What is up with India? I don't recognize the country we are turning into. Not any single thing, just many things. Seriously, in Mumbai - the economic freaking capital of the country and the roads are a biohazard. We have a record number of drunken driving arrests this year. Neighbours barely know each other these days. Teenagers are more 'western' than many bonafide firangis I know. Maids don't last more than a couple of months.
Am I the only one who remembers tiled roofs and not being able to figure out which kid out of the tribe running riot finally goes to sleep in which house? Who grew up with the same maid working at home who was almost a family member? When a generation of people worked in the same organization for their entire adult working lives? When people saved, as in actually saved money?
Obviously time will bring change, but many changes I see are quite inexplicable. For example, how does it matter at all if you call a group of buildings a colony or a complex? Apparently, colony has gone out of fashion. I called restaurants 'hotels' all my childhood and got fed just fine. If you drink country liquor at a fraction of the price, you're really a drunk. Apparently alcoholism discriminates between some narangi and Scotch. And no, the 'quality' reason doesn't wash, because if we can quality control so many things, what's one more? Anyway, as if you don't end up drinking country once in a while in the name of Scotch - remember this is India?
We got rid of the Brits and embraced the Yanks. I think being ruled is so engraved in our psyche that it simply doesn't come naturally to not have a ruler. What else could explain the fact that we see the garbage on our street and think its someone else's problem? Wake up. We are free. We rule our country, we own it. The street and the garbage on it is ours.
Increasingly, I see India, but particularly corporate class so thoroughly western, that many foreigners are more in touch with their Indianness than them. They remind me of how a rural woman I know described her nephew - he buys the fanciest clothes to show off, but his underwear always has holes in it. If I hear one more teenager with a confused American accent, I'm going to go the Raj Thackeray way and refuse to speak with them till they speak in a language I understand.
Out of the many things we could have adopted - welfare systems, community initiatives, development of systems that take human knowledge in different directions..... we have managed to grab the most visible - the ones that will make us appear more western. Never mind that western formal clothing is likely a health hazard in India's hot humidity. Mahatma Gandhi would violate the dress code of expensive dining rooms in the country he apparently fathered. I can understand the inconvenience of saris, but dhotis or lungis are actually the ultimate in soft comfort. There's the little problem that the trend hasn't picked up abroad yet.
I'm not against the west. I am against unthinking aping. It irritates me equally to see people do all kinds of illogical things in the name of religion.
The Hindutva guys beat their chests for the call of Hinduism/Nationalism to be heard, but it is imported nationalism. We hear some standards and condemn India for not following them. As if India knew that you would be discovering that the west thinks scratching your crotch is obscene today. We talk about the poor based on UN standards. We don't have our own. Our goal is 'compliance'. The Hindu marriage act will not allow you to marry twice (or more) - Christian style - apparently Dasharatha and Draupadi weren't Hindus. But God forbid people convert. Stay Hindu, we'll import Christian thought for you - Hinduism embraces all influences. "Muslims are the ultimate in evil. They are out to conquer the world. Something must be done about them. Kick them out, ban Islam, blah blah" Wait, you mean we can import the Islamic intolerance as well? That's great, then we can defend the helpless Gods. I often wonder why man must defend God, if God is such a smart and powerful guy. If he isn't, why are we running behind him for an eternity?
Next month, will be the season for Valentine's day protests. People will wax eloquent about its evils. However, no one will try to create a psychological meaning and warmth around Padwa. No one will bother to offer couples something special on that day. Perfectly Hindu, but we abandon it and spend our time criticizing those who do celebrate the relationships.
We could have adopted the concern for human rights from the western values, but what do we do when we see injustice? Mind our own business of course. Remember we are not the rulers? Its someone else's problem to fix. We see the government as our rulers. Joining politics is the social equivalent of becoming corrupt and 'them' not us. At the same time, we are superior to all this desi nonsense. We are so disconnected from our roots - good or bad - that paan stains on an unfinished wash basin are scandalous!!! More news than an international sporting event. Of course no one in India eats paan or spits. Who is this alien who did this? All kinds of newspapers tell their readers about this astonishing discovery. Again and again. Never mind the sportsmen - they are just common people unless of course there are stars. Paan stains in an international facility!!!!! This is the pits. What is this third world country hijacking our developed country?
Increasingly, we are disowning our past as though we are ashamed of it. It is sad, because we can only move forward, and we do need something to build on, unless we plan to be hollow. You can't cut off the roots and expect a tree to flourish. You can't build a pyramid on the foundation for the Taj Mahal. It wouldn't be a real pyramid.
We see younger people (and often older ones too) blindly criticizing anything that moves contrary to their imagination of the ideal west. Maoists are terrorists. Sure. And I don't believe they are Gandhians either. However, how many of us make an effort to understand what it is that they are asking for? What is it that the Gujjars stopping trains want? When we say 'north east' who are we talking about? If they don't fit the template they are unimportant. What they are, what they want doesn't matter. We have decided that they are horrible people and that they should simply shape up to improve their future. I'm not saying this is right or wrong. I'm saying that we make these judgments without even bothering to understand anything that deviates from the shining.
