Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mera Bharat Mahaan

At the outset I want to say that this is not a diatribe on patriotism and that self-criticism does not always have to be self-deprecating. In the same vein it brings out the devil in me when I see some of my desi friends educate Americans on India by propagating their bastardized views of India.

I am not bothered by the pseudo-american accent that some of my friends put on. There are some who try to adapt to the American accent for the ease of communication and that could be a genuine reason. After all I trained myself to refer to capsicum as green pepper after receiving some blank stares from the cafeteria staff. Then there are others whose scathing desperation for acceptance by the gori chamdi is apparent as they put the eye in I-raq (yikes!). The fake accent is evident when they order wodka instead of vodka impervious of the holes in their enunciations. But hey, everyone has a right to make a fool of themselves. What gets to me is when these pseudo-accented pseudo-intellectuals start India bashing.

Blanket statements about the ignorance of the masses in India are made, with a special emphasis on backward thinking. Never mind the geographically challenged audience whose views on the world map have lately been expanded to the Middle East. The education on Indian culture continues through movies like Salaam Bombay and Water where the poverty in India and exploitation of women is showcased. My gripe is not about the portrayal of the poverty-stricken disease afflicted life in India, but with leaving it just at that and nothing more.

I am not asking them to live in denial, oblivious to the challenges in India nor do they have to run down the street thumping their chests in jingoistic fervor. But every time I hear the self-deprecating tirade I want to bitch slap them out of their stupor.

Don’t be too impressed by the organized queues and polite mannerisms in America. In my opinion, logistics is one of the biggest challenges for India and is the main ingredient for the chaos and disorganization. Put Americans in the same boat and you will get the same disorder. A couple of years ago I was in Washington D.C. and my generous advisor (love her) took me to the Kennedy Center to see the Philadelphia orchestra. Here I was smack in the middle of affluent splendor. The average age of the audience was 60. It was a full-house that evening and opulence was parading in penguin suits and cocktail gowns. The red carpet below my feet flowed like wine and the gigantic chandelier in the heavens screamed extravagance. A couple of ‘lovely’ hours later we made our way out of the auditorium to catch a shuttle.

I don’t know why the arrangements were made such but everybody had to take the shuttle to the parking lot which was some 15 minutes away from the auditorium. The shuttle would take at least 4 trips before everybody would be on their way home. So we did the quick math and figured that the wait would be up to an hour for those who get into the last shuttle ride. It was nothing short of spectacular to see these 60-somethings dressed in gowns and suits trample over each to get to the shuttle. The queues quickly went from endangered to extinct. My advisor was appalled to say the least. I was just amused to see politeness tossed out of the window as chaos took charge to unleash blatant disregard to fellow passengers.

At the end of the day, we are all the same. They have their blonde jokes while we mock the sardarjis. We have our Bajrang Dal and they have their Bible thumpers. The morning-after pills are denied by pharmacists in the name of religion in the land of the free. We can learn from the successes of western culture and they can learn a few things from us too. I hope that someday these self-hating wannabe yuppies will stop this self-flagellation.

Realize pride is not just a gay thing.


S&eep said...

You speak my heart. I have fought EXACTLY the same battle with Indian Born Confused Desis for long now. I know our land has its own set of issues, but it is sheer callous ingratitude on part of these IBCDs to turn their back on a country which has set the foundations for their achievements. How profound these words seem now.. "Janani Janmabhumischa swargadapi gariyasi"

Chandu said...

This one was a disappointment...
I mean the concern might be legit, but the frustration is rather unbecoming... atleast unbecoming of you.
I have read other posts by you, but none of them seem as helpless as this one.
But I guess that is the trap of collective pride... we let the actions of others affect our own emotions.

♪"~JungleJingles~"♪ said...

Well.. you can still excuse the ABCDs who have hardly been in this country to figure out its greatness or the sense of belonging.Its no better with the youngsters here, who being even brought up here for 20 odd years keep singing praises about USofA life and how they die to start living there.They seem to know more about the happening places(famous visiting spots)and are eager to check them doesnot even matter to them people from all over the world come to India to check out numerous such amusements.The sad part is they are not even aware of it.Thats a sad state,I wonder when people can get appreciative of they have.Its nothin bad to be aware of other cultures, but I guess knowing your own land should be a must,atleast to call youorself an Indian.It indeed is a land of prestige(not to sound too patriotic:) )but thats what some outsiders agree to too.

Supremus said...

You spoke my mind on this. I get irritated as hell too!


PK said...

Sorry, I cant agree with you. I have seen better manners and politeness in US. You have asked us in your post not to get impressed by organised queues and polite mannerism in US. I would like to see this in India atleast sometimes.We are extremely rude and these days concept of queue is almost non existant. I had a post about my expirience in US.Its far different than yours. i can say the same thing about my expirience in Europe or in South East Asia.---PK

Amodini said...

