The differences in the mindset of South Indians and North Indians has been the object of much fascination and in no small measure, pride and envy. The stereotype of the rough, rugged, aggressive, foul-mouthed, back-stabbing, money-minded, itching-for-a-fight “Punjabi/Bhaiyya/Bihari” stands in stark contrast to the soft, docile, introverted, passive, friendly “Madrasi”.
The reasons usually trotted out for this obvious gap are the rougher terrain in the north, the inhospitable climate with extremes of summer and winter, and the number of wars and invasions at the hands of the Mughals and the British, not to mention the bloody Partition at the middle of the last century.
These factors, it is assumed, has made the North Indian tougher, hardier, and in their absence, South Indians have become somewhat soft and namby-pamby.
But could it also be that we are what we eat?
New research by American and Chinese scientists shows that there are psychological differences between people in rice-growing and wheat-growing regions, which, according to The Telegraph, Calcutta, “could also explain certain cultural differences between similar populations in India.”
“The study suggests that people in rice-growing provinces [in southern China] show higher levels of holistic thinking and loyalty to friends or relatives and appear less prone to conflict than people in northern wheat provinces.”
The study, which will appear in the US journal Science, shows that farmers who cultivate rice need to cooperate with neighbours to cordinate flooding and dredging of paddy fields. Cultivating wheat takes only about half as much effort as rice—and the lighter burden of wheat allows farmers to look on their own plots without relying on neighbours.
“Rice agriculture provides a disincentive for conflict,” Thomas Talhelm, a psychologist and research scholar at the University of Virginia says. This makes people in rice cultures avoid conflict, while people in wheat cultures can afford to be individualistic and less resistant to conflict.
The study shows that rice-growing and rice-eating people were more interdependent and holistic in their thinking and display higher levels of loyalty. The scientists also found differences in divorce rates—the rice-growing south had lower divorce rates than the wheat-growing north.
So, next time you chuck a rice baath and order a roti, guess what you are doing to yourself?!
Or guess what the growing appeal of idli and dosa is doing to them?
Photograph: courtesy NDTV
Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Are north Indians lawless?