Sunday, January 1, 2012

Blending Cultures II

In Part I described what’s changed for ordinary Indians - some changes happened simply because we made conscious decisions and had more choices. Others were a necessity. The one change we should have the strength to resist is peer pressure or any pressure from others to change.

What was it about the other culture that so fascinated me? Why did my husband and I give up good careers, our home, our family and friends and a good life to move to New Zealand? Yes, it was the clean environment, the disciplined traffic, the (relative) lack of corruption, the ease of getting things done without jumping bureaucratic hoops,  and knowing everyone paid the same, fixed price for veges. It was also the fun of interacting with a different variety of cultures - Asians, Middle Easterners, Afrcans, Europeans, the English - to name a few. And a lot of it was rose spectacles. We've been here for over twenty years so the blinkers have come off. I can honestly say we are settled, familiar with the place and culture, with realistic expectations and reasonable optimism.

How has it changed me? I have learnt to be a bit more independent. To varying degrees so have my counterparts back home. Have I completely capitulated to the west? I don’t think so. I enjoy being Indian way too much. I was born Indian and although I live in another part of the world, I will always think of myself as Indian first. 

Diya by Zeimusu, free clipart
Introducing new elements in a culture should unite or blend the best of both worlds but doesn’t have to change a person completely. The ease with which we absorbed the best of both is something, to my mind, uniquely Indian. (see Mumbai's Psyche). If a person is confident of his or her core values, whatever they may be, no amount of outside pressure will make them give those up. If a person does give up certain traditions (with no outside pressures, overt or otherwise), it is only because they’ve always wanted to anyway.

As for becoming  a boring homogenous race, there is one unpredictable factor in all human beings that will never allow that. It is the variety of human emotions at any given moment. Humans, as such, might have made progress in leaps and bounds where technology is concerned. But we still have the same basic emotions - both positive and negative - that we had right at the very beginning of our existence. Our values are, and always will be, unique to each of us. On a day to day basis, each one of us feels differing emotions at different times. The permutations and combinations of these day to day emotions are numerous and seemingly contradictory. While some of us feel happy, others are sad or angry in similar situations; there’s generosity or envy; wile, guile or innocence; boredom or lively interest; and so on. And this is on any given day. On another day, it might be completely different. Besides, we are the sum total of our experiences and there’s too much out there for us to ever absorb in a single life-time. 

Christmas Carols, free clipart by Gustavorezende
Here’s a completely opposing viewpoint written by an American who travelled through India, witnessing the "erosion" of Indian traditions and culture. I do believe he has underestimated us Indians. Our American doesn’t have faith in Indians being able to resist the “buy-buy-buy” culture. Some folks will never give up on retail therapy whichever culture they belong to. For the rest, feverish consumerism, after a while, does slow down. Besides, there is a new reality in this day and age which forces us to think before we buy - how will buying this product impact our environment?

The American thinks capitalists have no regard for differences in culture. He thinks a market economy leads to unequal distribution of wealth, and therefore, of power. He may be right, I don't know.

What I do know is, given any type of economy, people compete for a piece of the pie – some by fair means and others by foul. I believe that in any system, people with more wealth exploit the ones with less, and people with more power exploit the ones with less. It isn’t the system per se. It is base human nature (read vices) that has created that system. And I can say with conviction that there's an even  sprinkling of every type of human (nature) throughout the world.

As the philosopher, William Pfaff, suggested, “Only if we recognise that base nature as well as what we are capable of by way of our highest ideals will we be able to scale heights as never before.” The exact words are here. 

Our American has also romanticised the clearly demarcated lines between the sexes that exist in India. He’s rued that it is blurring. But to my mind, the less we see people as different simply because they belong to a different sex, the more we simply see them as human beings the same as everyone else, the better relaxed we’ll learn to be with each other. The more lines are demarcated, the more someone determined to enforce those lines will allow, or even commit and justify, crimes against other human beings. (She looked at him - I'll teach her a lesson by pawing her. My lust isn't the issue here. It is the fact that she is besharam for casting her eyes on him and needs a lesson which I will give her. He spoke to her - stone him to death.)

If life is to be preserved as it is, we might as well live in a museum. Life is ever evolving as are cultures. They change with time, circumstances and necessities. It is our core values that we need to make every effort to preserve for they are what make us the person we are.



  1. thanks for your visit to my blog,i got to read this very interesting post.
    20 years in "phoren" and you still much prefer and feel Indian first - that's a really nice thing to know. its so rare to hear an NRI say this :)
    and about foregoing practicing certain traditions, its true that those are the ones we always wanted to let go of anyways

  2. Your article was really thought provoking - well worth the visit :). As for my feeling Indian, as I've written in a previous post, people, on the whole, feel a deep connection with their roots. There are things that I might not like, same as in NZ, but mostly, I feel a connection with ordinary Indians. Thanks for your comment, Sujatha.

  3. Beautifully written and admire your concern for preserving the values!

  4. I guess I preserve some and discard others. Thanks very much Rahul and welcome to the blog.