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Jerry Pinto
Jerry Pinto

STRANGE ENCOUNTERS

Bothering otherings

I am always mildly surprised at how easily the personal comment comes to the tongue. I meet someone I have not seen for many months.

“Put on some weight, I see,” I say.

“Actually, I have lost some weight,” he replies. “You should have seen me a month ago.”

That was a bit of camouflage. What I wanted to say was: I am always mildly surprised at how easily the personal comment comes to the tongues of the people I meet. When someone who has not seen me for many months... and so on, mutatis mutandis.

This all began when I got a haircut with a number-two blade. This means that the barber will now not fiddle about your scalp, lop a bit off there, tuck a hank across a finger and snip-snip-snip away. Instead, he gets out the trusty clippers, attaches a number-two guard and he goes for it, scraping most of the foliage off but leaving about a quarter of an inch.

When I came out from under his ministrations, I found I was looking close to bald. This looked like a number-one blade—that leaves one-eighth of an inch—but one of the reasons I get a haircut is so that I don’t have to think about my hair or fiddle about with combs, so I paid and left.

“Did you do that to prevent people from seeing that you are balding?” a friend asked. She did not wait for an answer. “If you did, it’s counterproductive because now everyone can see your scalp.”

That stung a little but the great consolation of the writing business is that you can get your revenge in words and this column began. It began with me writing about your bad manners; in other words: I, the columnist, am allowed in the space granted to me by the wonderful WEEK to tell you what is wrong with our culture. Beneath that runs the belief: my manners are better than yours.

But after a paragraph or two of that, I began to think of the times I have met friends and said precisely the same thing. I couldn’t keep going like that....

70botheringotherings Illustration: Bhaskaran

You see what I am doing now? I am not just better than you, I am better than most columnists too. I can lay it on the line. I can tell you what I am thinking because what I am thinking is without hypocrisy.

Now, you can play the game for yourself. As each layer of the onion unpeels, you can look further down into the dark heart of a superiority complex. Is there such a thing? In my youth, we often spoke of people who had inferiority complexes, but never superiority complexes. But, let us assume there is such a thing for I believe we all have it in some way or the other. Some superiority complexes arise out of birth—I was born in such-and-such a family and so I am better than you because you were not.

Stop a moment. You think I’m talking about caste, don’t you? That’s one way of looking at it. But there are others. Have you made a joke about Gujaratis? Or Marwaris? Or Tamilians? Come on, now, be honest. (I’m trying to be.) We all have ways of othering people. Some of us do it by passing Presidential orders. Some of us do it by denying visas to the Constituted Others. Some of us do it by trolling on the internet.

We know that we dislike these people. We do it conscientiously. But let us continue down the food chain.

Some of us do it by saying that if you’re my daughter you can’t marry a man from that community. Some of us do it by saying that if you love a person of your own gender, you will break my heart. Some of us do it by saying you should never change the religion of your birth because that’s the religion to which God assigned you.

I have never done anything like that. Gosh, I’m perfect. I deserve my superiority complex while the rest of you lot had better work on yours. (Go on then, take your potshot. You know how to do it.)

Jerry Pinto’s novel Murder in Mahim is out now.

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