Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | September 6, 2008

Openness

Before I start writing, let me clarify (or rather take credit!), that the photographs on the masthead of this site are all by me. Also, please don’t complain about the variable font size, I am yet to master the template design thing on this host!

 

Picture this – a Korean boy, a Thai boy and an Indian boy in the middle of a discussion, that how does one distinguish between South-east Asian people (whether they are Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Thai!) when they look almost similar. None is getting offended in the discussion but there is a feeling of amazement in the veil of fun.

 

We humans are all the same and thus openness about each other helps in mitigating conflicts. Alas! The world has not seen such things.

 

Most of my knowledge about different culture and history have been through books but I have realized that nothing can substitute practical knowledge. Of course, we are not always privileged to have that kind of knowledge but I guess within India if we attempt to understand each state / region, it is going to be a hugely exciting exercise too.

 

I may be regarded as an Indian basher (even when I was in India) but reality is I feel helpless most times since I love my country. I love the world too and thus exploring roots of people has become a habit of mine. Most of the things that I criticize here are attempts to cure the ills in me because I represent my nation – which has to be the best!

 

One of the important things that I have learnt after coming here is that, generally people are not openly critical about different customs or culture! It is actually a big learning for me, because I cannot decipher when two cricket fans in India fight on the greatness of Rahul and Sourav, whether they do it on cricketing basis or regional. I am sure this loyalty towards region is existent is in every nation but I doubt whether it is driven mostly by love for what is our or our hatred towards someone else’s.

 

I was questioning myself whether some people in India love India more or dislike Pakistan more. If it is the later, do they bother to find out the reasons for doing the same? If it is the former, then do they do anything to help India’s cause?

 

Perhaps generally high stress levels in countries like ours have imbibed a feeling of frustrations in all of us and we have forgotten to relax! It is so sad because human beings everywhere are the same.

 

By the way, here India is not hated across the world. People talk about many things that they know of in India. I am surprised that our film industry is so popular and especially Shah Rukh Khan is a global hero. I would say, I am proud and though he could do a little to get over his candy floss films and we should ensure other aspects of India are also well recognized. I really feel world knew about our regional literature and films a bit more. I don’t know if it is true but I read somewhere that even the authorities awarding Nobel Prize were astonished to find that Bhibhutibushan Bandopadhay’s work was never publicized in India to be awarded a Nobel! Isn’t that a big shame?

 

We hardly know about our regional literary work and thus it is quite natural that the world doesn’t know about them either.

 

Gandhij’s views, Mother Teresa, conflicts, investment destination, Taj Mahal and Hindi films have contributed to a general awareness about India but there is so much in us which we can provide to the world, isn’t it?

 

I wonder why did not we do it when we were privileged enough to have a lot of things to give?

 

I have seen some of our young friends say on public forums that these days the West are envious of India and what not – well trust me that is yet to be true thus without proper knowledge I would urge such people to keep their mouth shut.

 

Good thing about New Zealand is its openness. If in a city like Auckland where one-third of New Zealand stay and that is also just about 1.3 million, it is astonishing to find so many people from different cultures. It is true historically due to its geographic positioning, the country has been inward looking but one can witness its change with the adoption of various cultures. Thus, I can satisfy my urge to know about living in Jerusalem as well as Wales at the same time. Interesting isn’t it, when we see Johannesburg on television we feel it is an amazing city to live in but when you speak to someone from South Africa he would tell you how businesses there are facing the problem of infrastructure – much like India! Well, may be not the same like India but of course since consumer base is anyway lesser thus the infrastructure cost becomes very significant. I have hardly ever had such discussions in India with my Gujarati, Tamilian and Maharashtrian friends.

 

Lately, I have also come to a conclusion that relaxation and Indians are parallel concepts. Despite putting lot of thoughts into many normal activities in life and thinking a lot about that, we make mistakes but here I guess people are relaxed because they don’t think a lot before doing something. It is surprising actually, that people are so natural when it comes to expressing their love for each other and also when they feel they have to get divorced they don’t drag it to an extent where they die within taking all the emotional trauma. Having said that, I feel thinking is a phenomenon associated with Indian middle class since the ones who have a little less money are much brave and practical than us.

 

Is it true then, Indian middle class has not been doing anything constructive? I am sorry I cannot say as yet. I need to pause and think to see whether I am able to collect what I feel. 

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Responses

  1. About people claiming that westerners are growing ‘envious’ of us Indians, Tanmoy, ask them whether they are talking about westerners who are aware about a) our per capita income (even in purchasing power parity terms) compared to those of the ten richest countries, b) our rankings on the Human Development Index list and the Transparency International Corruption Index list, c) the fact that half the world’s illiterates live in India, d) all our problems in connection with pollution, congestion and unemployment, e) our performances in terms of Nobel Prizes, Olympic golds, new products and patents, f) how little the average ‘educated’ Indian knows or cares about his cultural heritage, and g) our female foeticide rate. Also ask them how many Americans living in Atlanta, Florida, or Seattle, Washington, would like to migrate to Mumbai or Bangalore, and how many Americans who have got admission to MIT would consider IIT a better option (assuming they have even heard about the IITs).

    And if Shah Rukh Khan is now the brand ambassador of a country which has produced an endless pantheon of great men from the times of the Buddha till Satyajit Ray – well, the less said the better, don’t you think? (P.S.: I haven’t heard that SRK has been made an offer by Hollywood to replace Tom Hanks or Tom Cruise. ‘Global hero?’)

