Friday, April 14, 2006

A Crash Of Roles

Crossposted on

I was returning from a movie with my friends. We had all taken J's car, and living on the eastern-most part of the city meant I would be dropped off last. And so, we were on the highway, just the two of us left, when J's 13 year old Civic started to sputter. Keeping a cool head, my more religiously-inclined friend J started to utter a few duas before easing the car onto the shoulder, where it completely stalled.

When we could not get it started (even after J pretended to know what he was doing and poked around under the hood, and told me his 'engine cylinder belt' was probably stalled) we called for a tow truck to take the car to J's mechanic's place. As we were waiting, J turned to me and said, "This is all a test from Allah. We needn't worry."

"I'm not worrying dude." I told him. I had already called another friend meanwhile to arrange a pickup. "It's your car."

The two truck driver was a cheery, tall, white Newfoundlander called George. Within minutes, he had hoisted the Civic onto the mount, and we were off. Both J and George's extroverted natures meant they were soon talking about many things. J casually mentioned his brother was getting married soon.

"Nice." George replied. "Do you know his fiancee?"

"Know?" J laughed. "Not at all. Actually, my brother barely knows her. And he didn't even know she existed until one month ago."

George nearly braked hard. "What? How the hell he getting married, man?"

"Oh." J decided it would be a good time for some dawah. So he extolled the virtues of an arranged marriage.

"Oh." George grunted again. "By the time I was 25, I had slept with 17 girls." And obviously, he communicated this fact via a more cruder language than I used here. Which was followed by George extolling the virtues of NO marriage, and of sleeping with 17 girls. 'Arranged happiness', he called it.

Afterwards, I thought about the whole incident. Here, we had two people, a white Newfoundlander and a Bengali, who probably knew naught about each other's culture. And yet, for the whole duration they were together, all they did was vindicate their own stereotypical views of each other. Each delighted in reinforcing the other's opinions, and each had a smug sense of superiority in their own.

Most of the desi writers facilitated by the West include those (such as Jhumpa Lahiri, a personal favourite) who promote a cliche view of their culture - such as arranged marriages ending in tragedy, immigrants not integrating well, or mysterious wise sages of the East. Or there are directors like Deepa Mehta, whose films, remarkable as they are, tell of same-old repeated mantras of the horrors of desi beliefs.

Toronto may be one of the most diverse and multicultural cities on earth, but how much do we really know of each other? Would George have had a better view of Muslims, had he known that we had just returned from seeing Ice Age 2? Would he even feel more closer to us had we told him we did try to sneak into another movie after Ice Age 2 was done (damn that brown security guard)? Or are we so comfortable in our own shells, and fearful of another, that we have defined roles for everyone, and ensure people live up to those definitions?



Aisha said...

well Mezba you know what they say.. we stereotype to help us better be at terms with the world and predict. Its something hardwired into us that we have consciously fight out of.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the movie Crash?
- Farah.

mezba said...

Aisha: that's so true. The only thing that came to my mind at first when I heard he was from Newfoundland was Newfie jokes. For the uninitiated, Canada is full of stupid newfie jokes.

Farah: hence the title! :-P