Monday, April 11, 2011

The Culture Versus Person story

This is a discussion I had with my cousin a while back, and there was so much to be said and realised from it, that I wanted to write it down. The very loving aunt to the BB, who is still a kid herself if you ask me, during a recent conversation with me, asked me, how would I imbibe the Indian culture in the BB, living in a land far away, not being a part of any Indian associations here,esp since most of them are regional and The GP and I belong to different regions of India, without as much as Indian television channels at home. I told her straight up, that I cared more for the kind of person the BB became than the so called 'cultural' values. If Indian cultural values are what is displayed on Indian television, I would rather he not know.  And so on it went.

For every example she came up with, I could tell her, how a good person would automatically do the right thing, no matter to what culture he/she belonged. And if it is Indian music or arts that is our culture, I am sure there is enough Indian music playing at home for the BB to pick up, if he has an inclination for it, the rest of the arts, neither The GP, nor me are great connoisseurs,  so well, we cannot really help on that front. And what if he did not pick up Indian art forms, but Western ones, or even African ones for that matter? Does it make him any worse of a person. Things like communication, familial ties, respect for adults are something that is a part of this household, like any average Indian household, imperfect, but that is the way it stands, and so that is what he will observe. But to me the more important question is will he offer his seat to an older person on public transport, will he help a blind person cross the road. And honestly I don't think it is a part of Indian culture, atleast not the India that I have lived in. There are some amazing people who do it, but not enough to call it our culture. And at the end of the day, I believe its just a matter of the kind of person one is. And that is why, that is the only thing that counts for me, when it comes to my child.

It went on then further to family values, and how they will differ for the BB compared to what it is for her or was for me. She wondered how would he adjust if he needed to live with them for a while. And while the food habits maybe a bit different, I don't think there are cultural issues at risk, besides the fact that he may never learn Bengali. A simple thing like eating on the dining table, we as a family very very rarely do that. We are more of a sit around the TV and chat over our meals kind of a family. We have always had dining tables wherever we lived, and it has pretty much always been a dumping table. But my point is, if I am a sensible and sensitive person, and I am visiting someone, I will automatically adapt to their way of life. I will eat on the floor, if that is the way they do it, or the table, or from a communal plate. I will pretty much follow things their way, unless it clashes with my sense of personal values or hygiene. And that is what is the most important thing to me. It is about being sensitive to people's feelings and genuinely caring for them.

Then what is it about the Indian culture that me or anyone for that matter may desperately want in their child. It is but obviously always the positive, good bits, like warmth, helping people, being respectful. And I think all of those are essential bits of being a person, the rest automatically falls in place, if we have that in place. Coming back to the previous example of eating, we ate on our dining table, when my aunt and uncle were visiting us, because they are elders and that is the way they did things. Common sign of respect. But unfortunately, their child would not join us around the centre table for meals, when he came to visit us alone. The fact is, that a nice person, would have jovially joined in on the fun around the centre table instead of sitting aside in a corner alone. Also if our culture involves, as I see widely around the country, eve teasing, pick pocketing, aggression, lack of patience or even politeness, then I would rather that my child not learn it at all.

What do you, other parents feel about this, or even those who are not parents yet? How do you define Indian culture, what do you think is a culture specific thing that should be imbibed in a child?

15 comments:

sraikh said...

I ponder about this a lot. I grew up in Singapore and we celebrated every single festival there. Heck I used to speak Mandarin/Malay better than Hindi.

Like you, we both hate the different associations here. HATE THEM..

Ways I infuse Indianess:

1. We eat tons of Indian food..
2. We watch old Hindi movies. Stuff like Mother India and Namak Halal.
3. We celebrate Holi, Diwali and Rakhi.. Thats the extent I can handle.

Kafi hai right itna?

Renu said...

Very difficult question:)..I wi8ll try muy two bits....

To me it is listening to elders without talking back and never being rude.

It is being hospitable to guests irrespective of any little inconvenience they cause...

Celebrating the festivals traditionally..as that make our roots which bind us to our country and people.

Being kind and helping to neighbours, whereas today nobody even knows the name of the neighbour:)

Rakesh said...

Hey GM, you know, I've slowly and gradually become a liberal person in the sense that even I think being a good person is a lot more important than being cultured. But then, when I think of it, 'Culture' is not a bad thing. It is just how, recently the culture police has started policing people in the name of culture that it has become an evil word.


But absolutely agree that if a person is a good person, he will do the right thing regardless of whether he was taught about it culturally or not.

Still, there are a few cultural things which I miss about being in India, (Not that Dubai is very different from India but still) which i'd prefer my kids to at least experience with an open mind...

Some of these would be, the festivals, fares, the bowing down to elders, not addressing elders with their first name, the experience of going to a temple (Though I'm almost an aethist but I'd like them to make their choice)... and all that jazz.

Of course, if my kids do none of the above, they could still be perfectly good people but still I'd like them to do some of this when they grow up. And yes, not necessary that I join Indian associations to teach them that.

Rakesh said...

And yes, I forgot about the language, I hope I can give them at least this out of my 'culture' :)

Anonymous said...

