So the other day the topic of townies came up and someone said how they are not that bad and she had friends from town (because town is a place on its very own, you know, distinguished from the suburbs, which were never referred to as the burbs except twice in trying-too-hard newspaper articles) and that they are more classy.
I agree they are not that bad and even I had townie friends and …erm. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are more classy.
Yes, many of them had grown up with Shakespeare lining their parents’ bookshelves (the rarified air around which they then absorbed in a process similar to osmosis) and their folks were often senior executives of some firm if not historically moneyed and went to the NCPA on a regular basis and they knew how to use all the right forks (I assume, because isn’t that what classy people are supposed to know? Or was Pretty Woman wrong?). Mostly though, they went to all the right schools and these schools gave them what I would politely describe as “confidence” except I’m not polite so I’m going to call it what it really is, which is, a sense of entitlement.
My cousin who went to one of the schools that geographically just about fell into what could legitimately be considered town once told me that when they behaved badly, one teacher would say something on the lines of: “Children behave. If your parents wanted you to be like this, they would have sent you to an SSC school.” So you can imagine the little glow of smugness that each of these students carried with them into the world, no matter what they actually were. (I therefore have a horror of sending my child to elite private schools of this kind lest they grow up to be exactly the kind of insufferables that used to peeve me in my childhood. My own cousin was a rare exception and I like to think that association with my sister and I was what saved her. I can count on one hand the number of other exceptions I know and be still left with two fingers. You do the math.)
There is, of course, a difference between ICSC schools and town. But the products of both share some characteristics and the big one is this sense that no matter what, they are better than someone out there. The ICSC kids will always be better than the SSC kids. And the townies will always be better than those who had the misfortune of living in the suburbs. By definition. Through no effort of their own. The worst offenders are, you can imagine, the townies who went to ICSC schools, which is almost all of them because I’m not sure if any SSC schools in town. Or at least which the kind of townies one would meet would go to.
Knowing that there is someone out there you are better than (which to some extent every middle-class person in India has the satisfaction of knowing because, well, slum-dwellers etc. but then again, the really poor don’t count because they are invisible) is a powerful thing. It enables you to walk into any room convinced you are good enough for it. There are few things that intimidate one, I’d imagine, and the schools teach you to brazen those out, drawing on one’s inner conviction that one is best because one went to the best school, didn’t one? (My school was clearly not good enough to stop me from using this “one” sentence construction. Okay, let’s not blame my school for that. On second thoughts, let’s.) And also, if one had a moment of self-doubt, one could draw on the myriad personal connections one had with similarly entitled people by virtue of living in town.
The further south you go, the worse it is. People who live in Dadar are least town-like, though I was surprised to note that they still consider themselves town. Mahim is like no-man’s land because they don’t want to see themselves as living in the suburbs (and technically they’re not) but no townie would see Mahim as town.
Most surburban resident’s first encounter with townies happens in college. Before that you might have had the odd family friend or relative who lived there and they would always be nice to you, but when you went to college you realised that was probably only because of the prior relationship and most likely extended only in that context (of family visit; they would quite possibly be cringingly embarrassed if they encountered you sans family in the street when they were with their friends). In college, the townies seemed to walk about like the anointed ones, in little cliques of perfumed stylishness. They answered questions in class boldly, not embarrassed in the least to monopolise classroom discussions. None of this is bad in itself. The bad is that they gave off this – in varying degrees of intensity – vibe that they thought themselves to be The Shit.
Sometimes the sense of entitlement took the form of outright selfishness. Like this once when a townie from one of the exalted cliques sat next to a friend of mine and actually made conversation. My friend was just thinking how nice and non-stuck-up she was. The townie hadn’t brought her textbook so my friend shared hers. Then, the prof started asking for people to read out parts in the play and both my friend and the townie put their hands up to volunteer. The townie happened to get picked, which is fine. What happened next, though, is classic. She just picked up my friend’s textbook, without so much as a by-your-leave, stood up (so my friend didn’t have a textbook) and started reading from it. Thereafter, she never spoke to me friend again or even acknowledged her existence with so much as a raised eyebrow.
When my friend told me about this, I was not that surprised. It seemed like a townie thing to do. Talking to the little girl from the suburbs is a novelty that also serves a purpose but her existence can be conveniently forgotten too. No thank you when she sat down either. That’s class for you.
I know this sounds a lot like sour grapes and is kind of ironic, because I grew up in Bandra and we’re kind of accused of being snobbish ourselves. But I’d like to think we’re not that bad. That our sense of pride in and enjoyment of where we live does not result in us seeing people from further north as the little people leave alone people who can be used and ignored at will.
That’s not to say I didn’t have townie friends. By my third year in college I did. Initially, there was this slight sense of pride at being accepted (similar to how many Asians feel when they have white friends; in fact, there is a similarly between the behaviour of townies and white people who have lived in places where there are a lot of non-white people that could have something to do with mostly being treated nicely wherever you go and never having to encounter such heaving crush as a local train). But by the end of college, I wasn’t that into them. They lived too far off. And they weren’t any smarter or cooler or more talented than anyone else. And the sense of entitlement always rubbed me the wrong way even when I could have been part of it. Maybe I always felt just a little subconscious about my suburban roots even then.
Once we entered the workplace, the barriers levelled out. Townies and suburban residents sat shoulder to shoulder and more often than not talent and personality won out, though connections did play a part and townies always had more of those. There were also lots of out-of-towners. In college, these were almost always adopted by the townies; after college, many of them lived in the suburbs and maybe helped bridge the divide or at least muddy the waters a bit.
I remember when I was working at the newspaper and girl joined as an intern. I recognised her immediately as one of the clique of kids from a particular school. They mixed with kids from other elite schools. At work, she was technically working under me and was always very nice and friendly. Never once did she acknowledge that we went to college together for three years.
So a person who moved to the city to work and met people from town would not quite understand the dynamic. They would not have the baggage. The townies would have grown up. But I always see the sense of entitlement beneath the surface. Curly says this is possible that our views our coloured by the fact that we came in contact with the worst of the townies, the wealthiest and the most privileged from the most elite town schools. This is possible. I see varying degrees of entitlement/smugness in most townies though. I have yet to meet one that is entirely without it, but I have met a few in whom it is barely discernable and therefore can be ignored as a minor thing.
If you are a townie, don’t feel bad. Just think, do I just occasionally feel a little superior to the unfortunates that grew up on the dark side? If the answer is yes, you need to work on curbing that instinct or at least making damn sure it doesn’t show.