In India, we often quote culture! The richness of our culture, the superiority of our heritage. I used to take great pride even feel arrogant about this exalted culture. But then that pride got slowly chipped away one day at a time. The biggest blow came when I went to live in the US. Of course, Western thought and way of living was inferior to ours. Weren’t we told this all the time? But my experience was so very different and surprisingly pleasant. I came across gracious people very well-mannered in their daily lives with generous doses of warmth and camaraderie in their interactions.
In supermarket queues and at the DMV, no one pushed, jostled or tried to jump the queue. People maintained a respectful distance from another and politely waited their turn no matter how much time it took. It was such a revelation to me used to as I was to crazy juggling and erratic queues in India. I also saw doors being opened and extreme care shown around me when I was expecting. It was delightful really, made me feel so special and pampered when strangers stopped with a kind word and offered to carry things. Isn’t this how our social interactions ought to be?
What also caught my eye was the respect for and dignity of labor. A carpenter, a plumber, a nanny is just like a friend or colleague who makes small talk with you while they do their job at your house, so unlike the class-ridden feudal mindsets in India.
A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and souls of its people
— Mahatma Gandhi
Contrast this to the ‘educated’ elite of our cities and our behavior.
This weekend was the first PTI after the school reopened for my elder son’s class. Since he has school till 1 pm, we normally go to the PTI after 2 pm when the initial rush has subsided. This time again, my husband and I went with both the kids. Right at the Reception, we were dismayed to note that there were no tokens. We know that without tokens, the PTIs become chaotic. Indeed our fears were proven right later. After waiting for our turn for more than an hour, we got thoroughly fed up and left without meeting the teacher. This is the first time that this has happened. In the interim, there were parents who jumped the queue shamelessly in front of other children and perhaps their own too. When some other parents raised an objection, it still did not affect these shameless offenders. It was infuriating to witness. The teacher was helpless as well. Some other parents walked out in protest like us.
Out of there, we decided to pay a visit to the Principal. Luckily, the queue to meet him was very short as the time for the PTI was up. When we expressed our distress about the day’s proceedings, the Principal sounded even more irked. Apparently he had seen a bunch of parents, assembled like cattle who literally ran into the school as soon as the time for the PTI began not even caring to pick up the tokens from the Reception. The rush was so bad that it could have caused a stampede. The Principal caught all of this on the CCTV cameras. He called these ‘over-educated’ parents with such behavior a real bane. He apologized for the inconvenience caused to us and other parents. We even got a note expressing apology from the school. But, it really wasn’t their fault now, was it?
It is the problem with our mindset where we shamelessly do things that benefit us caring little for social propriety. Every time a traffic light does not work, the chaos created has to be seen to be believed. And if there is a traffic jam, there will always be a smart alec hijacking the opposite lane and stalling traffic from both sides causing a deadlock so crazy that it will create a huge headache for all involved.
At every supermarket, every single time I encounter someone or the other trying to jump the queue. What surprises you is that the elders are not far behind either. Another pet peeve is the way people stand next to each other almost falling over you. Is it because they worry that another person will get in if they leave an inch of space in between?
The most horrifying part for me was when at an airport, as people were queuing up to board, comes this lady with a baby who was crying loudly. An airline official asked the lady to go to the head of the line to board first. It is standard procedure which most airlines adopt. But another lady at the head of the line started quarreling loudly at this intrusion. And this lady with the baby was so embarrassed. Despite telling her that this was as per the airline’s policy, the lady continued to grumble.
When the rich, well-heeled and educated behave like this, what does it speak about our country, our culture that we brandish like a medal at every given opportunity?
Look at the way we treat our women, the downtrodden, the elderly, those socially weaker than us, our animals and the brazenness with which we flaunt our wealth, power and connections.
All that I see in our culture these days is regressive mindsets and excuses that stifle our thinking and make us parochial in our views and living. Heinous crimes are committed in the name of culture. Wealth is worshiped. Values like humility, honesty, patience and propriety are all dying a slow death.
Culture is the process by which a person becomes all that they were created capable of being
— Thomas Carlyle
So what’s so special about the Indian culture that you witness in your day-to-day life? I would love to hear a few tales of kindness, of generosity of spirit and of humaneness. Do share!
If you wish to read my vibrant memories when I first went to the US, read here.
And for those who wish to read some of my quirky travel tales abroad, read here.
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