I think indians learn to appreciate little things in life,their level of commitment and restraint is better than that of other cultures which i have found wanting and primarily materialistic.I also dont think any other culture gives much importance to spirituality and tolerance than indian culture.The sense of community (maybe because you're never alone in India)is far higher here.Sadly,american society as i have experienced,is obesessed with sex and lack core values.
When my own kids reached that influential age,i switched continents rather than debating precarious issues like premarital sex.

Passionate Goof said...


Sraikh - Bahut hai madam! The BB has finally picked up English, and the Hindi will follow in a while.... And trust me you enjoy celebrating things like Holi and Diwali more, outside India, than in there.

Renu - I get what you are saying, unfortunately, a lot of these values,(and I call them values not culture)are not even visible in mainstream India. And besides respecting adults, even the elders of today are too selfish to be generous with their younger ones. There are so many parents who would rather party away with friends at night, then be home with their children. As I said, it all boils down to being a good person. People have an image of selfish, working Western moms. i have met women who ferry their kids from place to place, activity to activity, mange 3 kids and home effortlessly. I can say that for hardly any Indian moms, esp doing it without hired help or family.

Rakesh - what those morons preach has nothing to do with morality or culture. A truly moral person would never abuse others, or physically intimidate women. They are not to be counted among us human folks!
The things you talk about, will be automatically be picked up by them, seeing it as such at home na? And about calling elders by name.... I so so dislike it myself, but too many people in our generation, and yes I am talking about Indians, want it that way. I miss the maasi, chacha, uncle-aunty thing of our times! :(

Anon - I don't mean to scare you, but keep a sharp eye on your kids. High school kids were sleeping around, back in the late 90s when I was in school...I am sure it has only gotten much much worse over the years. I know what you thought, when you came back, unfortunately in my mind, my India is that way too, but the reality is starkly different! I believe that Australians are more tolerant. I see people from so so many different nationalities here, and the locals are always so kind. accomodating, helpful. But living in Mumbai, I have heard people beling refused a seat in the local trains because they were not Maharashtrian. India is also extremely populated, and its a struggle for everything. So so many people shift homes, just to get their kids into school. So unfortunately the picture isn't as rosy in reality as it is in our minds!

Sraboney said...

I'm with you on this...I'd rather M be an honest and compassionate human being than a sati-savitri a la hindi sitcoms...If she is interested in something 'Indian', we'll encourage her to pursue it...

Sraboney said...

P.S.

I just want to say that core values like honesty and respect are common in all cultures...People (including Indians) either imbibe these values or they don't...

The other thing is that a lot of Indians feel that Western cultures esp. American culture is all bad just because they do things differently...This is not true...

Passionate Goof said...


Sraboney - Exactly my point. I believe every culture over time has distorted and deviated from its core values. The part about people thinking western/American culture being bad, I think is a strong stereotype. As is the belief that all Indians, are, loving, sacrificing, compassionate souls! I agree with you completely.

Renu said...

One more thing I dont want to choose either..I would prefer my children to be both..good human being with Indian cultural values.There is no question of..rather

dr.antony said...

There are good things to learn in every culture.When we live in another country, it is mandatory to respect their culture and live accordingly.

We boast so much about our culture and traditions.But I believe these values are fading off to one single character of hypocrisy and gossiping!

Bloody Mary said...

Hello, this is my first comment here =] I am into cultural studies(wiki it if you already dont know !) so I deal with indian popular culture academically. I can safely say that basically there is nothing really 'indian', because which 'indian' gets to decide what 'indian' should mean? What holds true for you might not hold true for me, we cannot speak for everyone, the society is dissected on different parameters at large, we cannot expel any thought that doesnt resonate with ours. So then there nothing is really 'indian' and that too something so volatile as 'culture'. My answer is a strict no. What my grandparents fear about my cousins being raised abroad is the sense of love and respect for their traditions, because viewed rationally most traditions fail to inspire us. Say hypothetically the value system of right/wrong, marriage, virginity, live in relationships, ethics, the entire moral system exactly with what I have been raised with, if at all my kid doesnt seem to follow that, it would kill me, we would turn out to be essentially different beings, their fear is on these lines.

You see even though my parents raised the way they were brought up, I turned out to be my own person because of the exposure I got in my academic life. So after a point one cannot really do anything about it.

You should always raise your child well enough to blend with the surroundings because after all it is always the survival of the fittest, not losing their ground and holding their head up high.

Nandana S Nallapu said...

This reminds me of a discussion I had with a friend about single-clubs and divorces. When I said that such clubs would be more helpful if they were in India too(I dont know if they already are), he said that such clubs are a sign of weak societies which have no values in marriage and such. I was horrified, it beats me why everything bad is automatically associated to western culture. As if Indians by themselves are all saints.

Great post.

KayEm said...

People with closed minds and very little exposure to other cultures believe theirs is the best. This is true of people anywhere be it the extreme right wing Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Red Necks or anybody. Luckily empathy, kindness, respect and tolerance are common, universal and human values that counter the above.

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