Monday, May 14, 2007

New India. New Culture.

Living in India is an emotionally exacting experience...Each country and each culture has a lot to offer to its people, and the people in the country are an integral part of the culture..making it , shaping it and reshaping it. And living in these countries or cultures could be more or less exacting for varied dynamic reasons. And so is it with India.

I dont think there is anything to be gained from comparing ourselves with the outside world in this matter, so I am not going to debate about it here. But an introspection may throw some interesting insights.

The generations before us may have had many reasons to feel this way. But most of their reasons were positive or with positive intentions or led to positive results.

Take the example of our freedom struggle. Living during those times must have been a much more intense experience, but since all thoughts and actions sprung from a common positive intention, the experience itself became positive.

Take another symbol of our culture, the diversity that we display in our culture. From the rains that shower in Kerala to the snow that covers Kashmir, everything is diverse about us. Our languages, our customs and traditions, our food, our clothes, our appearance and our demeanor - everything is diverse. And still we manage to live as one country. Isn't that a proud achievement ? Definitely. But is that emotionally exacting ? I dont think so. We as a nation have grown up with this diversity and we have the maturity to include rather than exclude, as a group of people. Hence it is not so much of a stressor, atleast for now.( However, the signs that keeps showing up everyday in many places point out that the virtues of tolerance are getting buried quickly. So we don't know how long we will cherish this aspect of our culture ! )

Maybe it is India's rapid development or the not-so-rapid development of present times ? Whichever way you prefer to look at it, the very fact that things are improving, from where they were, is a step forward..however small it may be. Agreed, that it may not be as much as is required or desired. And we are always playing the catching-up game. But still, imagine India a decade back. Till so very recently (about ten years back) , owning a telephone ( not a mobile, but a landline) used to be a luxury, and I am not talking about the villagers here ( like so many of us would like to think) I am talking about people who were well-educated with govt. jobs ( which used to be the biggest thing, then ). Compare it with the proliferance of mobile technology now. Every single member of an average middle class family owns a mobile. Your taxi driver gets a call, when he is driving you to work. The milkman gives you his mobile no, in case you need to place an extra order. The "mausi" who sells vegetables at the corner of the building carries one too !!! Could you have imagined this in your wildest dreams ten years back ?

Then is it the corruption and the criminalisation of the entire system that is the cause. Definitely the parallel system which runs and dictates the country is cause for much chaos and machinations, but that is a system which has become a way of life in this country. And it is intertwined so much into the normal pattern of life that it is becoming hard to discern which is which.

But here, I am talking about the cultural aspects and not the systemic aspects. Because the system grows from the culture which nurtures it. This corruption and criminalisation is born due to the culture which gave it manure rather than weed it away. And now there seems to be no escaping it.

So why has India become an emotionally exacting experience ?

There are two behavioural aspects which has become very noticeable these days about us. As a people, we have become dishonest. And dishonesty has seeped into us so much, that it has become THE way of life. So much so that, if in case we come across someone or some action which is honest, it evokes surprise and amazement in us. And we do this spontaneously, unconsciously !

Just think about this. Don't you get surprised if the auto driver or the taxi driver goes by the correct meter charge ? Don't you notice it particularly if you find an honest traffic policeman ? Don't you discuss this amongst your colleagues, if a new employee has disclosed his prior remuneration correctly , and don't you rebuke him for being so honest ?

As a nation, don't we expect that none of the politicians will ever deliver what they have promised their electorate ? And even if they manage to do a 10% job of it, don't we get pleasantly surprised ? Do we ever punish the judges who acquit a criminal knowingly, using his power and knowledge of law to intrepret and misintrepret the various provisions ( Jessica Lal and Priyadarshni Matoo are the only ones we have where we can highlight judicial response in the face of public outcry, but for every Jessica Lal there are thousands of others who get away with crimes easily. And never have we read about a judge being punished for abusing his power, other than probably getting a transfer ! )

We can quote enough number of instances in our everyday transactions which will only reinforce the fact that dishonesty is accepted and has become the norm rather than the exception. From an individual, to the state, to the nation, we have made it our new "culture". Imagine what will be the values that we will pass on to our future generations ! And there are already evidences of the damage that we are doing.

Just watch a group of youngsters for ten minutes. Those whom you think belong to the same level of socio-economic status as you are / you were when you were their age. Its very interesting.

Which brings us to the other point.

If you observe them closely enough, you ll notice their behaviour and the attitude they display. Leave out the obvious things like the funky mobile and the ipod they carry (I stay in a middle class locality, and this is what I have noticed, so its given that these gadgets are quite prevalent even among the service-class kids ) . Nothing wrong in being technologically savvy, is there ?

But then notice the " taken for granted" attitude they display towards such things. It is all the more stark because there you have a huge set of people struggling to make their ends meet, and then you have a generation which is growing up thinking that the world revolves around X-boxes and iPods. Embracing technology or advancement is not the issue. The attitude with which we embrace it is. And the attitude which we hand down to our younger generation is.

Why look at only the youngsters ? Take their parents. Us. You, me and everyone around us.

Have you ever noticed the crowd that throngs the shopping malls ? Another interesting group to observe. You get to see every cross section of people out there, and hence all the more interesting.

Spend half an hour, and then you start noticing similar patterns everywhere. The nuclear family which does their grocery shopping, the group of middle aged housewives who are there to check out the latest trends, the old couple walking around window shopping, the gang of guys who are out to have a nice time, all of them display the same " taken-for-granted" attitude. It is as if this is the way of life that they have grown up with. And this is the ONLY way of life.

Again, I reiterate that I am not anti-development. But it is the attitude with which we adapt to it that irks me. I am not saying that we need to gape awestruck at it. But definitely, be grateful for all you have now. And do not despise the simple values of life.

I fear that we have forgotten and discarded some basic tenets of our culture. Simplicity of life, for example. Am not saying we have to live a life of renunciation, but valuing the good things in life. Being respectful of others. Selflessness. Being responsible for what you are and what you pass on to your future generations. Believing in principles and not just material acquisitions. Not measuring others only by their tangible assets.

These basic values which are core to our culture and our upbringing has almost vanished. These values which united every Indian in an irrevokable way is now nowhere to be seen. And believe me, this is not a phenomenon of only the metros or the big cities. Its everywhere. In every nook and corner.

Everyone wants to be part of the "happening" life. Except that they have thrashed away what makes that life meaningful.

And this is why I feel that Living in India has become an emotionally exacting experience.

1 comment:

Kiran said...

Hi there,

First of all, let me congratulate you on a very well-laid out post; which kept me engrossed to read it to the end.

Now coming to the topic of the post - I agree with the essence of this post. The conclusion I would draw here is - there is an urgent need for "moderation". We are rapidly moving towards the "all-or-nothing" attitude (see it in national debates like quota; or see it in the way we treat our sportspersons). This is scary - we urgently need to see the value of being moderate.

Living in India is truly an emotionally exacting experience; which by itself isn't such a bad thing. But as you pointed out; there is ample scope for improvement.