Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Argumentative Indian

Amartya Sen is right. I haven’t read his seminal work, “Argumentative Indian and Identity and Violence” but saw the argumentative Indian in operation on a recent trip to Delhi. We, Indians, argue, and how.

First of all, at the check in counter at Delhi airport a man had illegally opened the luggage he had checked through security and the airline employee insisted that he go back and do another security check. The man was all red in the face and arguing loudly with her and wasn’t ready to acquiesce. The argument went on interminably for more than the half hour duration that I was in queue till a man ahead of me said in frustration, “Please for God’s sake do what she says or you will miss the flight.” He could have easily gotten the security check done again in less than half the time he spent arguing with the airline employee. I am sure the flight was delayed because of the unnecessary arguing.

Again at the boarding gate a crowd of irate passengers had gathered with boarding passes anxious to get into the plane. What were they so anxious about? Wouldn’t they get seats if they were a little late? This is not a Bombay local train, people. They were arguing loudly with the airline employee who was almost in tears. Why don’t those people gathered there realize that they have to board only when their flight is announced? There were mothers with babies in their hands, Pappu and Happy with their MP3 players, and a rag tag bunch at the gate waiting, waiting, waiting, before their flights were even announced.

One woman was demanding loudly, “Open the gate now!” What if the plane wasn’t properly equipped for the flight and fell into the sea? Will you take the responsibility dear argumentative madam? For God’s sake let them do their jobs, I felt like shouting. I could see violence developing in the minds of the mob that had gathered there. A terrible violence indeed. Amartya Sen has correctly identified the defining characteristics, i.e., argument, identity and violence. I would add one more: ego.

We go to unnecessary extents to make our point without making allowances to a more balanced point of view. Forget that we don't even listen carefully to assimilate the other point of view. I am sure as we were waiting to board the aircraft, amid all the hullabaloo, quite possibly, a man must have been holding up our departure by arguing with the ground staff of the airline at the check in counter.

And violence did happen eventually, as the crowd started chanting, “****** Airlines Hai! Hai!” If Amartya Sen were to be there he would have been amused!

Argumentative Indian| Amartya Sen | Delhi Airport

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