Are you a snob?

Snobbery comes in many forms. It can be because someone feels superior because he or she comes from a particular social background or a branded school, college, university and profession. Or it can be because you feel superior to those who can’t speak English or, even if they can, their accent is different. It can be because you happen to hold particular political views. Or because you wear certain fabrics. Or because you drink only certain whiskies and eat only salmon. And often because of where you live.

There are many institutions that encourage snobbery. A ‘St’ something as the name of your school and college is still preferred. One well-known ­British university is a terrible offender in this regard. It has four castes: undergraduates, post-graduates, doctoral candidates and foreigners. And this is in the descending order. I was astonished to hear this. They said we don’t know where the last three come from but undergraduates, we choose them, they are the crème de la crème.

The worst, of course, are people like me who combine all of these things, except maybe one or two. But I make no bones about it: I am a snob who feels others should be grateful if I allow them to befriend me. I reserve this attitude, however, only for men. So imagine my chagrin when the other day I not only met an even bigger snob than me but also two women who had been in my class in college who said I had been insufferable in those days. It dented my self-image.

I am a snob who feels others should be grateful if I allow them to befriend me. I reserve this attitude, however, only for men.

The fellow who was an even bigger snob than I sniggered when I told him I lived in Gurgaon which is adjacent to Delhi but in Haryana. “Oh, the suburbs,” he said. His meaning was clear: you didn’t count if you didn’t live in Delhi. He then asked me about my “dwelling unit”. I said you first, tell me about yours. It turned out he lived in a very posh but very crowded area in a very tiny flat in a low-rise building. I told him I lived in a three-storey house with a large garden in a ­compound that resembled a forest. But I don’t think he cared about all that. A 1,200 square foot flat with a carpet area of 1,000 in South Delhi was his idea of social superiority even if you couldn’t park a cycle anywhere. When I told my wife this, she said I was exactly like that because of my background, education and job. “You are poor as a church mouse but a snob nonetheless.” Cruel woman… but, as the Bard wrote in his play, “an ill-fav’d thing, my Lord, but mine own.”

As to the two classmates, their grievance was that I didn’t talk to them back then. But I know the truth. It wasn’t snobbery, it was just plain old shyness. And also, I must admit, an absolute lack of interest in what the girls had to say. To date, I have no idea what teenage girls talked about. So bored by them yes; snob never. Not with girls.

Since then, I have thought long and deep about snobbery. Is there a descending order of things that grades your snobbery? How many attributes must you have to be a complete snob? And how do you tell if a snob is just pretending, you know, faking it like those chaps who serve cheap alcohol in costly discarded bottles? Is class more important than caste? Why doesn’t a person’s religion induce snobbery? Skin colour, of course, is a sure-fire inducer of superiority and inferiority. And so on. There are so many questions, so few answers.

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