Thursday, April 30, 2009

On Education, Rules, Relationships, and Obligations

I've noticed a very interesting reply from parents to whom you ask conversationally, "So, how old are your kids?" 9 out of 10 of them will reply, "My daughter is now studying......" or "My son is just completing ...... year in College", and never the age! Actually after they tell you what grade their children are studying, it takes a moment for them to process their age... They sought of pause, and recall the year of birth, calculate the years, and then tell you, if you continue to stare at them expectantly! I am inclined to conclude that the typical middle class professionals that I am interacting with, place a very strong emphasis on educating their children - for the well-being of the child, as well as for the respect of the family.......

I notice that a few people in my neighborhood who have their names written outside the front door have all their degrees following their names! So it looks something like this: N. Sundarajan, B.A., M.S., MLA., and a few more typically, that I have never seen before!! Of course all the wedding invitations will list the parents' degrees, as well as the bride and groom's degrees, as well as the conducting Priest or Pastor's degrees!

You have heard that in Asian cultures relationships play a very important role ...... well, let me rephrase that: In the Indian culture, you need relationships to accomplish anything ..... be it opening a Bank account, or applying for permits to start a business. If you do not have a relationship with someone's someone who is related to someone's someone in that particular office, well, you can either wait for eternity for the approval to come forth, or I am warned by well-wishing friends, I have to pay people under the table!! If you know someone's relative or a really close friend who is in a very high position, then God has been very good to you! These are highly qualified officials, and no, you cannot bribe them, and they are extremely professional! The problem is that you can never know enough of them in the different departments and offices that you need to go and get approvals!

On the other hand, if you do know of someone lower down in the food chain who happened to have been one of the 786 guests at your distant relative's mother-in-law's cousin's wedding, you better learn some breathing techniques that will help you gain the virtue of patience, and long suffering...... and do pray!

Rules..... well, most of us don't care for them, but after moving here to India I miss them terribly. For once I want to see a neatly published document that gives an actual process to get something done..... all spelled out neatly in black and white.... no guess work, nothing nebulous.... oh, give me a hundred rules to get to the end, where I can just follow one step after another and get to the end, knowing that it is completed, mail it to the right address that is spelled out clearly on the form, and expect a reply within a month.... yes, I miss rules, regulations, regular processes...... no, nothing is straight forward here....

It is as if, had it been, it would be too simple and easy and of course you alone can handle it all by yourself, and you are not "forced" to have relationships..... I mean, relatioships become optional. But because there are no straight forward anything here, you NEED people to interpret, and most of all people to "help you out". It is as if everything is deliberately designed here to be complicated and blurry so you don't become too independent and self-sufficient. It is as though, people will miss having a relationship with you, and "doing favors" for you, ...... yes, sooner or later because you need people desperately, you expect "favors" from all your relationships.... relatives, friends, and even acquaintances that you barely met a few days ago in your neighbor's mother in law's cousin's wedding, and you become obligated to everybody! You CANNOT function here independent of others' help.

There is no way around this "system"...... you absolutely need people to help you to accomplish even simple things every day.... and people are most obliging! They know how the system works, and they are happy to tell you that nothing works or gets done if you don't know anybody, and yes, they will do everything possible to introduce you to their "connections". For instance, a friend of mine this morning that I have known just the last couple of months here, was discussing with me on how to get the permits that I need for the Lighthouse project to move forward ..... she mentioned with all sincerity a so-and-so this and that from Church, and then had a brilliant idea ..... "Ah", she said, "I know this person in the train that I have travelled with a couple of times who works for that office.... I don't know what she does, but she works in that office, and I can talk to her and find out if you can go through her ....." And this is the way it is...... strangers in the train become "friends" who are willing to help another stranger's "strange friend". ....

I suppose as time goes by and I get to meet more people and get invited to participate as the 787th guest in my neighbor's mother in law's cousin's wedding, I too have to and will be expected, and obligated to help others around me..... not only because I am an exceptionally obliging person :)), but also because I am obligated to do so. After all they helped me by connecting me to all their relatives, friends, and acquaintances when I needed to get things done..... so then it will be my turn to do so. If I refuse and become self-centered, then I must not only expect to lose all my relationships, but also their favors and connections, and consequently I cannot expect to get anything done beyond a certain point. I will be forced to develop patience, and long, long- suffering (mostly suffering)! And that is how the entire fabric of this culture is based on RELATIONSHIPS.

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