“Your name? Ohhhhh Punjabi?…no? Marwari?…Oh! Are Aggarwals baniyas too?”

Sound familiar? It sure does to me. That was the way people of my parent’s generation used to address a complete stranger in Mumbai in all seriousness. And she too would reply sincerely, not sounding offended at all.

Haven’t we all grown up with these maxims? ‘Bongs are arty but aalsi‘. Marus are money-minded but kanjoos, Gujjus are innovative and shrewd, Punjus are loud and brash, Delhiites are worse, Mumbaikars are indifferent…the list goes on and on. My mom and aunts would have many such gems of wisdom to share as soon as they heard people’s surnames- much to my chargin.

“What? But its true!” Mama would shrug when I protested.

I used to particularly hate these snap judgements, because not only was I a victim of stereotyping but also of wrong stereotyping. “You’re a Punjabi?” people who knew me for ages would exclaim in wonder. “I always thought you were a Parsi.” Mentally, I could already see the equation in the air behind them shift from Parsi= Intelligent, but sarka hua to Punjabi= Brash and Aggro. “Yes, I’m a Punju,” I would affirm weakly, not sure which was better.

Yes, I am a Punjabi, but I dont know how to speak in Punjabi. And before marriage, I had visited Punjab only twice in my life.

Yes, I am a Mumbaikar (I wish I was a Bombayite…but thats another story), but I haven’t even seen the complete city-the city  I’ve lived in for 20+ years of my 30+ life. And I’m not sure what being a Mumbaikar means anymore.

What about those who have a Punju Mom and a Bong Dad? What are they?

Brash and arty? Intelligent and bubbly? Show-offs and lazy?

C’mon! Dont we all know a creative Surd? A loud Bong? A spendthrift Sindhi?

‘Stereotyping’ is like racism,’ I would argue.  Until I left cosmopolitan Mumbai.

I went to Kolkata and discovered that it really was far more cultured and intelligent than Mumbai. And far less professional.

I went to Delhi and discovered that it was more aggro and brash. And daring. And better dressed/ better looking.

I went to Ahmedabad and discovered that all the college girls there wanted to start their own business. And they played on the stock market. And every ball of the ICC cup.

In the movie ‘Up in the air’, George Clooney says, ‘I stereotype, it’s faster,” much to the horror of his colleague.

Well, I hate to say this, but now I do too. So equations emerge in my mind as soon as I hear where the person is from. Yes, I do believe that where you are brought up is more important as what you are born as- for example a Bengali in Ludhiana (are there any Bengalis in Ludhiana?) is more a Punju than a Bong- but yet there you have it. I’d expect him to agrro, undustrious and not into Robindro Sangeet.

And the more I travel the more equations I learn

So French= Bongs of Europe, East European = conservative like asian, Swiss= Friendly but non-integrative, British= smart and rude, Chinese= Quietly ambitious and deadly.

Of course there are exceptions to these, but I’m prepared to be pleasantly surprised.

It maybe a fallacy, but its a far simpler world for me out there.