ve read Chandamama or Indian Folk tales.

Ok, so everyone needn’t be an avid reader. You could be interested in something else. Sports? Politics? Movies? I can discuss anything but I will not entertain arguments for the sake of arguing. When you judge me as a difficult person within 2 minutes of a conversation because I ignored your provocation to start an argument, I only find it funny.

Being a Tamizhian does not automatically make me anti-Hindi but talking to a North Indian who harps on it at every lunch definitely makes me want to be one. That is what I call myself now. And No, just because I understand Hindi will not make me answer your questions in Hindi. I’d rather use a language common to both of us. After all we are not in the heartland of India and not-speaking Hindi is my birthright as much as you claim it is yours to force it down my throat.

When my husband cooks and packs lunch for me, I do not automatically become a ‘Lucky woman’. Does anyone ever call my husband a lucky man just because he gets home to a clean house and a sparkling toilet? We both work and we both share responsibilities. It’s a relationship. Not drudgery.

Nowadays I avoid the Desi gang at work during lunch. I realized it is impossible to make conversations with people who haven’t really moved out of their little rooms in India. I am not stereo-typing Desi men. Hell no! The Mr is a Desi man and he is miles apart from all this and I am not saying this because I am married to him.

Yes, I devour 10 books in a month, from poetry to philosophy to chick-lit. The Mr finds it funny and awesome in the same vein. He doesn’t read so much or so often. He calls me the book worm but he also listens when I recite Frost’s ‘Fire & Ice’ and quotes it back to me on a different occasion. This from a man who has to be reminded of his own wedding anniversary :) He sits with me on the grass to listen to the Jazz Quartet and absolutely adores their rendition of Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman’.

Like him, there are so many other Desi men and women who’ve made an effort at something new, gave it a shot and then made a decision. You don’t have to read Shakespeare but you have to read something, just anything to get ahead. Else all that will be left is fluff.

It’s not that I am incapable of liking people who don’t read. But I am definitely incapable of making conversations last. The people in my life, who don’t read but I still adore are the family I was born into and the friends whom I knew much before polite conversations mattered.

When I meet new people, on the T or at work, there should be a common point for us to go ahead. For me that common point is ‘interesting conversations on Life’ not about the latest sale in Macy’s. Though I agree that would be classified as informative: p

So what I am trying to say in this highly convoluted manner is, ‘not reading’ is not something to be proud of. Hey, if you have something else up your sleeve, I am okay with it. I give you the benefit of doubt and will sit and listen. But I am not weird just because I can read something other than requirement specs.

Like Oscar Wilde says, "All of us are in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars." And that my friend, makes a huge difference.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont want to debate on this issue ...the thought just naturally occurred while reading your post...if you understand hindi and could answer in it too (if you chose to), doesnt that become a language common to both you and a north Indian ? ..I personally dont like the use of an Indian language at place of work because nobody but desis know what they are saying and I find it embarrassing.
I am sure American colleagues would call ur husband a very lucky guy if/when they see him eat home cooked food just because most American women dont cook at home. So you would look lucky to some lesser mortals! Dont be so angry with them for acknowledging that.

7:30 PM  
Blogger Shirsha said...

Ok PonC, you have touched just the right vein for me to get regional, I can't stand oversmart choms, they bug the shit outta me, that entire bunch of oversmart, synthetic material shirt wearing, tightttttessssttt jeans wearing, perennially loving their looks, straightening their hair, yep, even the men, thinking madrasis are dark and dumb, thinking south indian women are too flat-chested and dark-skinned to look female, assholes! I hate that entire lot. They think am adulterous since I lunch with a bunch of male colleagues and go out for post-lunch walks with a bunch of male colleagues. It amused me for a while but now they are just an awfully stinking lot!
And you know what babe, they think its kiddish to read!!! OMG, what do I say!

1:22 AM  
Blogger Cacophoenix said...

Oh GOD!!! HUGS And Some more...Where were you all my life. It is not that I don't like making conversations with people who don't read, it is just that I can't make them because all I am thinking is How could you grow up without reading even one book???!?!! And what is the deal with slipping into regional dialects when two peoople with the same tongue meeteach other, it is like I became invisible all of a sudden. And no our lives don't revolve around what to eat, where the next sale is and why freaking bollywood lives for the whole bachaan clan.

8:41 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

Just love this post to death! Excellent and something that I have wanted to 'bitch' about forever :)) I hate generalizing anyone, anything but sometimes I am forced into it. Like every 'desi' person I run into tries to converse in hindi when i pointedly answer everything in english and call me a snob and 'nonindian' for not speaking to them in hindi. WTF! And yes I have felt guilty about being a snob and an intellectual one at that because I feel people who don't read are missing out on life and have nothing in common with me. My favorite room in the entire house is the study which is lined with bookshelves and adorned with books and both me and my hubby spend hours reading or trying to :)
Hugs to you for this post. Awesome!

11:35 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ cacophoenix "And no our lives don't revolve around what to eat, where the next sale is and why freaking bollywood lives for the whole bachaan clan." ditto on that :)Which is why I can't get along with most people :)

11:36 AM  
Blogger cowey said...


This post is so close to my heart. Very well written.


3:30 AM  
Blogger Sandeepa said...

Hi Anon

..I personally dont like the use of an Indian language at place of work because nobody but desis know what they are saying and I find it embarrassing

Why do you find your own language embarassing ? I worked in an European company before and there were a lot of Germans who spoke in German among themselves, its not the you are in a proj meeting and speaking your own language.
Try to be proud of your language and culture and not embarassed

Sorry if I sounded rude and this is not my space to argue but that very word "embarassed" did something to me

2:59 PM  
Blogger Sandeepa said...

