Monday, July 27, 2009

Dont be scared when you get Stared at in India

Indians are very observational in nature. It could be because it is inherent in them to notice things on a general basis, or could be due to boredom that prevails there, or even curiosity, and perhaps even social policing of some sort. But one thing is for sure - indians stare at everything, everyone and everywhere, atleast in my extensive experience. When i walk out of my house into the narrow streets of our colony (neighborhood i guess you can call it), i recieve stares from the street level to the balconies of houses. Aunties of different ages usually sprout everywhere in a typical colony in any indian neighborhood, even more emphatically in any punjabi community. They are the usual gossipers, ever so current on the regular ways of life of everyone in the community. Whether you have gotten a haircut, or bought some new clothes, or bringing food from outside, they notice, and they spread the news. I also get stared at when i go out of my dads clinic by the shopkeepers on the opposite side of the road; again my each and every move is noticed and perhaps commented upon. I have been approaced by people some days inquiring "how was the food you got from so and so place last night? i saw you with 2 bags in your hands. what did you get to eat?" etc. The people in the lower socioeconomic status tend to stare, or i guess notice more things in general. When i approach a sidelined food cart in my car or if i pass through a lower status neighborhood, people tend to follow the car as a cop follows a possible suspect. Women have the worst of it, of course. If you are even barely beautiful or attractive in nature, indian men will relentlessly stare at you; in fact its a common joke that indian men can even rape someone just by staring, such is the attention and deviousness that they stare at women with. I guess you could it would hard to avoid it as there are a billion plus people and thus couple of billions of eyes, and well, they gotta look at something, so hey why not you....

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Worry and Tension crucial to Indian culture

People in india, and i guess around the world, have problems. But in India, people tend to take the more pessimistic and cynical route to these problems giving rise to what i see as a national cultural hobby: worrying. People worry about water, about electricity, about getting more money, but mostly about social expectations and guidelines set up in this amazingly conservative society. Indian society, for the most part, is filled with expectations and conformity: it wants to dictate every facet of every persons life possible. Whether its eating certain kinds of food on certain days (non veg is considered taboo on tuesdays) to rituals one must perform in every wake of life, from marriage, death, childbirth, or even entering a new house recently purchased etc. Especially the older generation tends to worry to an extent that is nothing sort of ludicrous amazement. The other day my parents were having a conversation with me on where i would like to educate my children! Imagine that! My parents fretting about my kids (i am not even close to getting married for about 5-6 years)!! Parents first worry about admission of their kids into school, their habitual expenses, health expenses, social expenses; then once the kids graduate from college, the subject of tension move to his/her marriage; and once they are married the new worry becomes whether and when they will have children, and then once again the admission of the grand children into school, college etc.....and like this the endless and relentless circle of worry keeps on enduring in india through self-perpetration by people. It is as if they have agreed that life is not worth living if theres nothing to worry about !! Forget having fun in life, the indian way is to live life as frugally and simplistic as possible with maximum planning for the future, which usually ends up being unpredictable and unexpected, once again leading to more worries, more hypertension and i guess some weird sadistic satisfaction for those who indulge in the fretting....

Friday, July 17, 2009


I remember the first time i returned back to india after 5 years of living in US continuously to obtain the green card, i was not surprised or amazed at seeing the lack of change that had occured except for the metro line was constructed. But when i saw the people in the morning, i noticed one thing that has since stood out: cellular phones; everyone had them, rickshaw-wallas to the chole-kulche wala whom i could now call and place an order with, my juice walla, and especially and conveniently my murga (chicken) wala, whom i could instruct on how to prepare the days dinner personally. Even more surprisingly the entire thing was really affordable, calls cost about 1 rupee a minute! That is when i noticed the greates social and economic liberalization and upward mobility that india had experienced whilst i was gone, from 1999-2003. Now Brand India was golbally known and well integrated for back office and outsourcing projects, with most of the companies like Tata, Reliance, Godrej becoming world class renowned rather than indian icons. It was amazingly coincedental and amusing that this change occured almost simultaneously with the change in my self, my attitudes, my opinions and my behavior--- changes a teenager goes through usually, but in my case due to my migration from India to the US. And in both cases, country and myself, I cannot opininate whether it was for the better or worse, but I am truly glad and optimistic that change had finally come where there was no hope before. And at the same time, just as inevitably, there were few things that have remained exactly the same, some facets of life that have refused to morph like cement rather than clay...lets just find out if those changes will lead to more satisfaction and progress, rather than regret and nostalgia........

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Slumdogs all around the place

