Old Habits?

We’ve all seen the Ugly Indian on his own home turf, says Sheila Kumar. This character takes those characteristics abroad too!

                                          CARTOON: OUTLOOKINDIA.COM

Don’t get me wrong. I’m as patriotic as any other Indian. I would love to look upon my fellow Indians with pride and even affection… if only they would let me do so. The thing is, they don’t. At home, they are busy perpetually engaged in that very national game called one-upmanship. They are busy throwing garbage wherever they wish, spitting and urinating on street corners, hogging the road in a manner that would put an original hog to shame, harassing women young and old, and suchlike activities. Activities that, alas, do not endear him/her to anyone, least of all other Indians.

Now I have realized, with growing horror, the Ugly Indian has gone abroad, all his unedifying characteristics intact. I am not talking of those worthy Indians who have gone to craft careers on foreign shores, I’m talking of the Indian tourist. And though I use the male gender, that is not to infer that women do not belong to this far from elite club; just put it down to my being a woman, that’s all!

This particular type of tourist is one who does not bring delight to any place he visits, instead he leaves much garbage after he exits. He does not travel to broaden his mind… it would take a dozer of industrial strength  to do that.  He travels to see places, even if some of the places he sees are not for more than seven minutes apiece. And since he sees the whole world as a home away from home, towards this noble sentiment he carries his own pickles, chutneys, churans and even a dibba of ghee parathas to last him for the first leg of the journey.

Did someone say all travel is adventure? Well siree, just getting on that aircraft with all his eleven bags and bundles (all carried on, none checked, thank you) intact, is adventure enough. Let me chronicle the characteristics of the ugly Indian abroad for you, just in case you have zipped in from some other planet and cannot recognize the species under discussion.

First of all, he believes in spreading cheer and noise wherever he goes. To this end, he speaks in a carrying tone, bringing out the wannabe/latent politician in him. His self- assurance is to be admired. He holds strong if not always informed opinions about most things foreign and holds forth in pretty strong language about them, affronted residents of that place be dashed. His discourses span a wide range: on America’s foreign policy shortcomings in Boston, on Australia’s attitude to the boat people in Brisbane, the sinking of the Kursk in Leningrad, Tony Blair’s expanding family in London, the length of leg revealed by chic Parisian women in Paris, and so on.

He believes the flight crew is paid to do his bidding and so, proceeds to bid stridently and most times, very rudely. Whether it is a drink of water just as the aircraft readies for take- off or a shot of whiskey before the trolley rolls around, or a last-minute change of food from specified vegetarian to non-vegetarian, he asks in a bullying tone and is not pacified when told he will have to wait his turn.

He has this unvarying urge to visit the toilet just at take-off, and landing. You see, he believes a man’s gotta go when a man’s gotta go.

Another hoary tradition: he stands up mid-flight, takes out a pink ladies’ comb and combs his hair in the aisle, oblivious to the fascinated stares of all aboard who are not Indians. The other Indians don’t bother looking, they have either seen it before or else, are busy combing their own hair.

The moment the plane taxis to the terminal, old habits kick in and he gets up, ignores the stewardesses’ frantic pleas,  and opens the overhead locker, gets out his eleventeen bits of baggage and rushes to the as-yet-unopened door.

The Indian believes everyone is imbued with that generosity which is strangely lacking in himself. So he walks up with impunity to others in the check-in or any other queue and requests in a brusque manner that the other individual carry some luggage for our man. And then, he takes umbrage when he is politely refused.

He believes aircraft tickets once paid for, entitle him to come  a few fashionable minutes or many minutes late to board the aircraft, never mind the waiting passengers. In fact, I have a secret suspicion he loves to hear the many last- minute announcements for Mr Patel, Mrs Bhandari or Mr Reddy over the tannoy. Only then does he stroll onto the craft with insouciance.

He doesn’t believe a man ought to mute his innate nature just because he goes abroad. So, he ogles women abroad with the same earnest single-mindedness that he ogles women in India. In this case it’s a bonanza for him since he gets a lot more body parts to ogle. Ogling then, constitutes a major part of his holiday activities. (We are talking about being leered to death here, nothing covert or subtle or even just appreciative about this brand of ogling.)

When taking a day tour, a ferry ride or a night safari, he can be counted upon to always but always delay the vehicle at virtually all stops. Despite the weary tour operator’s umpteenth reminder that they are on a tight schedule and it would help if all passengers get to the designated point in time, our hero saunters in only after everyone is on the bus and in many cases, after the tour operator has gone to scout him.

He also seems to believe travel is another word for carousing. So he drinks like there is no tomorrow, merrily mixing his drink… and then, invariably and horrifyingly, throws up in the aisle of plane, train or bus.

He knows English, that much he demonstrates by his loud talk. And he reads all the notices at international airports warning against foodstuff being brought into that country sans declarationDespite that, he is the one almost always pulled aside, have his baggage combed through, a packet of glucose biscuits and a roll of mints discovered in there by the exasperated authorities.

 After this discovery of a piece of India in his bag, he argues loud and long till the authorities put a summary end to his arguments.

You know that one-upmanship I talked about earlier? Well, abroad too, he’s always looking to cut the best deals. In fact, getting more for the buck is his avowed reason for travel. So he’ll bring all his four kids, pile them on to buses and buy tickets for two, arguing that the others are mere toddlers, even though they stand three and four feet in height.

When he meets another Indian somewhere out West or East, he grins widely, sidles up to fellow national, then asks in a loud fake-jovial tone, “So did you get a good deal for the package? I got it for near- free.” When fellow national shows no desire to further this acquaintance, he goes back to his wife and comments loudly and disparagingly upon the same fellow national.

Courtesy has never come easy to the Indian, at home or abroad. So, queue-jumping, pushing, shoving, interrupting, and generally, putting one over,  is a defining characteristic of the Indian abroad.

Whenever his roll of film runs out, he will walk up to any camera-carrying tour companion and ask them to click a couple of shots of him and his family against the castle/Capitol building/Mickey Mouse. He really believes it is okay to ask.

I could go on and on but I think this should be enough for you to recognize the Ugly Indian abroad, and book yourself on another flight or tour! And should the UI be you, why, its not too late to change!

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