Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Enigma called as “India” and “Indians”

Ever since I started traveling abroad, I have become a lot conscious of our Country “India” which seems like an alien land to all the people I meet abroad.

After the initial enthusiasm of representing my country and trying to correct people’s perception about India, I realized it’s a futile job. The discovery channels are running tons & tons of programs, covering a whole larger audience than I can imagine of, at timings when I wont even accept my existence and to people who I cant even dream of. I wish I could meet up with one of these discovery guys and give them a piece of my mind.
OK, now let me tell you why I hate the over-rated discovery channels & its kinds.

An American Colleague, with a lot of curiosity and a twinkle in his eyes once asked me, hey so do you have a elephant at your place?? Ofcourse I said “No”, he was surprised and his next question surprised me “then how do you commute”, wanted to tell him, yes boss, have a flying elephant and thatz how I flew to the US, and he went on to explain how he saw in discovery, people ridding elephants through the roads. What can I say to that??

There was this British guy who wanted to know if snake was a favourite pet in India. It seems discovery screened a program on Nagpanchmi and they saw people offering milk to the snakes. I didn’t want to hear anything after that. I knew never in a hundred words could I make him see an Indians perspective of it.

Arranged Marriages, This is a topic the west loves to ridicule about. Its so much beyond their imagination. I am so tired discussing the Indian marriages with westners on lunch & dinner tables. The westners are generally shocked for words after we describe the procedure ………. He/She might just swear at you with “Holy Crap” & its equivalents. If you are experiencing this for the first time, you might try harder to convince them why it works and it isn’t so bad after all but after listening to their questions for a while you might start wondering about it yourself.

The Korean I once met wanted to know why do Indian women wear a big dot on their forehead. Why do they cover their head always? Are they very shy?? How do you ever explain the red and the black bindis and their significance or the covering of heads? Even if I try, I am sure the Indian accompanying me is going to have a completely different perspective of it. I didn’t want to get into a situation where we 2 Indians are debating the significance of it in the 22 states that we have and have the poor Korean go on his knees for asking.

The most interesting observation was from a colleague in our Japan office was I can understand, people can be Vegetarians and Non-Vegetarians, but Indians can be vegetarians on Monday and non vegetarians on Tuesday and have egg & fish but not meat on Thursday
The guy who accompanied me tried explaining somwar, mangalwar but our Japanese friend remained as puzzled as ever.

After all these, I usually try to avoid discussions on any program screened in India by Discovery or similar channels. What makes it all the more difficult is, what they are describing are facts but not the whole truth. People in India, living in different states will have their own opinions and views about anything ever shown by discovery. You will find most Indians explaining, “In our part of the country ….” Or “In north India ….” Or “the Brahmins in south India …..” and so on.

On a recent visit abroad, one of my colleague’s spouse had an emergency while we were at work. When the ambulance arrived, almost all the Indians who lived in that colony gathered. There were 4-5 families. Until full recovery, these families visited them regularly, got them flowers, cooked and got them food for all 3 times. It was really touching. A French in our office commented, that is really nice, I cant imagine, in the US if I had an another French family staying nearby to get a similar treatment & attention. This happens only with Indians. The Diversity in our land and the willingness to open to different people without loosing our own culture and heritage has made it more charismatic & enigmatic (and more confusing to explain sometimes to people even within India).
India is a subcontinent in its own. When the whole world is listening to English music, watching Hollywood movies, eating burgers and pizzas, India offers the world a set of different variety of music, different set of movies which any Indian will try to watch wherever he is and of course a variety of cuisines. Wish discovery could cover this aspect of the people & country here and leave poverty, elephants & the snakes alone.

India, ofcourse is an Enigma and the people in it are even more so. What you see is not what it is and what it is, u might never see but can experience it.


Just like that said...

laffed and thought over your post. India is truly so contradictory! And yet India is India- totally unique, for better and for worse.

rainy said...

that was a very good observation and very true too.... india is a collection of cultures and so very difficult to understand as an outsider. and more over, the discovery channel team also dont have any indians, to potray our prespective...

Sunita said...

jlt: Thank you for reminding me to read thru a few old posts like these
rainy: Thanks. Glad you agree