Friday, October 23, 2009

What do you think about India and Indians?

When they first meet me, many Indians ask me "So, what do you think about India and Indians?". I usually try to avoid answering and escape with a "It's nice" or "It's big" or even "It's very different from my country".

I believe my opinion would not really satisfy my interlocutors. But here is the truth, or, I should say MY truth!

Although this country is a kaleidoscope of micro-cultures, religions, cults, where a generalization can become hard or unfair, I can't deny that I found some very common attributes to many Indians, from North, South, East ow West, rich or poor:
- Very strong and heavy impact of family values and religion
- Very divided society and a very present cast system that leads to discrimination of Indians by Indians (which I believe is really sad)!

Then I would also say that there is a huge lack of hygiene among the population and lack of care for common Cultural and Historical heritage. There is this "I care about me, my family and my house but I don't care about the others". Someone that has an extremely clean house and is very careful with hygiene at home, will not think twice before throwing garbage anywhere, spitting and peeing in the side road or in a corner of Jaisalmer fort, somewhere in Lodhi Gardens or on the walls of Delhi Jama Masjid.

And although I am sure my next words will create a big wave of "how do you dare saying that?", I would add that the "I care about me" mind often leads to a lack of respect for others. For example, there is no respect for queues and that is everywhere... train station or 5* Hotel. The worst is that most of the time, others who are waiting in line will find it very normal when someone who just walks in passes in front of them. Another example: bathrooms in cafes, restaurants or offices. It's not difficult to find people who don't flush after using it which in my opinion is not nice (at ALL!!!) for the next person.

I would also say that the normal educational system (which excludes IITs and other very famous universities recognized for their excellence) is very poor. A student needs to score at least 30% (only) in the 10 and 12th board exams to pass! I have found a huge lack of creativity or even pro-activity in many people I have met at work, although they have the so called "MBAs".

Having said all this... I can't forget to say that I have also met many Indians who do not fit the bill. Mainly the young cosmopolitan generation, well educated and who, many times, has had the chance to travel abroad, creative, not religious at all and not family oriented at all. I have met super clever and pro-active people with an amazing energy who are artists, designers, etc... I have met many loving and caring people involved in many non-profit activities and initiatives.

I remember telling "My truth" to one of my very good friends and her answer was:
"Nat, many young Indians like me just don't recognize themselves in this culture and values but the tradition and the influence of parents is still too heavy for us to get out of it."

Finally, I must say that I believe the new generation of Indians is feeling in between two worlds, two cultures. I remember one of my colleagues, a Jain, who whenever we would have a team outing would order just meat! And another one, a Sikh, telling me that he is not religious and doesn't believe in any form of god, wearing his turban because "his parents would have a heart attack" if they knew.

As one of my best friends usually says to kind of summarize the malaise happening in the Indian society nowadays, "Yes, I am an Indian national, but culturally speaking, I do not feel Indian".


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