Wednesday, January 19, 2005

A dangerous place for conversations...

The bath is a dangerous place for conversations especially if you have only yourself for company (which is usually the case!). This is more so in the morning. I was running over a statement I had made many weeks ago. A fine lady asked me why am I so interested in anything Oriental (and when I say Oriental I include all Asian countries except some to the west of India). I replied in what then seemed to be a simple answer (I judge simplicity, sometimes, by the speed of response). I had said thus, "Well, the Occident didn't impress me with anything but technology."

Over the past year or so, I get to interact with many people who are not from India (and mostly from places to the west of India) and come to this place with the hope of seeing dancing snakes and taut ropes standing straight out of a silly basket. They are amazed at how livestock and humans share the same roads and lifestyles in many ways. They believe that nothing is possible in this country until we ape the West. I read an interesting article about this on Atanu Dey's blog, but beyond this there is no reason to liken this post to his. Its not just the non-Indians who believe that. Most Indians believe the same too. If a lad hasn't gone abroad, he really isn't that good, is he? If he doesn't work for an MNC, he really isn't that good, is he? He rubs shoulders with fair skinned gents? Aah he must be good. He uses four letter words (most of them)? Aaah, he is stylish. He knows about all the latest hip-hop numbers and how to place his hand on his crotch and pull himself up (ala MJ)? Hmm, really a hot find. I have nothing against this although I wouldn't recommend this to any sane human (Indian or otherwise). My pain points lie in 2 things:

1. Have we really always been a race of fools who were incapable of anything and hence need to ape, and are these non-Indians always candidate to maturity and wisdom?

2. Are we only going to ape what seems cool or hot (actually they are used to mean the same thing in most cases) or are we going to be sensible enough? Atanu Dey has a more first hand experience about this question out here.

Will update this post over time....

What follows is not a sorry excuse of pointing fingers at others or trying to establish that other countries are "bad". The following information has been provided mainly to help the reader realise that people all over the world, and countries all over the world have enough past and present that they are ashamed of. Sometimes it is presentism, and sometimes it is truly embarrassing. Whatever the emotion, the following information does not intend to serve as resource to poke fun at other countries or citizens nor justify our foolishness or feel excessively proud about what we were once upon a time. What we need to realise is that we are talking about human beings everywhere who are, unfortunately, not very different from one another. And for heaven's sake, this is not patriotism! If the reader is still unprepared, please read something else. Maybe a billboard or the details on a milk carton.

What are the usual points that Indians are ashamed of and foreigners are glad to point out (actually not all. The ones I know are wonderful people and very understanding)?

1. Bad spoken English.
2. No traffic rules
3. Poor public mode of transport
4. Weather
5. Poor reach of technology
6. Poor hygiene and quality of food on the roads
7. Horrible public administration (though this is commonly used, no one is very clear about it)
8. Child labour
9. Treatment of women

Will add more to the list above.

In personal circles, the following do crop up as something "that never exists in the West":
1. Caste systems
2. Maltreatment of women
3. Superstitions
4. Arranged marriages
5. Strict customs and traditions/conservative practices

Just as a feeler of what is going to come, nearly all of this exists in other countries as well. Any documentary about Europe on Discovery(Travel and Living) will tell you that very few of the natives speak English!!
Traffic rules are quite absent in India, and I am not going to deny it. But what are we doing to improve it? We aren't aping the West on this. We are ok with driving on the wrong side of the road, headlights in full beam (I am going to sue those car/SUV companies for even installing such powerful lights. Sunshine car my foot!), no helmets, no stopping at the god-forsaken red signal lights. And why-oh-why do we have turning indicators? But are we doing anything to improve this? Would you consciously take a longer route and make a U turn or would you stick to the sidewalk and drive on the wrong side of the road till the divider ends and then you zip across to the other side of the road? Lets ape the West on this. Come on, lets do it. They have something called discipline which we forget at the drop of a hat.
Poor public mode of transport is a problem for everyone.

Will continue tomorrow...


  1. **The bath is a dangerous place for conversations.**

    Check ; Check. :-)

  2. Parvati5:27 PM

    Ok. Learn discipline from the west - thats the moral of the story?

    And I think that when your talent or skill in your work has survived the test of time and that of exposure to various countries' talent and equal or superior technology or knowledge of skill, then it can be considered to be AAh worthy, as compared to that of a person who works in a small village in a small company. This need not necessarily speak of skill per se, but the lateral depth or the scope of the impact or the invasion workwise of a person in the world surrounding him.

    One neednt hero worship; but there are always valid reasons to many such cliched attitudes. When I speak to Indians who have been born and brought up completely there as compared to those who have just gone there for an education, or work, I find a certain quiet class in the former as compared to the latter. No generalisations here. Always there would be exceptions to this observation of mine. And many such examples that make the deplorable attitude to anything "foreign" very understandable to me...