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|Volume 11 |Issue 09| March 02, 2012 ||
In Praise of Snobbery . . .
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Snobbery can be pretty invigorating, for those who have reason to observe it in action. You might think a snob is an individual who can only irritate, even infuriate. Not so. There are the various dimensions to snobbery, those which add spice to life. Consider the snob for whom name-dropping is such huge pleasure that he keeps on doing it, absolutely oblivious to whether or not you are taking any interest in his monologue. And how do you set off that snobbery? It is really all very simple. Tell him that the other day you had occasion to speak to a minister. You can be sure the rest of the conversation will be swiftly seized from you and you will be subjected to an exercise the likes of which are rare in the community you spring from. This snob might well acquaint you with the camaraderie he enjoys with the minister in question, might even inform you he is related to him, that indeed the minister learnt all about politics from him.
There is that other snob. And he inhabits the journalistic community. He knows everything, carries himself with a degree of superiority which could well, at some point, cause hilarity in you. Everywhere he goes, and it doesn't really matter if it is even a small roadside tea shop, he lets the information sink in, in all those around him, that he is part of the media. It was something a woman journalist, professing to write a long article on food served in small restaurants, once did in the company of yours truly. While she was being served, she let the purpose of her visit be known. The result was horrendous: the manager went out of his way to pile her with the choicest morsels of food and in the end would not prepare a bill for her. It was all on the house. It was a shame. And, by the way, that article on restaurants never got written. The woman journalist went off to marry someone, to raise a family.
There are all kinds of snobs in this country. You can identify them easily. Simply watch out for the designations or ranks they use before their names. There is Engineer So and So. There is Maj.Gen. (retired) X. There is Architect Y. There is Ambassador Z. You try telling them that they were not born with such appendages to their names. And you are likely to be met with a barrage of unprintable words or plain haughty silence. An individual who informs you she is an artiste of repute (she doesn't wait for anyone else to sing her praises) also makes it a point to let you know who her illustrious brother is or who her famous niece happens to be. So you watch all these people and wonder at the variety of humour life has on offer for you.
Perhaps some of the biggest slabs of snobbery are to be had on television. It is putatively a Bengali programme on music, with an artiste on live performance, you sit down to enjoy. And before you know what's happening, you see this pretty young, absolutely ignorant compere drooling on every utterance of the artiste. 'Wow!' She exclaims again and again. That 'wow' is a deliberate signal to you that she knows a foreign language, in however mangled a form, and that you do not belong in her social club. And that artiste? Every time a caller appreciates her, in clear, beautiful Bengali, she has a very English response to it. “Thank you so much”, she grins and says. Which almost pushes you into asking her if she really does not know that there are beautiful Bengali terms for those English words she throws at us.
Ah, but we miss the point. Snobs always have this huge desire in them to impress people. And what better way to do that than speak in English, even if it is broken, cadaverous English they employ? And then there are those snobs who, having spent three or four decades abroad in delight and good cheer, suddenly decide to come back home out of love of the old country. Bengalis now citizens of other countries will try raking up some emotion in them to tell you how disturbed they are at the state of things in Bangladesh. That is snobbery. You have lived life to the full abroad, where you may have gone to escape the war in 1971 or to earn a higher degree in education but then decided to forgo your country. The return of patriotism at twilight is a questionable happening. It is hypocrisy founded on snobbery.
Snobbery is when you decide that you can speak on almost every subject under the sun. On a beautiful spring evening, as a foreign diplomat and you get into a discussion of books, the pompous editor of a newspaper barges into your conversation, to inform the diplomat in no uncertain terms that he has any kind of book the diplomat might need. This snob is a nuisance, but then, even nuisance can sometimes send us rolling with laughter. Some snobs pontificate even as they and their children busily flout the law in so many ways. In Bangladesh, when you burn because of the heat of summer, the snob refuses to get out of his western suit, makes it a point to pretend to read a western newspaper and holds forth on how badly the country is being run.
Snobbery is when an academic at a public university takes umbrage at people other than academics writing on Emily Dickinson. She fires off a letter to the editor of the offending journal, demanding to know why intellectuals like herself had not been asked to write on the poet. The editor does not respond. He enjoys this spark of self-declared elitism. Snobs are a coterie that do not believe people outside the coterie can write better than they, that no one in Bangladesh can write in English, that fiction and criticism must be imported from abroad. The snob is he who does not appreciate a good review of his book because the reviewer has chosen to place a second review beside his as well. He likes to play God, single, unrivalled, unequalled.
The snob is an educated shallow fool. He looks down on people even as those people enjoy life at his expense. They laugh. And laughter, said the late Peter Ustinov once, would be bereaved if snobbery died.
The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
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