THE ARGUMENTATIVE INDIAN

He is everywhere; even before Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen discovered him. He is in India or abroad but he is never too far from getting into the thick of an argument. Public debate? Intellectual pluralism? For heaven’s sake what is the big brouhaha about it? Indians just love to argue. If at any place and time there are two or more Indians sitting, standing, half-asleep, playing, eating, or even just passing time there is potential for an argument developing. It is as simple as that.
Pic courtesy: newslaundry.com

I have come across many an individual who has to take the opposite point of view just to maintain his/her individuality. You can’t agree with him/her at all. Even praise won’t help to make him/her agreeable. The argument would develop in the following manner:

You (at your agreeable best): Mr. Saxena, I really like the shirt you are wearing.
Mr. Saxena (seriously offended by it and releasing steam through his nostrils): Do you have to make fun of me all the time? You should know that this is the worst shirt I have and I normally don’t wear it even though I paid all of Rupees Two Thousand Five Hundred for it. But my daughter, who would be a graduate soon, wanted me to wear this horrible thing for her friends; and I did this as a favour to her. But, you had to notice it and pull my leg. Ah, if friends are like this, what can I expect from enemies?

All along the harangue, you keep scratching your head and curse yourself whilst wondering what was offensive about your compliment. And now, you do the worst ever; although at the time when you say it you have no idea it is leading to further vitriol.

You: All I did was to praise your shirt Mr. Saxena.
Mr. Saxena: Now don’t sound so innocent. You wanted to show me down. You have been trying to do it for a long time though not succeeding because of my reserve. Tell me what exactly is likeable about this shirt? You probably want to pull the rank on me since you have over a hundred shirts. But, I can tell you I too have quite a few though I don’t show them off vulgarly like you do. Ask yourself this: do you really know anything about shirts? Back in America, I get invited as a judge in fashion-shows so often that I have lost count of the number of times. I see best branded shirts from Armani, Arrow, Lee, and Luise Phillip etc. I should know what a good shirt looks like. Ha.

I don’t know which race in India has the crown for becoming the most argumentative since I don’t have experience of all. But, since I have an experience of the Punjabi, let me tell you how to make a Punjabi do a near impossible thing: challenge him that he won’t be able to do it. For example:

You: Bhai sahib, it is virtually impossible to jump from this bridge.
Punjabi: Oh, yeah, who told you that?
You: No one told me; I read it in a book.
Punjabi: Bookish knowledge everywhere with the modern man. Hold my thaila (bag) and I shall show you how easy it is.

The argumentative spirit of the Punjabi is honed with everyday incidents. For example:

Punjabi: Kinne bhra ho tussi? (How many brothers are you?)
Innocent Passerby: Saara (Sir) randa  or two.
Punjabi: Nahin je tin hunde tanh mera ki bigaad lainde? (No, but if you were three what could you have done to me?).

Two Punjabis sorting out an argument between themselves (Pic courtesy: explow.com)

Arguments are taken very seriously in India since they can lead to rage (for example, on the road because of traffic). Two years back, on the Vashi Toll Plaza, a driver killed another driver with a screwdriver over an altercation about jumping lanes. This year, in Gurgaon (Delhi) a driver killed a Toll Collector over dispute about the toll fee. Recently, a boy killed another over a squabble regarding a facebook picture and comments.

Traffic agreements in India start quite innocuously (Read ‘If You Drive In India Part I’ and ‘If You Drive In India Part II’). Lets say you and your family are going merrily in a lane. You won’t have noticed but the lane to the right or the left of you has suddenly gone very slow or stalled totally due to an obstruction. So, the car to the left or the right, without warning, cuts ahead of you, making you brake suddenly and almost lose balance. Within no time the lane-cutter’s earlier lane starts moving faster and you, full of indignation, go across to that lane and come alongside the lane-cutter. You lower the window and tell him as politely as you can, “Bhai sahib aap ko signal dena chahiye tha; accident hote hote bacha” (Brother, you should have shown indicator; it nearly caused an accident). The lane-cutter gives you a look as if you don’t belong. Then he searches and selects the juiciest out of his repertoire of filthy abuses and just to help you get the gist of it, he indicates the meaning of the abuse with his two fingers. You find it very unfair and drive the car in front of him causing him to brake suddenly just as you had to a while back. He comes out of the car and so do you. The other drivers jump into the fray taking one side or the other depending upon their moods. This happens frequently and none of us have been able to find a solution yet. However, whereas the earlier intention was to cut lanes and reach the destination early, now, everyone is delayed endlessly.