    As for ‘high stress levels’, well, I frankly don’t know. But this much I do know: in very few other countries do so many able-bodied men sleep happily under the open sky at midday with not a care in the world! And so many parents in their forties who have no more serious a thought in their heads than the marks their children score in piffling school examinations.

    No insults to Johannesburg, but maybe I am too old to use the word ‘amazing’ in so cavalier a fashion. Before I call a city ‘amazing’, I’d like to know how low the crime and pollution rates are, how high the literacy rate, how few the beggars, how good the medical care facilities, how old and famous the universities, how richly stocked the libraries, art galleries, museums and parks, and how courteous and helpful the people on the streets. Mere high-rise buildings and snazzy cars don’t impress me, alas!

    One thing where I am entirely with you is the fact that we hate Pakistan far more than we love India. But this is not just about the Pakistan/India divide: it is part of contemporary Indian culture that we are taught to show how much we love ‘our’ school/club/religion/class/caste/country by how virulently and insanely we can express our contempt and hatred of those who are ‘others’. Remember the St. Xavier’s vs. St. Michael’s ‘friendly’ football matches?

    And lastly, are people the world over really the same? I wonder. Since you mentioned Bibhutibhushan: do you really think he would have lived in the same poverty and anonymity all his life if he had been born in Russia, France or the USA?

  2. Some things about India to make us feel “proud” and “dignified” of our country:

    1) “Oh, God, I beg of you, I touch your feet time and again, Next birth don’t give me a daughter, Give me Hell instead…” — An old Folk Song from Uttar Pradesh.

    2) First it was a girl or two killed on the sly, then man became bolder and bolder till female infanticide must have become the accepted norm. With the laws coming up against female infanticide, more sophisticated techniques are sought after. With the availability of ultrasound technology for determining sex of the fetus, a simple and noninvasive technique, the slogan of many ultrasound sex-determination clinics is: “Spend five hundred rupees now, save five lacks later” (meaning get a female fetus aborted, to later save dowry money).

    3) Since the advent of ultrasound and detection technique for sex-determination 10 million female foetuses have been aborted in India, according to a study conducted recently in India, the first systematic study on female foeticide by an Indo-Canadian team. A shocking picture emerges – every year, about 50,000 unborn girls (one in every 25), are aborted. As a result, the number of girls has actually gone down drastically in India.

    4) According to the UNICEF, 40 to 50 million girls have gone missing from Indian population since 1901 as a result of systematic gender discrimination in India.

    5) Assassination of Indira Gandhi and Godhra Incident: Hindu Muslim communal riots, and an upsurge in Hindu and Sikh fundamentalism and nationalism, resulting in widespread violence and death.

    6) The American Foundation for AIDS Research (AMFAR) reported recently that as many as 30 million Indians could be infected by 2010.

    7) According to 2004-05 reports, there are at least 303 million poor in this country.

    8) The incidence of poverty in China declined by a staggering 45 percentage points in two decades: from 53 percent in 1981 to 8 percent in 2001 (Ravallion and Chen 2004). The incidence of malnutrition in India, however, is four times that of China.

    9) According to NFHS-3, 32 percent of households do not have electricity, 58 percent do not have piped drinking water, 55 percent do not have toilet facility, and 59 percent do not live in pucca houses.

    10) According to NFHS-3 (National Family Health Survey), 46 percent of children under 3 years of age, and 49 percent children under 6 years suffer from malnutrition; and 79 percent of children from Anaemia.

    These are only a few of the several things that explain our standards. But of course we will carry on with our being “proud” of King Khan, Infosys and Wipro; humbly ignoring what hurts our “prestige” and “dignity” most to think on. Quite ironically, the Infosys Foundation cares for every point that I have mentioned above; not the average IT executive.

  3. I do not know why that irritating face with sunglasses came up. I wrote ‘8’ over there.

  4. Dear Suvroda,

    Thank you for your comments. Your comments make me write more which I shall do soon.

    I do believe that we – collectively have spoilt the state. I do not know when did it happen since we are undoubtedly an unique nation in the world. Not just Tagore or many other stalwarts but personally do think even a poet like Gulzar earlier used to deliver poetry which was above average. His writings for the film Masoom (Tujhse Naraz..) and the film itself is one of the best that Hindi film industry has ever produced. Sadly because of the films lukewarm response and also post the film Mr. India, Sekhar Kapur left India! Anyway, I do feel an average Indian has lot of skills which could have made India brighter and much beautiful a lot earlier but we are not anywhere near that even now.

    Where did we go so wrong, that it looks as if the malice cannot be cured for a long long time in future?

    Even if I accept the fact, that post independence we did not do anything to project or protect our ethos but I wonder why did not we even ensure food to millions of hungry people in our country who were perpetually poor and ensure power, education to them?

    Were 60 years to short a time? I do not think so?

    You know it is not a solace that many other countries in the world are too plagued with different kinds of ills but it is a shame that perhaps no one country’s citizen are responsible for their plight as we are. We never had dictators, talibans, lack of freedom etc. We have all the freedom in the world to make ourselves noisy and filthy!

    I wonder and whenever I think, I find myself in a ocean of thoughts without knowing the solutions.

    Two Indians are are short-listed in the Booker prize probable list and both of them are based out of India!

    Regards

    Tanmoy

    PS: Thank you Subhanjan for reading my post. Don’t worry about the sunglass, I guess all these blog hosts have their own funny issues.


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