Posted by: Tanmoy Chakrabarti | September 11, 2008

Respect

A casual conversation on cricket sometime back:

 

Myself: ‘Sachin Tenduklar has played enough cricket, he is too old and thus he should retire now.’

 

My non-Indian friend: ‘He is too brilliant and it does not suit you to call for his retirement on the basis of age when your country is run by old political leaders’

 

Enough of cynicisms in the last few posts on my home (India)! At times I feel so sad about myself while doing the same. Then I retrace my path and without ignoring the pitfalls, I try and collect some of the beautiful things that lay on my path.

 

Numerous things keep on visiting me as wandering thoughts and as I read somewhere that some study has recently concluded that too much thinking causes overeating and obesity – I wonder why those findings don’t apply to me?

 

I wonder did my grandfather ever realise that one day he would have sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters trying to leave successful footprints in different spheres of lives, while he was swimming across a huge river everyday to reach Medical College to attend his classes on time.

 

The latest post on Suvroda’s blog has had me thinking a lot too! I wonder what exactly we expect from others when we feel the need to be respected. Can anyone deserve any respect if he or she doesn’t respect him / herself?

 

Respecting is a tricky proposition. I guess globally the concept is pretty misjudged and in India amidst so much of cultural and economic cocktail it is lost somewhere. I feel in India there are various connotations attached to the concept of respect.  People generally tend to shower respectfulness based on age, authority and dependence and fear.

 

In a normal course an Indian child is taught to respect his or her elders – I was never sure whether that respect is just for ageing or for the wisdom that a person has gathered over time? Ideally, all would say it is because of the wisdom but is that the case in normal household. Unless and until there is a valid reason to shower that respect, is it important to respect an aged individual? Please keep in mind; here I am isolating the emotion of love from respect. I may love my aunt for her simplicity but may not respect her deeds which I may find not always praiseworthy. This is an example to portray my curiosity – where to draw the line.

 

Respect for authority is quite common in workplaces. Most people respect their senior colleagues neither for their credentials nor their knowledge but mostly for the power they command. This is for professional power that is attained through normal progression in a work life-cycle. When this exceeds a normal acceptable level, it turns into flattery – a disease quite common in most Indian workplaces and I have seen instances where I thought it is the only way that things are expected to work. There is no exchange of learning between the professionals other than exchange of flattering comments amidst mundane workflow management.

 

Respect out of dependence is while we visit doctors, lawyers, bureaucrats for some services that we may require from them.  I have always wondered why respect turns into brutal hatred in some Indian hospital when a patient dies. Who is to be blamed in such scenarios – the violent, impractical relatives whose sorrow turns them into hooligans or the doctor who probably did not do his duty or may be the health infrastructure of the country which is normally silent when thousands of such incidents happen everyday in our country but goes unreported by the media because of its sheer frequency.

 

Respect out of fear is towards police officers and surprisingly to some extent towards teachers in school. Students in Indian schools at least, tend to get frightened of teachers. I have always wondered why? Why the relationship of love is so uncommon between a young kid studying in fifth standard and his teacher? Why would a student do his homework always for the fear of failure? Do our schools perpetrate a fear of failure in order to churn out good students or they actually wish to make education a way of life by gifting quality academicians to the nation?

 

To my mind, the above are the common ways of respect associated with people who are alive in India. It is easy to respect or idolize people who are no more, I guess!

 

Respecting is no doubt an easy affair in India and its linkages with other emotions of love, anger, religious and social connotations makes it more complicated an affair for an average Indian.

 

I am unable to judge whether this should be the way it is or if it has changed over time or we tend to overstate this particular emotion in our country?

 

Here I must say, like always we take pride not in admiring our abilities but to foolishly conclude that anyone who is not an Indian does not respect his or her parents and families (how we proudly say that most non-Indians indulge into adultery and get divorced!), they have no culture whatsoever (since Western women dress quite differently than Indian women) and of course we don’t feel they have any respect for anyone else.

 

I always felt bad when such conclusions are made by people who are utterly ignorant about most things and don’t think twice before making baseless conclusions.

