Saturday, August 8, 2009

Hum Aise Hi Hain!

Last night I attended a talk given by a member of a social organisation who led a team of Indian professionals for a vocational exchange to Germany. The speaker shared his (and his team's) experiences of the 2 months they had spent in Germany.

He went to say that initially they were impressed by the efficiency, precision and timeliness of the Germans, but soon got a little tired of it.

The speaker spoke about how they were amazed initially, and later bothered, by the punctuality and discipline of the Germans. The group kind of found the emphasis of punctuality of the Germans a bit unnerving.

The food, he mentioned was a major issue - they found it particularly difficult to adapt to the local cuisine. He recommended carrying packs of MTR to anyone travelling abroad! Can you beat that?

And then came the amazing part - the speaker mentioned his elation on landing back in the grime and sweaty heat of Bombay. He mentioned how he enjoyed driving his car back home from the airport - in his own admission, he was carefree - a bit of indisciplined driving chalta hai!

And then to top it all, he, says, 'saare jahan se accha hindustan hamara' and went on to wax-eloquent about about the Indian-way!

These descriptions are symptomatic of what ails us as a country. These attitudes gives us clues why despite having a billion industrious people we are where we are, down in the dumps and love it down there.

If one studies the history of the world, every superpower of the world has had one thing in common - the willingness to look outwards, out of their set ideas, hunger to explore and to take on the world.

From ancient times till now, great powers have had this common thread running through generations, right across various civilisations - from the ancient Greeks and Romans to sea-faring Spaniards, Portuguese and the Englishmen. Even the Frenchmen were quite inward looking till the Napoleonistic-expansion.

The Chinese who inward looking like us were at the receiving end of the then Western superpowers, from Genghis Khan in the Middle Ages to the British in modern times - remember the construction of the Great Wall to ward off the Mongols, to the Opium Wars of the 1800s. The result - each successive generation of Chinese got weaker and weaker.

However this changed when Deng Xiaopeng not only opened China, but took China on an expansionist and exploratory path. And only then Chinese took to the world like ducks to water!

India lacks that very instinct. We think we are modern, but we are inward looking. Having Guccis, Armanis and Pradas within our reach at a stone's throw doesn't make us modern. Do we really understand the world of today? Do we really know how the world thinks?

It is said that inbreeding weakens the gene pool. A similar analogy would apply to thought. Reinforcing generations of thought, accepting "our way" as the only "way" and "hum to aise hi hain" are perfect examples of that weakening, debilitating, paralysing process of an "inbreeding" of thought. It was precisely the same reason why India had historically been weak - remember that it was considered against the Hindu religion to travel across the seas. It was precisely for the same reason ancient-medieval India never had a navy till the era of the Mughals and Shivaji, leaving us vulnerable to invasions.

We want an "India" wherever we travel. A simple example is food. Travel agents selling tour packages to the West or the Orient proudly advertise they would have an Indian cooks with them and the tourists would be served Indian meals all through the day! How the hell would these tourists experience, say for instance, France, if they were to have tandoori chicken or theplas over there?

I have experienced this first not only in India but also abroad. Travelling to Kerala for a conference about 7 years ago, I was surprised to see our very own North Indians demanding dal-roti. Similarly, I have also seen Indians travelling abroad abhorring the thought of having local cuisine, settling for bread-butter. One Indian couple travelling was crazy about finding a KFC outlet, which they thought was closest to familiar Indian food, though I wonder how?

And then we say, we love our food - that's the way we Indians are. Sure we do love our food. Who doesn't? Surely the Americans miss their beefy burgers when they travel abroad (Am reminded of the movie Outsourced where the protagonist, a call center head, Todd Anderson, misses American junk food in India and goes so crazy when he sees an advertisement of a McDonald's clone in a newspaper, that he travels 40-odd kilometers to have a burger!).

Similarly, the Scots miss their Haggis. The Japanese their Sushi. The Aussies, their beer! What makes us Indians different is our unwillingness to experiment even for a short period of even a week.

I also remember a cross-over desi movie about Indian students in the US. One of the characters had a drinking binge with, obviously, other Indian pals, gets totally sloshed, pees in the lawn and shouts out loud - "This is freedom!". We love our freedom to pee anywhere, to drive the way we want to, to intrude into the personal spaces of others, to show scant respect for privacy and of being loud and brash, and the chaos all around us. Has our new-found openness taught us anything?


Another example that completely paralyses the Indian minds and reinforces "our way" is a complete lack of fraternising with the natives. How many of us strike a genuine conversation with say a cab-driver or a waiter or a hotel front-desk manager when we are abroad. We have conversations that are absolutely essential. Indian co-workers and students would hang around with each other instead of being with peers of different ethnicities. This makes the natives hate Indians. No wonder Indians are least understood, hardly respected and most hated the world over. This is not a new phenomena.

The expulsion of Asians from Uganda in the 1970s, "dot buster" crimes in the US of the 1980s, expulsions of Indians following the Fiji coup of 1989 and the recent hate crimes in Australia all point to that.

A budding superpower needs to understand the world and look at it from a position of strength. It cannot afford to lose its goodwill, yet we are doing just that.

We've given the world spirituality, yoga, Bollywood, back-office services, etc. but that's hardly anything. We, as a people, need to change our attitudes, we need to explore the world, we need to get aggressive, we need to press the reset button now before its too late.

Till then, hum aise hi hain!


Major Bhargava said...

I agree with you,Rajeev. We take pride in being what we are; displaying our characteristic behavior and leaving a mark wherever we go - in the global village of to-day!

I have been watching the gradual erosion of values, principles and scruples. Breaking rules and turning a blind eye towards the system is second nature. We seem to prefer to live and thrive in chaos. To-day our apathy and insensitivity have assumed alarming propositions. People exhibit/demonstrate their intolerance unabashedly. Well, when there is a calamity or a disaster, the entire nation shows solidarity but the same is missing from our day to day life. In the mad rush of traffic to-day, ambulances carrying patients fighting for life can not find way - People do not feel ashamed of littering, creating nuisance (of all kinds) in public places, well, the list can go on. We are oscillating between the two extremes of everything. The politicians and bureaucrats in league with unscrupulous businessmen are looting the nation. The so called down trodden, backward classes are happily drowned in the reservation syndrome and can not raise above mediocrity. On one hand some farmers are committing suicide and on the other, those who are closer to urban areas are selling their fertile lands and nurse the dream of becoming rich overnight while land sharks and land grabbers are making hay. Everybody wants instant gratification - not ready to sacrifice (isn't it a big word?)or forgo anything - how can we grow to be a super power?
I am not being cynical or pessimistic, but looking at this, I can not visualize our country becoming a developed nation in the near future or till we undergo radical change or transformation. I think the key to this lies in our generating awareness and building a society with strong values system,ethos and integrity.

Rajeev said...

Thanks major. Nice to have your views - really appreciate it. How are you doing?

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