Being Indian

There are about 8 different cultures living on my street. There are the Iyers, the Iyengars, the Bramhins, North Indian (something… they don’t interact much with the others), Marathi Bramhins, Shaivaites, something from Mangalore who speak Tulu, and ofcourse my family which is too mixed to explain. One might argue that all these people are pretty much the same and can be grouped under Bramhins and the others. But the mere suggestion of that would meet with glares and arguments about why they are different from each other. They all prize their ‘cultures’ very much.

India’s diversity – which came about from the merging of various cultures – has gotten even more fragmented. Rigid.

We do have a beautiful and diverse culture.  But culture cannot be defined by merely tradition and religion and the set of rituals you follow. It encompasses an entire way of life, dictated by how you define your culture. Officially, for the anthropologists, there are about 150 definitions of culture. And they summarize to include every single thing about our life. The way we decorate our homes, the way we dress, talk, interact with others, the gods we worship and the gods we denounce, the festivals, the food, the footwear, the headgear, the language, the gestures, the looks, the government.

We are complex… sometimes to the point of hypocrisy. Religion has been used as a football so often that most of us do not recognize it. we worship kali as a mother and insult women in the next minute, we go out of our way to be nice to visitors and try to rob them blind the next, we try to help them understand our culture so much but we get insensitive to their culture, we celebrate every little victory in life even when life is a struggle every day. We are a mass of contradictions and it is adorable.

And I love this confusion of being Indian. But you start thinking a little more and cracks appear. There is a fierce resistance to change even as we want all the good things in life. Perhaps that is a wall every culture faces before metamorphosis. And it just gets amplified because of the sheer volume of people behind that wall. Some changes are seeping through. Article 377 decriminalising homosexuality for one,  laws repealing child marriage, allowing live in relationships, giving women more power to make choices…

But I am impatient. I want more. I get extremely frustrated at the way things work here. And this is regardless of a city, a village or a town. If Indian culture were so brilliant and faultless – explain Bihar. Explain the ‘honor’ killings that happen in Punjab. Explain why women are burnt to death in the name of dowry? Explain why a rape victim is made to feel like she is responsible for what happened? Explain why women are beaten up in broad daylight for wearing pants? Why did it take so long for the Muslim board to allow women to be photographed for passports? Explain why Goa is the hub for pedophilia in the world? Why sex is such a taboo subject that we are against sex education as well in schools? That we fear merely mentioning the word sex will send children into having an orgy? And if we were so against sex, why do we have the world’s highest population?

Why is there more hue and cry about a foreign tourist being mugged or murdered or raped and nobody really cares about what happens to the citizens here? Isn’t a life a life, regardless of color, sex or creed?

And then we deny these things happen. Or we shake our heads in sorrow and shake it out of our head. It is not my problem. Our flexibility is our greatest asset and greatest curse.

A friend recently mentioned how call center jobs are moving to Manila because the people there have the same skill sets as in India, are cheaper and can ‘think’. That last adjective stopped me for a minute and my instinctive response was to defend India. But it is true. We like to follow rules, except when it is inconvenient to our own laziness. How many of us have called a call centre and been frustrated with the response? For any query, it is usually “I am sorry ma’am, we cannot help you with it”.

Like my recent experience with Airtel. With my bank, I’ve learnt to directly ask for a supervisor because I get only negative responses from the call centre people. If the supervisor can devise a way to help me out, why can’t the others?

Rules, apparently.

Anyway, back to the original point, we need to clean up our act and stop taking offense at every honest opinion. Anyone who discovers Indian culture, discovers all the cracks along with the good stuff. Why should we expect to be applauded only for the good things (that we were supposed to do in the first place) and ignore the bad stuff?

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