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None So Blind
|by Aruni Mukherjee|
The British love having a good moan. If it's not the weather then it's the longwinded queue, or the moronic local authorities who have dug up every road that has made the traffic murder, or if nothing else, how Fabio Capello just doesn't get it that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard cannot play in the same football team.
Having hobnobbed with the Brits for over two centuries has rubbed off some of these traits on us Indians. I didn't realize it until I heard one of my friend's fathers, who is visiting the UK for the first time, moan about how everybody simply wished him 'good morning' on the streets and then walked past him as if nothing had happened. After all, a little 'how're you mate' wouldn't go amiss, would it?
I wonder how many Indians greet complete strangers on the street every morning. Or hold open doors for them rather than leaving them to shut on their faces. Or use 'please' and 'thank you' at the start and end of every sentence. Ho hum!
One of my friends who is an accomplished engineer is having a little problem mingling with her colleagues. When I suggested she join them for lunch at the canteen every afternoon (as is the workplace custom at her firm), she nearly fainted. 'What! They have all those 'driver' types there. I can't be seen in public with them.' The acute class-consciousness of an average upper middle class Indian would shock the sensibilities of her European counterpart.
I have heard many people, both in India and here, ridicule the Western social system, which they label dysfunctional. The high divorce rates, teenage pregnancies, drugs and alcohol abuse and the perceived lack of bond between parents and children are reasons commonly cited to justify such positions.
But when I heard a 50-something man boast to his friends that he's managed to nab an NRI to marry off his only daughter, I find it hard to float amidst the clouds of superiority. And whoever thinks campuses across India aren't rife with sex and drugs is living on another planet. If I was a conservative Indian parent, I would shudder at the thought of some of the things my children could be getting up to when out of my sight.
Teenagers are far more independent in this country than in India . We are used to the security and comforts of our home, whereas British teenagers prefer to go away from home to university and usually find their own place to live after graduating and getting a job. Why can't we simply accept this as a different societal norm, rather than scoffing at it as a sign of detachment between parents and their children?
Truth be told, at least British parents don't look upon their children as some form of investment that will yield returns, preferably in an overseas country, once they are grown up? Why else would horror line the faces of most Indian parents when their child declares that he'd rather emulate Pablo Picasso than Bill Gates? The intense pressure to wedge open the doors to a medical or engineering career for their child is the unmistaken sign of a shrewd investor keen to make a decent return on 21 years of investment, as well as finding a way to climb the social ladder.
Most young Indian workers sending money home from the UK would testify to their rising stature within the family. Why is it that our views and pooh-poohed upon by the wise elders when we are dependent, but we suddenly become Socrates when we've got a quid or two?
I have also heard Indians boasting about their parental skills. But I never see them sitting their children down and explaining the rationale behind their decisions, as most British parents would do. Instead they scream orders, and threaten to punish the children lest they disobey. How many of us can associate with this dictatorial style of parenthood?
One of my friends in Kolkata faced a choice between dumping her boyfriend and being locked up in the house when she was a teenager. She got so obstinate that she went ahead and had sex with someone who she later admitted was 'as ugly as a skunk with the personality of a wall'. It is only after getting pregnant by mistake and having an abortion that she realized that it was her parents who pushed her to such extremes. In her teenage mind, the primary aim in life had become to behave diametrically opposite to what her incensed parents wanted.
We can't help but moan about the smallest things in this country. 'The food is terrible. All they do is boil and mash stuff. That's not cooking.' I have heard this so many times that I can't attribute the quote to just one individual. All that these people need to do is switch on BBC 2 and watch 'Great British Menu' or watch one of the cookery channels on cable. I am no foodie, but a simple Sunday roast would give any Indian dish I have ever had a decent run for its money. Crumbly Apple pie or rasgulla ' how can you call one of them inferior?
We do it to our own people too. One of my friends, who works at the local Hilton, quipped that Bengali cuisine comprises of adding sugar to quintessential North Indian dishes. Shock horror!
I am guilty of moaning myself. At a recent office do, I noticed how apparently formally my colleagues behave with their spouses. The guys take off their wives' coats, sit them down, ask them whether they want the air conditioning adjusted, ask what they would like to eat, and so on and so forth. When I mocked this attitude as a sign of artificially conjured marriages, my friend gave me a rude awakening. 'So you think not making an effort is undying love? Do you not think its just indifference bred out of arranged marriage? How many middle aged Indian couples have you seen looking bored to silence with their spouses?' I was speechless. I am sure each one of us can see this in real life in our own families.
At Warwick, where I went to university, I saw two groups of Indian students. One of them proclaimed that India was a superpower already, and claimed that every gadget available in this country was available in a higher specification in India . Of course, they ignored the fact that the price of a Nokia N-95 was probably higher than the average annual income of an Indian! The other group was the jhola-adorning type, which denounced Western capitalist society vociferously while gently sipping a glass of Dom P'rignon.
My cousin, who lives in America , wants to return to his native Delhi so that his young children can go through the rigors of the Indian school system, at least until Class XII. According to him, the Indian education system is far superior to the Western counterpart since it teaches them to work under tremendous pressure and get used to an atmosphere of intense competition.
I remember how forlorn my face was the first time I walked into Class IX and discovered that for each subject we had a 1,000 page book to memorize, along with countless pages of God-sent 'notes' which teachers preserved for their exclusive after school tuitions. I can't seem to recall what it is that I studied during my decade-long schooling in Kolkata, but what I do vividly remember is that it drove me to leave India at the age of 15.
I still feel that my British friends and colleagues have a head start on me in communication, analytical and presentational skills, something which an Indian schooling never imparted in me. But of course, I don't seem to complain as much about the long hours! That must be what makes our system world beating!
Sometimes I do get carried away and want to believe in all the hoopla. However, when I see an Indian man cutting in front of me in a queue at the station, or bark orders on the plane at the airhostess without a smidgen of politeness, my high mindedness comes thundering back to earth. As a nation and people, we obviously have many attributes to be truly proud of. However, just like the other 5 billion inhabitants of this world, we too have our shortcomings. It is time that we stop being oblivious to this blatant reality and own up to our erring ways. In other words, 'those who live in glass houses should not throw stones at others'.
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