The words in Italics were by Anon and not me if anyone misunderstood

And Kumari I like your blog and totally agree with the reading as I read voraciously, but still don't understand "why you won't speak Hindi if you can?"

If you knew French and a was speaking to someone who spoke French wouldn't you have continued the conversation in French ?

3:04 PM  
Blogger Kumari said...

@Anon & Sandeepa: When a person you've met just 2 mins ago starts the conversation with, "Oh so you're a Tamilian. You must be Anti-Hindi.", I do not feel the need to make him/her 'happy & comfortable' by speaking in Hindi.

@ Anon: You missed the whole point. The reason I am 'lucky' is because men don't cook and mine does and THAT is such a faulty stereotype. I can't explain it any more.

@Shirsha, Cacophoenix, M : Well, what can i say, you've said it all :) I am not against speaking in a regional tongue but if i don't, it's not a big issue to cry about. But unfortunately they just don't get it :(

@Kowsik: Thank you:) I shall mail thee.

@Sandeepa: Thanks and yes, i do speak in Hindi to The Mr's colleagues who are all North Indian. I spent 4 yrs in Rajasthan and i can speak moderate Hindi. But i've been through enough and more 'madarasi' bashing in my life that when i hear another 'national Language' debate i just get pissed. And this man called me Anti-Hindi before he even got to know me, so i am one now :D

3:28 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ sandeepa
"Why do you find your own language embarassing ? I worked in an European company before and there were a lot of Germans who spoke in German among themselves, its not the you are in a proj meeting and speaking your own language.
Try to be proud of your language and culture and not embarassed"

Okay I get the point about not having to be embarassed. Fine, you can be proud of your culture and all that. But I feel it is very rude to be conversing in the vernacular while at work because there are people who do not understand it and might be offended. which is the same way I feel when a group of other nationalities get together and start talking in their mother tongue. I find it rude and offensive. In grad school we had a group of Russians who did that and everyone found that distasteful. Right now we have some chinese co workers who do it. The point you try to make by saying that the germans do it too is exactly what I'm trying to say is being rude.
I don't have a problem with Hindi, but assuming that because i am Indian I will prefer to crack jokes in Hindi is not done. We have a common language and that is English. What is wrong in using that?

@ kumari I'm sorry to take up your comment space but I just had to get this off my chest.

9:09 AM  
Blogger Cacophoenix said...

@Sandeepa : It is not a question of finding a language embarrasing. It is trying not to look rude. It is common ethic that when there is a thrid person who dosen't share a common language, you talk in a language that everyone is familiar with. I am not saying say everything that is meant to be private openly. This applies to times when you are at work, or dinner, or even hanging out near the cooler. It is just a polite way of saying, we know you don't undersatnd, so we are trying to make you part of the conversation.
If I knew French and was talking to someone who knew French, I would speak, but if the other person knows English why not speak in English then.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Sandeepa said...

M & Cacophenix

I do value your opinion and Kumari now I am really sorry. I don't want to discuss this here and so will not come back to comment on this post again :)

But what if I am sitting with another person with whom I share a common language, in the cafeteria and talk to him/her in a language we are both comfortable with ?

Its not necessary that I should be very proficient in English (say my work does not have that as an requirement, it is fine for them if I speak and understand minimal English, they don't care if I am more eloquent in a language other than English).

I agree its rude if there is a person involved who does not understand the language

2:51 PM  
Blogger Angel said...

:D at so many points in this post, I feel like I am reading my own account!
thanks for the honesty, Kumari! This post is liberating to say the least :)

1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although my desi only indulges in scores of work related papers and jounals and reviews on a daily basis (gotta keep upto the latest and greatest)he also loves to go ocean fishing and can educate you on everything there is to know about salmon and their ecosystems and other marine life, as well as fishing boats of which he has one. He loves carpentry which he taught himself, our house is decorated with beautiful pieces he has made over the last 20 years. He loves gardening, proof of which we enjoy all summer long as well as winter. He is comfortable in chatting up everyone from university presidents, politicians, the night janitor at work, avid fisherman, prospective graduate students, I could go on. None of this he was brought up with in his village in Bangladesh. So really it is all about what you value in life, living by example for our two children and his myriad of students who leave reluctantly at the finish of their studies. Oh yes, like me he can converse in, other than Bengali and Hindi, English and French both of which he learned after moving to North America.

1:28 PM  
Blogger Ruthie Black naked said...

Why call yourself BITCH?

Only your enemies and select family members can give you that nick-name. You have to earn it by driving innocent girls to cry and generous guys to regret meeting you. Intellectually, it's the only thing I'm any good at.

11:45 PM  
Blogger Su said...

Lovely post. I am enjoying your blog. Funnily, reading was the first blog topic I wrote about. My title went something like

'Reading is a discount ticket to anywhere' Just skimming through the newspaper or reading Google news is good enough to have a basic conversation.

Wikipedia is also a great resource to read interesting news :) When I stop by New England, we should meet up. I think we may have a lot to talk about.

12:26 AM  
Blogger OtherHalf said...

It is probably the best post to read when u have just made up your mind to go to sleep so you can drag urself to work without having to fight sleep all the way, notwithsatnding the drudgery.
All of a sudden , all the desire to sleep has vanished and urs truly is wide awake as an owl.
Strangely, I have missed female company quite a bit since leaving college. Most women thought I was too radical just because I played pool and I thought they were not my type because their idea of literature started and ended in sidney sheldon, some called him she. ;)
Just like the legendary mangalore rains came and stopped as suddenly conversations with them would end the moment they started off on things my 7 year younger than me sis would think was far too immature to say.
Ok i have had my share of cribbing for the day done.

10:25 AM  

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