C’est exclusif

As a lifelong student of human behavior, I am perpetually intrigued, and alternately saddened to see absolutely average (and significantly normal) people put on airs of exclusivity. They project a manner emulating “to the manor born”. They want to prove to their audience, and indirectly to their own selves, that they are special! Their effort is to project themselves as better than they are, above their “level”, superior!!! Often this attempt is farcical and immediately seen through by the audience they try to impress. And thus, they end up coming across lower in the eyes of the beholder.

The simplest example is the people who try to put on an accent. I do not mean the Punjus who want to speak “English” after a drink or two; but rather, the seemingly normal folks who suddenly speak different, when they are in front of an audience or when they are on phone. We all know some folks whose vocabulary or diction changes when they are in the public eye. This desire to project exclusivity is, in my opinion, deep rooted and widely prevalent in today’s times, when supplements like Bombay Times are read more assiduously than the main TOI newspaper, when Page 3 overtakes all!!

Historically of course this disease is old as the hills. There is an apocryphal story about the first English settlers to America on the boat Mayflower. Apparently the people on the boat were so status conscious that it was said “The Cabots spoke only to the Lodges; and the Lodges spoke only to God!”  Heaven help some of the hoi polloi who tried to interact socially with the Cabots and the Lodges!! In social dos today we all see such behavior. There are those who would desperately try and enter conversations with the movers and shakers: getting badly mauled in the process. Yet they would steadfastly ignore some others, seemingly below their level, who were trying equally hard to converse with them. What creates this social pecking order? Who makes these hierarchies? Is it not the innate desire to be exclusive?

Those of us who have had the fortune of working in MNCs have seen the deference with which even mechanics and technicians are treated just because they are German or American: while we gleefully ignore our own brown skinned brethren. Correspondingly the technicians belonging to “Vaterland” will look down on even General Managers of the host country merely because they are from the HQ country.  Those of us who had had the misfortune of travelling to Europe have experienced first hand the twisted egotism of the French who would disdainfully look down on anyone who dares speak in Queen’s English in their hallowed land. Their attitude is speak French or be damned. C’est exclusif!

One expects religion to be the most inclusive, and the least exclusive. But is that the reality we see reflected all around? Rather, in the name of religion, we see the most deep lines drawn between people. While all accept that at the fundamental level all religions teach love and brotherhood, it is in the name of the selfsame religion that we see maximum groupism and claims of exclusivity. We have forgotten Thomas Keller who avers ” The Gospel is an exclusive truth but it’s the most inclusive exclusive truth in the world”. We had  first Protestants who claimed Roman Catholics had lost the plot. And then came a bevy of Lutherans, Orthodox, Pentacostal, and many other variations: all claiming exclusive knowledge and grasp of the Good Word. We forgot Prophet Mohammed’s teaching :  there are multiple ways to reach the Allah. Rather in Goa we keep debating Shiva or Vishnu : who is Supreme? Do the Shwetambers have the right path or is it the Digambars?  Nirgun or Sagun : both claim they define Godhood better.

All this debate and claims lead to David Mitchell’s insight:  ” Faith, the least exclusive club, has the craftiest doorman. Every time I have stepped through it’s wide open doorway, I find myself stepping out in the streets again.”  The desire to be exclusive finally ends by showing us how non-inclusive we become. The Gods look down in pleasure on repentant sinners as ” it isn’t what we say or think that defines us but what we do” per Jane Austen (Sense & Sensibility).

Have you not seen people who wear their educational qualifications and alma mater as plumes on their head? They just cannot forget they are from IITs or IIMs or have a PhD and all their interactions are through this looking glass. They distance themselves from others, casting a long shadow of exclusivity. The qualification, college or “club tie” becomes their ‘nom de plume’; a high gate they erect to keep the “aam janata” in their place. But actually they end up as prisoners in their own fence!!! As Theodore Adorno put it “the specific is not exclusive : it lacks the aspiration to totality”. And the real world is glorious and entertaining only because of it’s rich diversity. Which in turn, can be understood  and enjoyed only if one is inclusive.

Are you only the IIM or PhD? Or are you wider and deeper than that? “To use for our exclusive benefit what is not ours is theft” warns Jose Marti. I was a Bombay University topper in BA and in MA. I had the privilege of studying in IIMC. So what? I always hid it as I reminded myself that every year there is topper in BA and one in MA. Hundreds study every year in premier colleges. But that does not define me. If it distances me from others: I would rather hide the Gold Medals I won, and not use them as the proverbial “third eye” of Shiva to judge and evaluate and destroy others.

In today’s times we can learn a lot from the entire journey of the LGBT community to get their rightful place under the sun. Stuart Milk a LGBT activist puts it brilliantly: “We are less when we do not include everyone”. Elsewhere our own Bapu cautions: “No culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”.  So ubiquity is the new exclusivity. And the faster we understand this, the better human beings we will become. ” I am large. I contain multitudes” as Walt Whitman sang. To which I will only add what Sant Chokhamela  taught me :

उंबरठ्यासी  कैसे शिऊ आम्ही जातिहीन
रूप तुझे कैसे पाहू त्यात आम्ही लीन
पायरीशी होवू दंग गावूनी अभंग…                                                                                                                    ( I cannot come to the temple as I am an outcast:                                                                         I cannot even see your face as I am so helplessly enamored;                                                        so I will stay at the steps and sing your praises)

Don’t threaten me with love baby. Let’s us just go walking in the rain: vikas