That’s really the great beauty of the Indian argument: no one ever lets go. In such a scenario, the vakeel or the advocate advises you to file a suit against the other party so that he can take the burden of the argument from you at your expense, time, and energy. Indians now have more cases pending in the courts than the current lot of judges can handle in a century. (Read ‘The Great Indian Judicial System’)

There is nothing to beat the NRI (Non Resident Indian) arguer. He has the better of both worlds. Whilst in the foreign country he contends how good is the life, customs, traditions, people, places, food, and music of India. Back home, he brings out, without being asked, how good is the life etc of the country of his immigration, say, America. “We have a lot to learn from the Americans” he starts his argument with authority, “I have spent three decades there. It takes a while to understand the American system; but, once you do, you realise it is really the best in the world.”

Then there is the political arguer or arguer about the decline in our values. This breed has the debating skills of a bull on rampage. He dexterously takes the opposite view of whatever you say. There would be people around, who, if they have the presence of mind, would point to him that in his hopping from argument to argument, he has well nigh forgotten which side was he originally. Nevertheless, he is the torchbearer of the nation’s endless debates on corruption, politicians, industrialists et al.

I just want to describe two more perennial arguers in our society. One is the cricketing arguer. He is forever debating the poor strategy on the part of the team he has taken upon himself to back and the unsportsmanlike attitude of the other team, fans and the umpire. This type is a no holds barred argument that leads to a brawl. One’s rank or status in society is considered worth mortgaging to somehow winning the argument even if it is with the security forces.

The other is the arguer who argues for you too; since he doesn’t find you capable of building up an argument on your own. That argument goes like this:

Arguer: And now you will say that I am an idiot. (At this he includes all around him for support) And now you tell, bhai sahib, this fellow is calling me an idiot and should I keep quiet? (He again addresses you) You would probably call me a mother-f—–r too. And mind you, you are calling me names but I am not saying anything. You think people who keep quiet are weak? Just because I am being gentlemanly……etc

There is no way you can ever win an argument in India. The argumentative Indian just loves arguments; winning or losing would end the argument, much against what he wants. That would end all the fun, isn’t it?

The saying ‘Don’t argue with a fool; people around you won’t be able to make out the difference between the two of you’ is never taken seriously in India. At the first hint of an argument developing you jump into the fray and it scarcely matters whether you come out alive or not.

Life goes on.

© 2012 – 2016, Sunbyanyname. All rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  1. Argumentative instincts somewhere bring out the low/ zero tolerance nature of the person

    Funniest arguments are when 2 people disagree over the views of a Colomnist in a National Daily. In the very first place, this shows – people’s ignorance over Journalist v/s Colomnist.
    And to retain one’s stand, he /she continues to argue – without considering the other person’s point of view.

    1. Agreed. For most of us, when an idea strikes us, we get emotionally involved with upholding it. Some debate in public life is necessary to arrive at the correct course of action. However, in India, we have debates without any COAs.

  2. Loved the way you have interlaced the pic in your writing mate.. 🙂 ..

    A lil tolerance and a lil patience will possibly go a long way in the spirit of arguments.. Good write up buddy 🙂

  3. griiin, true, true, true…in btw, what do you mean calling us argumentative Indian? Where do you live? And just because you can write, you can write anything….Hahaha–just a joke…lol, well written

    1. You got me scared. I thought you were going to get into an argument with me. I deliberately missed one type of argument though; which is, the ‘domestic argument’. I have, for example, never won an argument with my wife. As you probably know ‘in an argument at home, only one person is right; the other is the husband’.