THE GREAT INDIAN OBSESSIONS
Under the broad theme of Life in India, I would like to talk about “The great Indian Obsessions” as I call it, which are almost similar ideologies among diverse groups. Be it across social strata, religions, the urban and rural population – some things do not change.
Religion is important for anyone who is Indian by birth. There are those who say they are confirmed atheists, but even they would have evolved some pattern of faith by themselves, be it self-introspection, or plain hard work – but you cannot extricate the concept of religion from the average Indian. There are those who starve, who piously follow the many formalities that go with each deity, or day of the week. Then there are those who attend bhajan classes, or satsang prayers. There are those who listen to religious sermons, or wake up early to watch a devotional program, or visit a temple, or write the name of their deity a 100,008 times over. And then there are those who decide that it is not about the festivities or formalities, and decide to organise community meals at the temples, maybe once a week. There are those who just simply donate huge amounts to a temple – thereby believing that the Lord will take care of requirements, and then there are those who hand make their lamps, grow their own flowers to be offered at the Temples. Even the most playful student will appear for an examination with the sacred ash on his forehead, the highly corporate vice-president will break a coconut in front of his new BMW, the most corrupt politician will go to the temple before elections, and deified movie star will offer prayers before the premiere of his new film. Religion is linked to festivals, elections, sports,cultural arts, schools, business, movies, astrology, culture and marriage.
The Indians have strong family ties. Though the recent cosmopolitan Indian will scoff at the family and seek refuge in his friends circle, the average Indian can never give up the ‘family’ totally. Family businesses, Family honor, Family friends, Family ties, Family doctors, Family outings – family is used more as an adjective than a noun. While in urban India, people tend to be more isolated and independent hence not feeling the need to be surrounded by ‘family’ – these ties and the importance associated with them become more pronounced as you go deeper into India. Children are sent abroad to be educated, so that they may come back and take care of the ‘Family businesses’. Once that is done their weddings are arranged with the son/daughter of ‘Family friends’, so that the ‘Family honour’ is maintained. They go on ‘Family outings’, every weekend and vacation, the pregnant daughter or daughter-in-law is sent only to the Family doctor, and thus’ Family ties’ continue to be maintained.
But despite the sarcasm – the concept of the Joint Family actually is an extremely advantageous one. For one it offers you massive “economies” of scale benefits. Not to mention the strong support system when it comes to children and the home-front being taken care of. Add to it the amazing people skills you are almost forced to develop at a very young age and you will realise why some Indians hold on to it rigidly even to this day – for they believe that no other pattern or person could give them these amazing advantages . (E.g.) A grandmother who looks forward to feeding your child simultaneously telling him a story, an uncle who voluntarily gives you his friend’s contact for your business , the older cousin brother who takes the little ones for a spin on his bike and ice creams. These used to be normal occurrences in every family for a long while. True , the lack of privacy or individual space was a big negative factor that worked against the ‘joint family’ system but many families are now regulating their family pattern so as to enjoy the benefits of both systems – joint and nuclear. The working women of today realize the advantages of having parents or parents-in-law at home, the support system they offer on a daily basis and the once dictatorial in-laws now realize what a fresh lease of life it is to be around their grand children at home, as against sitting by themselves and solving crossword puzzles or visiting temples. People are rediscovering the benefits of staying in a Family. The reason they are anchored in life.
Tying the knot as so vividly described above – is one of the biggest Indian obsessions. From the day the girl or boy has reached a ‘marriageable’ age (18 for girls and 21 for boys) parents across all castes, communities and religions, perk up the radar for identifying suitable partners for their wards. Despite the education, and the fact that the average Indian male and female would like to postpone their “socially” acceptable marriageable ages, this is something which an illiterate and a literate person would almost have identical functioning of thoughts. The biggest challenge being finding a suitable mate for your child before he/she reaches the ‘expiry’ date which would soon begin with the onset of the thirties. Once the marriage is ascertained – look back to previous point of ‘family’ and the next paragraph on ‘children’ to get a complete picture.
As long as you are single – the only thing parents and society seem to want for you – is to get you married. If you thought, that once you succumbed to their wishes , they would let you in peace – think again. Then it is almost like Jumanji – you have to get to the next level and you cannot decide to do away with the game without playing it. Same way, once you get married – you have to move to the next step i.e. procreation. Are you one of those couples that are thinking of pet cats / dogs/ or birds. Sorry not possible, for 6 months post your marriage – you will hear many subtle and not-so-subtle hints about it being time for a little one around.
And once you even succeed in procreation – the new parents along with their own parents start to obsess. The new age parents, who get their parenting tips from Google, download relevant information regarding milestones in their child’s lives – generally the people who are the bane of the pediatrician’s lives start wanting to give their child an early start in life. They start playing classical music to the child in the womb (hoping to subconsciously ignite its musical genes), decide that the child has “foot ball” talents coz of its’ kicks in the mother’s stomach, and generally overloading the child with too much too soon. The child is introduced to umpteen other classes,schools and different types of peer pressure…and very soon feels stifled. And when it finally decides to have its own way – many parents end up depressed, for they actually did all the stuff they did – with the child’s best interests in mind. But that is too long to elaborate here…maybe another post on it soon.
Children have to be educated, but they have also to be left to educate themselves.
Much education today is monumentally ineffective. All too often we are giving young people cut flowers when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.
-John W. Gardner
Let me put it this way. If you read the above two quotes – Indians try to give their children hugest bouquets and there is hardly any space at home for a garden (Pun intended). But the efforts to add more cut flowers to your bouquet are genuine.
The good thing is India has undergone a huge transition, whereby the importance of education has been communicated. There are schools in rural as well as urban India – and as much as one may question their infrastructure and qualification of teachers – there are still schools. Makeshift ones in rural India.
And the classy ones in Urban India. Much has been achieved in the field of educating girls. And everyone seeks to give their child a formal education right from the common laborer till the ‘qualified’ software professional. The top 3 preferred professions have slightly moved from doctor,lawyer and engineer to doctor,engineers and MBAs.
Education in India is provided both by the Government (central and state) as well as private schools. The most important thing is learning to communicate in English. English-medium schools are sought after, a ‘convent’ or a private school enjoying high reputations. So much so that people insist on sending their children to private schools that charge exorbitant fees and miscellaneous expenses throughout the year despite it being beyond their reach. All the while thinking that they are laying a strong foundation for their children – who can just take a ‘giant leap’ forward. What is really sad, is – that India, home of learning centers like Nalanda University, scholars like Aryabatta, Tagore, Chanakya,Srinivasa Ramanujam and Vivekananda are now engaging in mass-production of a highly mediocre work force.
Other jobs like farmers, dancers, researchers, tailors, sculptors, musicians, teachers, are all almost forgotten because it is not considered economically feasible. Education in India is right now a means to an end – the end being a well-paying job, the journey as many will tell you, is neither interesting nor comfortable.
There are many more things that the Indians obsess about – Films, Cricket, Politics, Food, Social standing, Vegetarianism, Astrology, even their next-door neighbour … but the above 5 have assumed such paramount importance that each of them have now become a multi-billion dollar industry in the country.
Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.
This might as well be the Motto of the average Indian – especially with the above 5. He has to win. He will do what it takes to get there.