Nicely put. On put-on accents - they annoy me greatly. I do now say okra instead of lady-finger (imagine the looks I got when I asked for lady-finger), and egg-plant instead of brinjal etc., but though that capsicum was bell pepper ? Green pepper is the spicy jalapeno/cayenne/thai pepper, no ?

Udit said...

First, everyone's views on everything are bastardized to an extent. Its what we "IBCDs" call 'assimilation' and 'opinion formation'.

Second, I have no idea why it is annoying to hear an Indian put on an American accent in America.
Im an Indian Born dude working in the US for the past 2 years and have consciously made an attempt to pick up the accent. After all , the purpose of language is communication,right? Why does removing a hindrance to communication considered brown-nosing ?

Third. Was my right to criticize India summarily revoked just because I was born there ?
Or was it because I left the country ?
I think I deserve the right to criticize any country in the world regardless of any criteria. If my global citizenship doesnt extend any special privileges to the country of my birth, so be it.

Fourth. As of right now, I can rattle of 25 different issues that piss me off. From the Iraq war, to Darfur to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad..
Can I take action to ameliorate circumstances in all the issues im aware of? If not, then does that mean I lose the right to bitch about it?
According to this yardstick, News Analysts, bloggers, op-ed writers et al should be in 'bitchslappin' hell.

Cuckoo said...

I don’t agree with you. Simply, because you are mixing up two different aspects.

First, not ALL Indians project India the way you've described, maybe majority of the people you have come across, have done so.

I am one of those few Indians who are not and cannot be a part of this majority. Though I keep comparing my India with other countries for seeking reasons for being different and why we can’t adopt the GOOD things(not all) that they have but I don’t criticize it all the time in front of them. Let’s face it, all countries have their own pluses & minuses. Poverty, illiteracy, crime.. they exist in each and every country (developed, underdeveloped, undeveloped). Only the percentage and method varies.

Second, it all depends on individuals what and how they want to gain from their present country. I agree with Udit when he says he has consciously picked up the accent. If he’s planning to be there for longer period, he has to do it, he has to change in many ways. He needs to change himself to get accepted in his current place or else he should get lost. Nobody has asked him to be there. There is a saying in Hindi “Jaisa desh waisa bhes”.

Adapting (in your words imitating) for better future in one’s present country is VERY different from criticizing aimlessly one’s home country. Please don’t relate the two.

I change myself when I am abroad BUT I DON’T criticize my India just to make them happy. Yes, I do criticize it (or any other place) but only when I have to. My being in India or abroad doesn’t matter at that moment.

Udit has every right to speak against any country INCLUDING his present one, be it USA or Bangladesh.

Ohh, this comment has become a post in itself! ;) Hope it goes thru your moderation. :)

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

Put Americans in the same boat and you will get the same disorder.
--No, it's exactly the opposite. American queues and such are orderly because the people made them that way. The people create the conditions, not vice versa.

I was just amused to see politeness tossed out of the window as chaos took charge to unleash blatant disregard to fellow passengers.---
This is an emergency situation; the people were not accustomed to such disarray. In India it's a daily affair...yet still people push and shove as though it's never happened before and everything is an emergency.

Sirensongs: Indologist At Large said...

I acquired an Indian accent 2 weeks after arrival in Tamil Nadu. No one could understand me otherwise. I love when locals tell me I speak "such good English, because(they) can understand it."

People who adopt the local accent just want to be understood.

Crystal blur said...

Yeah, it is heartbreaking sometimes.

I don’t feel helpless. It’s more on the lines of disappointment from fellow desis.

With technological advances, it is hard to be a frog in the well and I am all for breaking boundaries and exploring other cultures. But an open mind towards other cultures does not have to come with a closed mind towards your own.


I haven’t had any first hand experience on racism but just because I haven’t experienced that, it does not mean it does not exist. Similarly, just because you haven’t seen rude behavior in the USA that does not mean it does not happen. I used to be just as impressed as you probably are before I had these first hand experiences and there is nothing wrong with that either. All I am doing here is making my observations.

Thanks for the comment and green pepper = bell pepper =capsicum.

Your first line shows that you have interpreted the word bastardized to mean biased, which is fine but it can also mean corrupt which is how I had used it.

The rest of the comment shows that you have not “assimilated” my blog before presenting your bastardized opinions. If you read the first two lines in the second paragraph of my blog you will realize that I did not say any of what you have accused me of. On a side note, if you are pronouncing wrap as rape (or making similar blunders) then there is nothing wrong with working on your pronunciations to avoid gross miscommunication.