I like that movie, slumdog millionaire, not for its acting, cinematography or its poignant story touching on the many of the horrible truth of indian life, but for the fact that it exposed that truth to the international audience; the fact that it showed people just how horrific some peoples lives are on this planet earth in this country, and also because it showed with a sort of passiveness that is also just as much part of reality in India as anything else. It is very true indeed - people in India, hundreds of millions in fact, live some of the most despeciable and horrific and tragic lives that one can see on this planet. Beggars, the one diaspora that the film focused on, is probably the most interesting one. In no country have I seen begging being performed, promoted and practised relentlessly as in India; by crude estimates, and likely close to reality, there are about anywhere from half a million to a million of these hungry people. They truly come in all shapes and sizes - old widows, young runaways, teen girls bought by begging mafia, able bodied men, kidnapped children, but the ones that seem to attract the most attention, both socially and economically, are the handicaps - people who voluntariy, and less frequently by force, choose to have one or multiple limbs severed or blinded to attract more attention, pity, and thus money, "maimed" as they call it in their business. I personally like to go "fishing" for these, even to the point where Ill ignore the ones with just one severance; someone with one stub comes to my car window, and I blindly turn them away as something too usual; the ones that get the money out of me (usually 2-5 rupees or nickels and dimes) are the severely disadvantaged one, blind, missing 2-3 limbs, I mean so ridiculousy handicapped you almost want to shoot the person dead as a favor. Now I know this sounds disgustingly callous and morally perverted to the nth degree, but thats what living in India is about. Its about accepting the fact that life is sometimes just very, very horrible, a never ending saga of pain and helplessness, i.e. for some unfortunate souls. But you become accustomed to it, as theres too many of these pathetic souls that have been around for too long, and they are not going away. Yes it sounds like a harsh truth, but it is so. Now thats a truly Indian concept of how life works that Im proud I have learnt and myself practiced. Its not as in western cultures where people are hungry for a hedonistic way of life, everything must be satisfying and must be done in their way of doing. Yes the westerners and the anglo-saxons are compassionate and helping, but in India you realize after seeing hundreds and hundreds of people in absolute misery that maybe its just best to let them be; its like a person loosing millions in a vegas casino; yes its very tragic but you get used to it as a happening of daily life. So anyways as I was saying that I particularly like to observe these handicapped beggars, and there was one near the New Delhi Railway Station that Ill never forget. This person was most likely the most desperate, destitute soul I have personally seen on this planet. He had one leg and arm chopped off till the hip and shoulder joints, and the other pair were stubs covered at the end with flies swarming over flesh wounds, most likely indicating he was a freshman. He was busy balancing himself just trying to sit and stay on his rag he had laid on the floor like one of those novelty items people have on their business desks depicting a bird balanced on its beak - you can nudge it all you want, but the bird stays on its beak and fails to fall. Now that is an analogy Ill never in my life forget, in fact no one probably can; to see a person trying to balance himself on his maimed stubs of limbs, and all for probably about $2-3 dollars a day. Thats Life. Thats Life in India. And so it is for millions and millions...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The lower class strive to be lowered

Im always amazed by the way the poor in India (about 300 million or so) choose to act, behave and respond towards their more affluent peers. Now keep in mind, when I say the poor in the india, im also excluding the extreme poor, the destitutes the likes of which one might see begging with their missing limbs on stop lights etc., which also number around 300 million or so. The regular poor are people, in my educated opinion, earning about $200-$400 a month, which is sufficient to live or survive in India. These people, as I have noticed, tend to keep themselves knowingly subservient to the other classes, always paying extra respect in the company of such others. It is not uncommon for a person in a car to literally order another one of these poors to give some sort of service as in purchasing something for them and bringing it to their car etc.; it is as if the upper classmen understand the place in society of these individuals as generally that of a servant, where its almost his duty to do the performed task. Ive even seen cases where the refusal from such a poor to go do a task that an upper classmes demanded resulted in his beating or public humiliation where vulgarities were hurled at him, cursing him that he may stay just as poor for all his life. In reciprocity, the poor, already accustomed to being ordered and pushed around, gladly accept their servile duty, in some cases even offering to run errands for the elite, for in compensation they might get either get the company of such an elite person or his blessings, which are received with great honour. I personally enjoy some of these, such as ordering one of the guys who operates a juice cart in front of our house, to go get beer cans, or bring me something to eat, or ordering one of our male nurses from our clinic to do one task or another that I deem rather unappealing due to the scorching heat outside. Sometimes I am humbled by the things these people are willing to do for more affluent individuals like me, but then I realize that this is the natural progression of things - these people, although ambitious, prefer to stay down, and even promote it themselves, so why not keep them stripped of any self-worth or respect, especially when there's 300 million of them!! Imagine the helping hands....

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Help the poor? Nah...

Every nation, or at least every developed, civilized country, sees its foremost duty to make sure the less privileged - or simply poor - citizens be given all kinds of services and formalities that it can afford for free or at least subsidized. In India, where about 40% of the population, or about 450 million inhabitants are considered poor; or in my definition and the realilty, they are just awfully destitute, living in a despicable and horrific state of living. Now the Indian government, boosted by years of double digit economic surplus, and mostly to gain some populist votes, has decided to announce some ambitious, maybe even too optimistic, aid packages similar to the US's medicare and social security benefits. Some of these include guaranteeing two meals a day for everyone, secondary education for everyone, and at least three months of employement for every able and willing worker in India. This is exaclty where the problem and protest begins.
India has long been a country and culture where castes and social status define an individual; the higher castes, usually well off in a amazingly disproportionate manner, tend to segregate themselves socially and mentally from the destitutes, who are merely 'surviving', nor really living. They dont offer any help or aid, apart for some religious ceremonies, nor do they expect the government to do such. The prevalent belief is that government should only help those who help themselves - small business owners and entrepreneurs offering some service of some kind, not the blatant panhandlers and villagers who demand aid and subsidy on every thing possible. They see it as a duty of the state to provide them with basic necessities for as minimum compensation as possible, other than their useful vote for the respective party in power.
This is something that the affordable indian class, middle class and above tend to oppose the government, and thus creating rift between them and the lower masses. They think, and I agree, that just as in American culture, people who are given aid often tend to accept it as a right, becoming dependent solely on it, and then later demanding even more. Especially amongst the tax payers, who have no real way of saving money for retirement other than personal savings rather than 401k plans in the US, they believe and stongly assert that the government is misusing their funds to provide excessively to the poor, just to gain the mighty votes. It is an epitome of the battle of Populism vs Pragmatism. And I, being as astute realist, agree with the notion that the poor should not be given sustainable aid; i.e. the aid should be temporary and minimal in nature so that they dont become over dependent and hungry for more. After all the poor, the ones living on the $2 a day, are the highest group in terms of child births and illegal commodities. By giving them ample, we cannot convey the message that everything will be taken care of in the future as well, instead the government needs to warn them, however harsh that sounds, that if the state of affairs continues as they are, they might be completely on their own.