 

As far as respecting parents and elders are concerned, I feel while it is true that society doesn’t put pressure on anyone to take care of their parents but state does ensure social security contributions for senior citizens in advanced countries. Most of the public places, public transport senior citizens get huge discounts and there are certain jobs which are there for senior citizens only. Here we see them work in Citizen Council as advisers trying to solve people issues and provide guidance to others on matters as wide-ranging as going to the right movie theatre to legal advise. It is also wrong to generalize that Westerners don’t take care of their parents. Father’s day here is not merely a consumer driven concept but it was indeed a festival in itself. To be honest, one need not go to a Father’s day kind of festivity but family gatherings and get together is a favourite pastime every weekend. It is not summer as yet here but every weekend one can see families crowding outside their home for having lunch in beaches, cafes and public parks! There is absolutely no way one can say that Indians are responsible enough taking care of their older generation and Westerns are absolutely selfish in their approach. Such statements and thoughts are nonsensical.

 

We tend to have very strong judgements about Western relationships – especially live-ins and divorces. In Delhi, I have seen that divorces, adultery and domestic violence were quite common a phenomenon among couples but whenever there was a discussion around these it was oft said that Westernisation has brought us those ills. I have seldom seen people introspecting whether the kind of attitude that we ourselves have adopted are leading to such social events but we I have seen people attributing them to the “external vagaries” of society. In Delhi, I believe divorces would increase by a huge number if women are empowered to disregard the social pressure thrusted upon them following a divorce because there exist a large number of unhappy families trapped in big mansions amidst lines of big cars. Live-ins in India of course a strict no-no and thus you would hardly find people proclaiming their live-in status.

 

Outside of India, especially in countries like where I am currently in, divorces are a painful reality. Trust me; none likes to get into a divorce procedure because of the emotional trauma that it brings with itself. Having said that, since society doesn’t punish any woman for asking for a divorce, families don’t extend the torture of being together when there is no way the situation can be better. Thus, you would find proud single mothers raising kids, waiting to find the right man after accepting the mistake of choosing the wrong one. It cannot be concluded whether they did not do enough to save their families or even say that Indian couple do their best to save their families before getting into divorces! I wonder if the later is true because lately I have found tremendous amount of impatience amidst couples of our age or even younger in India. Divorce thus is fast becoming a way of life for no good reason. There is mistrust aided by weird work culture too.  I am not sure if that amount of mistrust exists among the Western couples when they are together. There comes the issue of live-ins or the concept of partnerships. People here prefer staying as partners for a long time before shrugging off their independence to a full-fledged family life. Whether it is good or bad, I cannot say but I don’t have any issues on its morality whatsoever.  

 

In India, at times parents as well as children are at their hypocritical best when on one hand parents’ force their children to marry someone of their choice and children go on vacation with their lovers without telling their parents. It is hypocrisy at its ugliest form. I am sure that here transparency is much greater in these matters.

 

I wonder whether parents want to choose a groom or bride for their children because they actually feel it is safer or they do it because social acceptance is retained if such a custom is maintained. Are Indian grown-up so immature wherein they always choose the wrong partner?

 

I would also like to know from all those grown-up children who vacation with their boyfriend in hiding, giving themselves a false consolation that they are not hurting their parents in the process? Why don’t they have the guts to be transparent and honest? If they don’t have that guts what is the need for taking the moral high?

 

Is it respect or tomfoolery!

 

Respect for authority exists here too but not to that extent like it exists in India. Organisations tend to be much fairer and seniors do behave in a way which positively affects a professional. Most of the seniors that one shall meet will justify the position that they have achieved through their quality of work and knowledge. I don’t think it is quite common here where a person grows in an organisation because he is loved by the owner despite being hated by many for all the right reasons. Here the sweepers, packers, drivers and many other service professionals are respected. People while getting off the bus always thank the driver!

 

Respect arising due to dependence, I am sure exists here too because one visits the doctors or lawyers only when one is in need of some service. Having said that, I don’t think there is a craze among the student community here to choose any profession just to keep retains social prestige.  I must admit here that I feel proud when people near my ancestral home still recall my grandfather as a good doctor and we still get respected because we hail from the family of “doctorbabu” but here I don’t think such a thing can happen. Academic curriculums are dependent on marks secured and a student gets enrolled into professional courses based on the same.  Doctors and lawyers are the most highly paid professionals and so are the university teachers. Their monetary establishment does not necessarily make them inaccessible.

