Greener on the other side

“So tell me, why should someone visit India?”

“Er—”

When my friend asked me what’s good about India, I couldn’t come up with anything.

The only reason anyone from the first world or a western country should visit India is to understand how much privilege they have over the people of developing countries.

It’s eye-opening. Even the smallest things like a proper footpath are non-existent. Things you’d take for granted, like safe neighbourhoods, pedestrian-accommodating road rules, recycling systems, garbage trucks are all still tucked away under a vague five-year economic plan that may never see the light.

But I know all that only because I’ve lived there. I’ve wallowed in that toxicity for so long that I’ve come to hate everything about it, no longer recognising, or even acknowledging, the good things.

I wanted to leave–for a better lifestyle, a better society, and better mental health.

And I’m fortunate that I could. But—ain’t the grass always greener on the other side.

India is a beautiful country—to visit. It plays host to 780 languages, the second largest number in the world. Thousands of cultures practice millions of traditions every day. Aside from their historical practices, each group that speaks a language has many religious beliefs as well. And so, every language, throughout the years, has served as primary communication among different religions and castes (family groups). Not only does this magnify the number of classifications amongst Indians, but it also depicts the diversity that thrives in India.

For me, that’s a whole lot of unnecessary complexities that lead to political and religious wars. And that disgusts me.

However, this diversity is also why India (most of it, anyway) has a rich heritage and open-mindedness in welcoming foreigners. People love to show off—whether it’s their customs, tales they grew up with, dances passed down over generations, food that’s comforted pained souls for ages, they enjoy sharing with anyone curious enough to ask and invested enough to respect.

That’s priceless when you’re a traveller.

Even though every corner of the country, every urine-smelling alleyway, every open garbage dump, and every infected street dog nauseates the average person, that’s also where you’ll find charming old ladies selling fresh flowers for your hair. You’ll see short-tempered fruit and vegetable stall holders bickering with each other who’s got better produce. You’ll run into juice vendors who’ll pour you a glass so full that you have to take a sip first before carrying it away. When you chat with them, you’ll learn their struggles to make ends meet, to pay their children’s school fees, to wake up every morning with only three hours of sleep. And yet, as you pass these everyday people on the street, you’ll realise that despite all the harsh realities of their lives, they still try to smile, share, and celebrate spreading joy around them.

India is a “developing” country—been that way for decades. And it’s hard to say when, if at all, it’ll offer its people the comfort and luxuries that’ve become a norm in other countries. Regardless, Indians try hard every day to make their lives a little better than it was the day before. And that’s worth a visit.

Oh, and the Himalayas probably makes it worthwhile too.

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My Big Fat Fake Society

If you look up “caste” in Wikipedia, the first thing you’d see is a detailed explanation of India’s caste system. We pioneered the art of classifying people according to their birth. We mark and judge others by something they have no control over themselves. We are the vile people who shun our fellows because they’re different. Oh, and we’re also the first ones to name America a racist country.

We, Indians, are a fake society. Here’s how our system works: We live inside a cocoon of a society pretending we’re all-inclusive forward-thinkers. However, every day, every meaningless conversation at home or at familial gatherings would revolve around caste.

Shocking? Wait till you hear the rest.

If I announce to my family, at dinner, that a friend is getting married the following month, their first question would be if the couple is from the same caste. The second question, whether they belong to our caste.

And if I even dare to tell my family that I’m considering working abroad, their biggest worry would be to find a groom (in our caste) who wouldn’t be threatened by such a wife. My, it’s an abomination to want to live in a foreign country alone.

Even though plenty of men (in our caste) nowadays live in first-world countries, they’re nevertheless reluctant to marry a girl who’d talk about something more than what’s for dinner. It hurt a lot to hear it from my mother herself because I only see absurdity sprawled all over such a situation.

I had thought no one would be so silly now, but when I look around, all my married cousins went through the same excruciating filter. Pity some of them didn’t even recognize it. Some, of course, just didn’t care because they could immigrate to a country that sees snow. I know a friend whose parents had her blood group matched with her husband’s; she didn’t care a bit. It’s a little unrelated, but you get the idea.

It’s one thing to live amidst a limiting society, but another thing altogether to live in a closed caste system. There are plenty of tribes and societies across the world imposing unthinkable restrictions on women and children. But the difference is that they don’t hide it. They declare it as their tradition and take pride in it. (Whether it’s right or not is a debate for another time.)

The beloved caste system I’m in, however, hides in plain sight. It isn’t uncommon for a bunch of men at a family wedding, to brag about how shaving twice a day, every day would uphold their caste pride — because some castes ban men from growing facial hair. Amidst a larger crowd, though, they’d pretend as if caste is the last thing in their mind. Sad story: Until a few weeks ago, their pretense had me fooled too. It’s little things like these that make the biggest mark and hurt the most. And it’s shenanigans like these that degrade and warp the minds of every youngster in our society.

The caste prejudice

Our society feels proud to say that there’s caste discrimination among them. Surprised? Attend a family wedding and you’ll be shocked. People are so clever as to hide this attitude from outsiders though. Because, in the civilized society, people consider it quite rude and uncivilized to admit one’s caste hunger in public.

But as far as I have noticed, (and honestly, that isn’t much (so forgive me if I’m wrong (though I’m quite positive that I am not))) this is a line of thought prevailing mostly in India, or more specifically, Indians throughout the world.

I’ve personally met a few people who are so much against inter-caste marriages. But they hold their tongue in common presence; they are careful not to allow others to decide their character because of their uninterest in accepting an outsider as family.

These folks – I like to call them ‘insufferably narrow-minded people’ – cause so much confusion and disorder if an unfortunate person is to suggest a different-caste helper, let alone marriage. The ones most prejudiced are the Oldies, and they take extra care to educate their generations about this.

There is one problem, though. This is my question, which I direct towards the “insufferably narrow-minded people”, why is it that these people, who feel ashamed and hesitant to accept an inter caste marriage, are proud to declare that their sons or daughters have settled themselves in a foreign land?

You might wonder what the connection is, here’s what it is: when I spoke to my mother about this, she said that the main reason for underlining caste differences is because it is socially difficult to adjust with people of other castes, or as they say, ‘people of other family and social backgrounds.’

How then, can they easily adjust with people of  other national backgrounds?

Whenever long-unmet people meet each other, (particularly at a family gathering) they have the most irritating habit of inquiring of the activities of each other’s children. And what pride they have in saying that their children are residents of the Western world!

I abhor their pride and pity their prejudice.

The very fools, who feel distressed to accept people of other castes, because of their different way of life – which, by the way is the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard of – find it prestigious to admit that their children have abandoned their nation and have gone to live with ‘people of other family and social backgrounds.’

Suckers!