Friday, July 17, 2009

This just happened so the conversation is fresh in my mind.

I was sitting at my desk at work trying read something.I see this guy looking for something and after the usual good morning/how are you we start talking. He pulled up a chair and we started having a conversation. The usual questions come up - how do you like it here? How does it feel to work at a company etc etc. When he learns I'm from India he asks me "So how different is it here from India" I don't really know what to say. He wants to know how different India is culturally.

Ah.Where do I start now? How do I explain to a typical American the love-hate relationship I share with my country? Born and brought up in the city, I don't really know rural India or know how it is to live in a village. I went to an upper middle class English speaking school, I grew up reading Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew. I watch english movies. I talk to my friends in English. I am not a part of a circle that calls each other and says *"enna di enna pannare?" I wear jeans and tee shirts and drink pink lemonade at Anokhi. I never traveled by bus until I went to college which was 40kms from home. I was forced to since there was no other mode of transport. I din't even know that there were local trains in Chennai till I joined college.

At the same time, I am as Indian as they get. People might scoff at me and say "What does she know? She hasn't really undergone any hardship in life.She never had to want of anything material". Is that true? Only few people know really.

Just because I don't talk in tamil/telugu all the time or don't wear mallipoo(jasmine flowers) in my hair doesnt mean I do not understand our culture. I do believe in tradition. I go to the temple, I believe in God the same amount that you do. I just do not wear a saree and do 'Archana' every weekend. I don't have to fast and make 10 varieties of sweets in order for me to get a good husband and pray for his life to last longer than mine.

A culture shock for me was when I started going to college. There were people from all walks of life. From towns/villages to the uber rich NRI kids. I was stuck somewhere In the middle. My middle class english speaking life did not really get along with the giggling girls nor with the partying kind. It took a while for me to fit in and find the crowd I could hang out with. Needless to say, I was branded a snob.

How do I explain something like class system(caste is a bad word these days I hear). "Does your family believe in the class system Ne?Will your parents want you to marry a boy in the same class as you" They ask me. Do we? Or don't we? We don't want to admit that we do and will never talk about it. But deep down inside we do right? Do you blame us? From grade 10 when marks matter the FC/BC* was an issue. I could not dream of going to a public medical college. Why? Because for our 'caste' we need to get 99.8% to make the grade. Is that fair? I will not get admission when I want to go for general seat in any public university. Why? Because I'm FC and I do not have 99% in my exams. "Oh, FCaa neenga?" is what I heard from time to time with a look on their face from the admin people at school offices. We studied as hard as the others. Don't we have a right to choose what we want to study?

I am proud of what I am and my family. I am proud that 90 years back my grandmother's father and brothers shunned the caste system and were one of the first to be a part of the Brahma Samaj(for abolition of the caste system and of the dowry system, emancipation of women, and improving the educational system etc). I am proud that everyone in my family was and is educated and knows the value of it even though we dont have rice fields back home pumping money into our bank accounts.

In the future, I wish my children understand our background, appreciate and be proud of who we are.

"So Ne.. how different is India culturally from America?" I just smile and say "Very different. India is a very old culture".

*Whats up,what are you doing? - Tamil
*Forward class/ Backward class


Anonymous said...

I TOTALLY agree with the whole desi-flare about how we're supposed to be donning "mallipoo" on our hair and all that.

Seriously great post!!!!
Say hello to your new fan!!!!

Nikhilesh Murthy said...

lol..... I am in Tam-ville now.... I totally get your point of view....

Ne said...

@death pixie - AND those terrible synthetic salways, oh yeah Hi :) been reading your blog.

@Niks - get that veshti out :P

Raves n Rants said...

Dropped in somehow. I loved ur post.

Idling in Top Gear said...

One of the first things that every American colleague/ friend asks an Indian is about the caste system, and some go on to lecture one about how it is so unfair, based on their one lesson in 7th grade History. Unfortunately, caste is not too easy to explain to Americans. The problem is, unlike in Europe, where money and class don't have to mix (since you could be the 23rd Baron of Gloucester and still not have a penny left), in America money determines one's social class. So, they have a hard time understanding that money & caste are completely different metrics, let alone that money has overtaken caste in determining all forms of social precedence.