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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Amorous Indians

The case of David Davidar reiterates my belief that there is a fundamental disconnect between what we say or do and what others read it to mean, especially if cultural and racial differences kick in.
We all know that the stereotypical image of a white woman (or even a 'westernised' Indian woman) is that she is flirty and 'available'. And we know that the average Indian male is thought of as lecherous and pushy. If that is not a crucial disconnect, what is? Add to that positions of power and competing ambitions and the signals get crossed even further.
This is not to say that victims and perpetrators are always clearly distinguishable. Some women can take advantage of the lecherous male as much as men can take advantage of an 'available' woman. The problem is that there's always a payday -- or a comeuppance. At some point the women want more for the 'advantage' they gave, or the men want more for the patronage they showered. Then things come unstuck.
That's when an iconic IT boss has to hightail it back from the US, when an Indian designer finds himself in the dock and when an MNC advertising boss has to make a hurried exit. All this, of course, applies to the interactions between consenting adults, not minors (which is both illegal and immoral) even though there is a skew in the power equation.
Things can also go disastrously wrong if there are cultural differences, for then the parties remain unaware of crossed signals. Is a peck on the cheek just an informal greeting (or even a formal one, as in some European cultures) or a mark of interest? Is a hug a gesture of affection or a suggestion? Is a meal after office a simple convivial evening or a prelude to a romantic relationship? Is a risque text message a friendly, comradely exchange or an overture?
All too often, two people can progress along this path in parallel lanes, quite oblivious to the fact that the signals are being read wrongly all along. Till the unthinkable happens.... One decides to change lanes and come closer to the other. And then there is a crash.
Whether Davidar is guilty of a midlife crisis or something more serious may hinge on just this.

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