I spent over two decades of my life in a North Indian town with barely any exposure to the outside world other than the books I read. None of them told me what to really expect out there. However, when I left for a job in Delhi I had firm views on just about everything, hanging on to prejudices and preconceived notions that come with lack of exposure.
That’s how I would have gone through life had the powers above not been on my side. Fate has, since then, worked overtime to systematically rid me of all my said ideas.
I used to dismiss Punjabis as loud and crass. And God gave me a friend born and brought up in the gullies of old Delhi. Her FB status once read ‘Punjabiayn di battery charge rehndi hai’. She was loud as the loudest yet she was also generous and thoughtful and always available when I needed her. Before I knew it I was borrowing from her memories of her grandmom and quoting in Punjabi, pathetically stilted Punjabi I might add, not everyone can get that endearing accent quite right.
I thought South Indians were closed and conservative. And God gave me a roomie straight from Chennai. Together we traipsed around the streets of Mumbai walking at Marine Drive or shopping at Fashion Street. She taught me that South Indian food went beyond idlis and dosas. She could talk books till the sun went down and came up again. She has since then, set up her own library. We could laugh at our respective accents and would compare how ‘love’ was pronounced in each of them - her luvv to my lau.
I thought Maharashtrians were stuck up and spoke weird Hindi. Along came a friend who was completely unstuck herself. I discovered that there existed a tumhi along with the tu and got a glimpse of the proud Maratha history, way beyond Bajirao. We argued about everything from books to religion over hot cups of chai at a different roadside joint each time. I found my Hindi turning into a taporier version - no longer chaste yet nice and colourful and way more interesting.
I thought army wives came with a chip on their shoulders and I got a friend who taught me to appreciate their discipline and the way they stood up for their own. I grudged them their ‘benefits’ but stories of hazardous postings, sad accidents and lost lives made their tribulations only too real. Another one would laugh with me at the Army Wives’ ‘parties’ yet go hunting for the right sari because it was ‘flower theme’ at the meet. ‘It’s crazy but it’s so much fun. I love it,’ she’d say.
I thought SAHMs were all about shopping and kitty parties and God turned me into one making me want to kill anyone who asked ‘How do you kill time?’ Oh and along the way I also questioned where’s the crime in a ladies' day out or shopping (unless it’s excessive, and then the trouble is with the ‘excess’ not the shopping).
Finally there came the biggest, craziest most miraculous mind changer - I thought kids were a nuisance and God gave me twins. Nuisance they most certainly are, but they’re also the best thing that ever happened to me.
Dear people know that stereotypes may be true - after all they are stereotypes for a reason. However people are different in a million ways and are definitely more than just a bunch of generic qualities.
So make friends - all kinds - across ages, and sex, race and city and nationality if you can. Open up, meet, talk, debate, argue, empathise. That’s the very best way to remain non-judgemental and open minded.
God knows we could do with some tolerance.