 

Respect arising out of fear, I guess is non-existent. Kids here grow up in absolute independence. At times I feel why parents in India worry so much about their kids even after their marriage. Is it out of sheer love or may be a lack of confidence? Here kids have license to do absolute everything. I think I did mention in one of my previous posts that every book shop or toy shop have kids sections where none stops the kids from playing with books or toys. The same is true for library and museums too. Nobody seems to be worried of the fact that a kid will break something in a public place. If kids are making noise, you shall find parents apologising to the general public. On Saturday beach walk, you shall find even kids playing with mud and eating worms. I know the Indian mothers cannot stop themselves from preventing such an action by their kids but here I feel parents give the kids full freedom to remain unwise for a long time! If a kid falls ill by eating whatever he or she likes, the parents trust the doctor to help them out. Weird isn’t it? In India, we hardly find a place where there is no mud and here people need to take their kids near the beach to make them play in the mud. I am sure kids are not frightened of their teachers in school too as the culture of mentoring is prevalent. Apparently, it looks like a very loose indiscipline process, I must admit but I guess one need to see the end result!

 

I don’t believe that this society doesn’t have its share of blemishes but yes discrimination is not as overstated as it is in India. Here, I am sure there are drug issues, fights with parents, domestic violence etc but they are not integral part of a social change. In India the social change hits you on the face. I feel sad whenever I see, every moment a powerful (be it in age, monetary acceptance or social strata) is bullying a powerless but I don’t think it is quite the case out here. There seems to be sadistic pleasure prevailing while doing that and thus it is a battle that every Indian fights out while living. I wonder when it shall end or whether it will ever end. It is making Indians stronger perhaps or I don’t know perhaps actually a lot weaker because we are slowly becoming narrow minded within! How can a nation be full of people who wants to cheat eachother everyday? In shops, on streets, in offices and also at homes?

 

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. Hi Tan, have not read this post as yet, but just wondering how can you write SO much…. :p.
    Though I enjoy reading your posts and it is like part of my daily to do list.. 🙂
    Have a nice day!

  2. Dada,

    plz tell me your e-mail id. I need to talk to you. Please.Please.

    Regards,

    Subhanjan.

  3. Hi Tanmoy,

    Went through the blog, it seems relevant to the discussions we have been having lately!!
    I enjoyed reading it, its good sensible stuff!!
    Waiting for the next update!!

    See ya!

  4. A few points, Tanmoy:

    Shakespeare says ‘Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look/ he thinks too much…’ and history will assure you that the overwhelming majority of serious thinkers were on the thin side. So don’t worry about what some idiotic ‘research finding’ says to the contrary. These days researchers ‘find’ anything they are paid to find. Far too many people working on PhDs and dependent on corporate or government grants with vested interests: therein lies the problem!

    I am delighted to see that my recent blogpost set you thinking at the keyboard. This is what I really want to happen, but there are far too few thinking people around these days.

    I should like to note that a) our educated ‘bhodrolok’ wouldn’t dream of thanking the driver while getting off a bus, and b) American university profs. are very well-paid also, and I can vouch from personal experience that some of my academic friends were amazed while visiting famous US campuses to see elderly professors, some even Nobel Prize winners, chatting with us and with freshman students like friends – the silly conclusion they drew was that in America nobody respects anybody (since they had been indoctrinated to confuse respect with genuflexion and servility, and that you can only prove that you are important by being pompous and hard to get)!

    You are absolutely right in saying that there can be no real respect without an education in self-respect. Alas, in India, nobody talks about self-respect and its requirements. Most of my pupils cannot understand (though they are very touchy about ‘losing face’) what is shameful about cheating in examinations if it helps them to get the all-important marks.

    In connection with marriage and careers, parents by and large choose for their (grown-up) children because there is widespread consensus that owing to their advanced age, they invariably know better. The wonderful thing is that the children are by and large happy to go along with this fiction – and then, when they discover that they have been shortchanged, they cheat on their parents just as you have described!

    As for our penchant for blaming the undifferentiated ‘west’ for all our social ills, it’s exactly akin to blaming the government for everything that is going wrong. Those who indulge in this blame-shifiting, I have found, rarely bother to find out and define what they mean by ‘western’ as distinct from ‘our’ culture. I have noticed they get very angry when reminded that sati was once part of our culture, and that Khajuraho and Konarak were sculpted, and Kumarasambhav and Geeta Govindam written, long before the west began to ‘pollute’ us!


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