“Dilli! May-wah?” exclaims my neighbour in Chennai when she hears I am trekking to the capital. “Are you going to Delhi in May! Why-di? Can’t you think of a better time? It’s so hot. Your eyebrows will curl in the Delhi heat.”

On the flight, the airhostess asks “Vegetarian?” while handing me a packet of pre-packaged veggie delights. I am about to protest when I look around me. Everywhere the passengers have South Indian stamped on their foreheads in different ash-drawn squiggles and dots of red vermillion. They are happily digging into their veggie boxes. “We are like that only,” they seem to be saying while clutching their sacred threads at takeoff and landing time.

Before the return flight, the ticketing clerk cries “Arre, Chennai,” and looks me up and down. He flashes a superior smile: “It’s so hot there, you can fry an egg on the pavement. Sorry, Ma’am, you must be a vegetarian. Maybe an idli!” He laughs uproariously at his own joke.

“Heh!” I want to say, “We’re 10 degrees cooler than you, so don’t give me all that gup-shup.” I realise that even my short sojourn in the capital has made me full of agro. I am even thinking like that only.

I hitch up my imaginary nine-yard saree, though I’ve never worn one. I belt my colour-coordinated dupatta around my Ritu Kumar outfit and practise my Sonia Scowl.

I take on my Mahishasuramardhani pose. It’s the famous stance that all South Indian dancers assume, of the Goddess slaying the buffalo-headed demon of ignorance. “Take that, you son of the North!” I say under my breath.

It’s true what they say. Stereotypes R Us. North is North, South is South, and never shall the twain meet.

They are loud. We are gentle.

They have cattle. We have culture.

They are invaders. We belong.

They shout. We listen.

Generally lacking sensitivity

In recent days there have been stories of how the “gentle Nepali” suffered after the disastrous earthquake. First the ground beneath their feet shook and then their pride was hurt by the onslaught of the Indian newshounds. Compassion commandos storm-trooped their way to the epicentre with their televisions cameras and scoured the dazed survivors for a sound bite. Politicians danced a jig on both sides of the international border, claiming to be first in the race to bring succour.

“It’s a question of semantics,” said one person. “Indians have a Big Brother attitude to the rest of us. They don’t know that the gentle Nepalis have their own pride and dignity. Even in the midst of disaster they always address each other with an honorific.”

The noble Kashmiris were invoked in their moment of despair last year when the Valley was flooded. Just for good measure, the whole of the North East was also brought in to bolster the argument that we Indians just don’t have it in us to be sensitive to the feelings of others. We address them by a term that refers to the slant of their eyes. In the same way, South Indians are presumed to be darkies and worse, children of a lesser Ravan.

Just as I was about to start a hashtag with the words “Je Suis Kathmandu”, I realised that some people enjoy being victims. What we Indians are best at doing is to be perpetrators.

'Madrasi andar hai'

The moment of realisation came to me as we were driving around India Gate. Our driver was a man from Haryana. He was precociously young to be driving a very posh air-conditioned Audi sedan. His hair curled around his round head like that of a newborn calf, and his skin had the glow of a lad bred on fresh buffalo milk and homegrown wheat.

But he had a temper. When he rammed a taxi in front, he got out in a flash, like Salman Bhai himself. The other taxi had been stationary. The driver was a somewhat older man. They both inspected the rear fender of the front taxi. It may have been slightly dented. Both agreed that it was nothing much to fight about. The boy climbed back into the driver’s seat.

“It’s enough if you apologise, maaf keejieh,” advised the onlookers who had gathered. “Madrasi andar hai!” they noted with detached glee. There was some talk of money being offered to sweeten the shock. Since it was the middle of the afternoon and I was alone with a friend in the country’s Rape Capital, I had my fist inside my handbag ready to make a payout.

Maaf keejieh!” I kept muttering to the enraged boy. Being a Southie, I know how to play the victim. He was in two minds. He had his special guests to take on a tour of the Delhi, which is not in Haryana, in case it’s not clear and he had his pride of birth to defend.

“Hey, you Haryanvi, do you know how to drive?” yelled one of the persons in the crowd.

At that my Audi hero-driver shot out of his seat like a Salman given a reprieve from a jail sentence and hurled imprecations at the driver of the car he had rammed. “Maaf” he shouted, “I’ll give your mother something to maaf about.”

It was the dialogue the crowd had been waiting to hear. The older man smiled, dusted the fender of his car and asked our boy to get a move on. The drama was over.

We drove back in silence. The Haryanvi boy-driver turned and apologised for having put us through the short street theatricals. I learnt that sometimes, it’s worth being aggressive and shouting the opposition down. Even if you are in the wrong.

After all, if Salman can do it, why not the rest of us.