The Indian wearing the American’s Mask

Much has been said and done about this article on NYTimes. The article as such says nothing new. You know that stuff about how India is getting Americanized and all American things are coming here and Indians have added ‘dude’ to their vocabulary.

Except, this seems to be written by a rather nostalgic Non-Resident Indian or a FRI – Foreign Returned Indian who is thinking of those sweet of old days when he visited India with mommy and daddy and there were grandparents coddling him and filling him with sweets and such things.

“I grew up in rural India, the son of an Indian father and American mother.” the author says.

He laments the loss of barriers of religion and the collapse of ‘ancient social structures’ – two good things that came out of globalization according to me.

The problem with globalization in India is not that collapse of ancient caste barriers. It is that everyone wants a piece of the pie and nobody really wants to work for it for too long. Everyone believes the other is getting rich far quicker than they are. Some use sentimentality – and we Indians are famous for our ‘sentiments’ – to grab some space.

Religion, caste and traditions – they are the three things that people like to hold on to and these have been the strongest calling cards for politicians, saints, fakirs, schools, businesses and everyone else who wants to make a quick buck.

Has India really become America? Can any civilization truly and completely ape another?

I believe the Indian culture, formed through the mingling of various cultures through centuries, is strong enough to withstand the ‘assault’ of another culture. True, we were always taught to be humble, unmaterialistic, gracious and all those other nice things.

But there is a hint of a case of sour grapes in there somewhere. And if we continued to be humble, gracious etc, we’d probably still be a British colony. Pride, strength and courage along with resilience have also been trademark of the Indian.

We have been told for decades that everything American is awesome. People emigrated to America in flocks during the 70s and the 80s and the 90s. Mothers wanted grooms living in America because they believed life their was convenient. These people saw only the shiny cars – a luxury here and a necessity there. They saw the washing machines, not the need for those because of lack of space and time to do the washing. These things became the symbol of a modern, ‘easy’ life.

Now, many people here could afford it and hence started the way of doing things the easy way. Naturally, we ape the other things of the ‘cool’ people… the glam stars in movies, the fancy clothes…

We are only about a decade old into the age of decadence in India.

The old way and the new way are still fighting for control.

But slowly, and surely, there is a wave of second awareness creeping in already. The Indian pride.  Sure, American movies are awesome but hey, can I take that camera and shoot something here? Showcasing a different portrait of India where we are not shackled by false traditions anymore?

Sure, when we try to find our own way, we stumble a few times. But without those shackles, we also talk about things that were previously ignored or swept under the carpet.

We have computers and cellphones and technology to make things easier for us. We will sit in Starbucks and drink coffee and plan the latest attack on whatever bothers us in the government because, well, I like the hazelnut chocolate there. I know what hazelnut is now. I also love groundnuts, arecanuts and coconuts. I have an equal love to coconut chutney as I do for pasta. Starbucks, Coffee Days and Baristas to us are what the local peepal tree was for our village elders.

We are swinging on the trapeze of awareness. For every woman or man who apes a western person, there is one who has embraced and unified their likes and dislikes from various cultures.

The impact, according to me, of this entire process is on those traditional business people. The ones for whom running a business was family. Generations of secrets and traditions passed on are now floundering for a successor because the youngest scion has decided he/she wants to be… a fashionista. Not because they think they are good but they think it is cool and their family business, uncool.

Perhaps this will correct itself. But the damage that retail chains like Walmart, Reliance and other are wrecking will forever change the dynamics of the Indian society. They did remove barriers of trade and standing from the society… but they also seem to have destroyed the minutiae that formed an intricate pattern in the society. Without the family business, the Indian traditional man has to go in search of an alternate skill and relearn an entire new generation of sustainable business skills.

The small, neighbourhood grocer knit that society together. With the intense shake up, this society is also shaken. We will find new ways to forge the society. The question is what shape will this take? Will this again be defined by religion, social standing, class? Of course, money will always be a decided factor.

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