I don't feel so sure that we are only gaining from this. Our social units are crumbling. From sprawling ancestral homes to joint families to nuclear families to lesser kids to single parents..... A vast majority of friends we are in touch with are recent entrants into our lives. Then we wander apart. Holidays are less and less about meeting family and increasingly about vacation tours. In short, we are travelling so far away from our roots that there is a massive disconnect - we have lost the ability to get along with people, to build relationships that endure. This is sad, because there is a psychological security a deep peaceful safety with stronger enduring relationships.
Where once we had kids growing up as tribes and it was difficult to know exactly which child belonged to which parent at first sight, we now 'do something' with them so that they 'learn to socialize'. We take them to different places to be able to spend time with them. Where once it was a certainty that a child would toddle behind its mother all day, we now have working mothers spending their entire salaries to be able to work. Sometimes more than their salaries. No one stops to think that if the money for travel, time saving conveniences, clothing suitable for work, help to manage home, day care for kids, etc were saved, staying home could actually be cheaper for a mother. Not to mention a happy kid. But by god, we will either be liberated females or die trying - as though there is something enviable about living life without a minute to spare. Again, I'm not against working women. In fact, I think its great. I am only against doing things on auto-pilot or as an expression of our 'developedness' rather than from a purpose that holds meaning for us.
Education! Our education system is a monstrous monolith. You want to double the National resources for education? CUT the time taken by half. Not by cramming everything into half the time, but by getting rid of everything that is not necessary. Hand everyone calculators and save years and years of torture learning to calculate three digit divisions and square roots and what nots. Put a kid into school at 10 years, throw them out at 15. As long as they are able to read and write, trust me, no one would know the difference. The UN is also happy with calling this literacy as long as they are able to read and write. In a world that is getting increasingly efficient, it is an insult to children that we are not only not able to optimize the use of their time, but we keep adding to it. Apparently now, kids should be able to read and write BEFORE joining school - and you have preschools. This is outrageous and we are able to get away with it only because kids are too innocent and powerless to confront this horrible atrocity. Yet we persist with that British Raj hangover. We change the history to reflect Indian history, call the British the villains of the story, put in Indian geography and civics, and done.
No one in decades seems to have said "Wait a minute. Is all this necessary at all?" Unfortunately, there is no need for British Era clerks anymore. Its a waste of time. Would have been better to have something that informs them on work environments - different kinds of departments like HR, accounts, etc and what they do, rights, organization development, team work.... they will end up needing this far more than some obscure latin name for some kind of something found in somewhere. But the goras didn't do it, so we it will not occur to us. If it does, it is not appropriate anyway, since the goras said that basic education was a must and their basic education has other things in it. Rabindranath Tagore's Shantiniketan would run afoul of our new "Right To Education" act, in all its regimented glory, because while it does a lot of good (and it DOES), it does it in a way that makes it impossible to legitimately carry on with education in other ways. For passionate educators, this law is like .... being on a diet in a candy shop. Dang Brits. Is it any surprise that for a country of tremendous intellectual capacity, we come up with very few truly original and revolutionary discoveries? There is a reason - to discover, we must go beyond the known. Definitely not what the Brits had in mind for us.
We have made prostitution illegal in the land of the Kamasutra and reduced traditional temple women to prostitutes.
There are also some joyous things emerging. Our youth is far more confident and sure of themselves, if a little unoriginal. There are many more opportunities and possibilities for nearly every aspect of our lives. Seriously, you can now combine pilgrimages with adventure, pick from 15 varieties of drain cleaner, hop jobs at the drop of a hat.... heck, even going to a film usually means a multiplex with an array of films to choose from. Life has just.... opened up. This is great.
Again, I'm not calling any of this good or bad, just noting that these discrepancies exist between our cup and lip. I am wondering if we want to do this drift in a more thought out manner or we just do it on the assumption that the west must be right.
Make no mistake, I love India. Its a gorgeous country to be in and its a joy to be born here, so that I didn't have to migrate. I'm only wondering if this is our India, or their India that I'm living in.
Update on 20-3-2011: Today is Holi. There are no latest Hindi hits for Holi. We are still singing Rang barse. Someone in a forum had suggested a couple of days ago that we don't celebrate Holi this year, or if we do, we use only dry colors, because much of India doesn't have water. Of all the things to give up for the country, he found this? One day where water is used in larger quantities than usual? That fixes the water issue? Most city dwellers rarely celebrate Holi anymore. They hibernate in their homes for that half day when being out involves the risk that someone will put color on them. Funny part is, people walking with white clothes on the street aren't getting any color on them. There simply aren't the numbers of people playing Holi anymore for any spillover of the action to happen.