Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Indian Culture - a personal perspective

I have a huge advantage in being fluent in the local language, but I am noticing that the interpretation is a little off, which explains why people do not find my sense of humor funny at all!! And, I don't find their jokes funny either! There is an entire channel on TV that is dedicated to comedy... showing funny clips from past movies, hosts cracking jokes, etc., and most of the time it is incredibly cheesy and silly in my opinion and when I think that a segment is over it is not, and when I think that they have more to say, it abruptly ends!

As a culture, people are warm, hospitable, and very obliging especially if they perceive you to be a bit more economically well off, and influential than they are.... I am noticing that people are not respected for WHO they are, but rather for WHAT they are. The family that you come from, and your current job position are crucial to how people treat you, and how much power you have in terms of being able to get things done, complain to someone if you are not happy with the service, and even have access to certain stores, restaurants and other people! Therefore, the poor have absolutely NO POWER.... period! They are invisible to the bustling crowd around them and seldom do people pause to drop a coin to a beggar, or to someone sitting there with no legs.... yes, it is desensitizing if you see the poor every day, and for most people walking past these people, life is a struggle too! The other day there were a couple of scrawny, cows on the street driven by a man with a stick and just as I was feeling sorry for the starving cows, I realized that the man himself was so thin and mal-nourished and so were most of the people around him. So poverty is everywhere and for most people (at the bottom strata of society), life is a daily struggle.... but despite that, they do reach out a helping hand to others.... I see the poor helping the poor much more frequently than the rich helping the poor.

"Prosperity" is seen here and there ..... dots of beautiful glass and steel buildings that have been put up by some foreign company right in the middle of tiny huts and naked, half-starved children. Yes, if you keep your sights high, you will miss out on the reality in the shadow of these buildings.... and I think that for most people keeping their eyes on the beautiful buildings gives pride in how far India has come, and hope for the future. Some of the new malls are quite spectacular.... no, you cannot compare the US malls, but for India, these are great! And this is where I see young women with jeans and T-shirts rather than traditional clothes and shopping for the foreign cosmetics and gadgets.... then again we have to keep in mind that these shoppers arrive in chauffeur-driven cars, and not exactly pedestrian traffic that has to deal with the sweltering heat and jostling crowds!

India has come a long way in terms of social behaviors too particularly among this mall-strolling influential crowd .... yesterday as I was purchasing my first Revlon lipstick here, I noticed at the counter beautiful six-inch colorful bottles with little spouts begging to be sampled as I usually do with lotions and hand creams..... just to make sure that it did not contain liquid soap, I asked the young men behind the counter what these were..... no one answered for a few minutes, and I had to repeat the question again.... one young man staring intently at the cash machine answered "that is gel condom madam" and blushed..... I too stared at the cash machine and remarked under my breath how advanced India had become, and sighed gratefully that I had not helped myself!

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