To summarize, I am not against putting on accents for better communication (although I have never put on an accent and have communicated effectively with Americans…surprise?) nor am I against constructive criticism. I am against propagating media fueled stereotypes to cater to Americans rather than dispelling them and introducing India as a developing country that has made technological progress in leaps and bounds.

Again, I have never said ALL Indians are self-flagellating wannabe yuppies. I would be the last one to make such blanket statements. In the first half of your comment you have actually reiterated some of what I had conveyed in not so many words. As far as Udit’s comment goes, I have addressed that as well.

Alright, the incident I described was in no way an emergency situation. We weren’t expecting a hurricane as we were being evacuated. That is exactly my point. As long as supply exceeds demands it’s all well and good. Politeness is lost when it is really needed.

As they say, when in Rome be a Roman and I have nothing against adapting your pronunciations to better communicate.

Mitesh said...

beautifully said! Its the logistics challenge as you have correctly identified. There will be chaos all over in a developed country like US/UK if its suddenly filled up. Atleast it will be interesting to see how it behaves.

Its not for any reason why India, despite all her problems, is called a functional democracy. People fail to see that India with her billion+ populace but 1/3rd the size of US areawise, birthplace of more than 4 religions and people from all types of sects, history of thousands of years but independent not even for 60 years, has achieved so much and is a force in reckoning already.

I dont know if you are aware of this, but few months ago, Mumbai was voted the Rude city of the world (and NY the politest) amongst like 30-40 cities all over the world by Reader's Digest. The tests they conducted were primarily western social customs like saying thank you to shop customers, holding the door open for people following you into a building etc. These things are not common in mumbai (and maybe, India) ...agreed. But that doesn't mean people are outright rude in general. Maybe they should use their criteria as helping out fellow citizens in times of distress like floods or helping a lost soul find the way in a city.
The point is (as you rightly said) India is not the best of the countries, but nor are other developed countries (and they will surely be not if they are over-populated). By getting a chance to stay in another country, one should learn the better things in that country and apply it back home, instead of bitching about their home country.

Crystal blur said...

You hit the bulls eye. After reading some of the previous comments by others, I began to suspect if what I had written was for some reason not conveying my thoughts clearly. (Phew!)

justrohin said...

very true, go to any foreign country and put those people in a similar situation the behavious hardly changes sometimes they are worse than us. Have been a witness to more than one such incidents.

the closest anyone of us can get is get down at Frankfurt(where inevitably everyone who is moving to the west has to land) from your Jumbo jet and move towards the stair case to get to the parking order and lines would be unknown terms.

cheti said...

Hi Crys

Good one there. It is indeed frustrating to see when one finds people playing to the gallery by reiterating stupid and weird cliches about India - and in a weird way those who reiterate the cliches are almost happy and proud as they speak it ! Right from small things like cows loitering on the streets to the caste system ! They talk about it with such flourish with absolutely no idea of what they are talking about ! To these folks the topic of India is a punching bag which doesnt hit back and its a good conversation topic !

Crystal blur said...

Haven't had a chance to travel in Europe yet (other than UK. Looking forward to tackle the crowds for a cab ride when I visit :)

Yeah, I have been in one too many of those conversations.

sri said...

Welcome to my respected bloggers' list! :)

You should also see the attitudes and prejudices of many of these "US returned" academics, when they visit us!

(BTW, it is just these kind of things that made me return to India right after finishing my studies -- without any accent. Hope you do too. We need lots of brains to take charge of things up here..)

Udit said...

Crys, has 2 meanings amongst many listed for bastardized:
1.To lower in quality or character; debase
2.deriving from more than one source or style

The generic implications, as I interpret it, is that anything that is not "Pure" and derives from more than one kind of source is Bastardized. But since "pure" opinions that derive from only "one" kind of source are what we call biased opinions, since they fail to account for opposing ideas, the term "Bastardized" seems to lose its pejorative status when used in context of opinions. In fact it seems more like a compliment.. to have bastardized opinion. But I guess you meant it in the "corrupt" sort of way. How an opinion gets corrupted\debased by deriving from multiple sources is beyond me.But I guess words are, at best, an appromixation of our thoughts and i get the point you're trying to make so all this is irrelevant.

As far as my comment about accents, forgive me for not specifiying clearly but it was directed at another comment right before mine which seemed to have agreed with you in the opinion that put-on accents are annoying.

Cmreddy said...

I just wonder if you took the taxi to the car park instead of ruffling with the 60+ gori junta? All said and done, we indians, induvidually are second to none. Collectively as a society we have many ills that hinder our development. We are improving on it and we must learn from the better societies. Being in Europe, I consider Scandinavian countries as role models rather than US where only money and success matters.

Its a good blog to bring out inability of many of the Indians living abroad to look things in a positive light about India. May be we must learn how to boast about good things, from Americans. As ever, Mera Bharath Mahaan....