Sunday 2 July 2017

My Confusion With What Is Indian...

"How do you solve a problem like Maria?
 How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
 How do you find a word that means Maria?"

If there was one thing that I hadn't thought would trouble me, put me outside my comfort zone and leave me perplexed - during my MBA programme, was a set of questions about India (and Indian culture). I was born in India, have always studied and worked in India, and married an Indian (in India) - with these qualifications, it never occurred to me to question my knowledge or understanding of India (and Indian culture).

At the age of 37, I decided to challenge myself by not only going back to an academic programme (MBA) after 14 years gap, but also moving to the U.K. for this one-year MBA programme.  It was here that I was first asked - "do all Indians think / act like that...?" or "how does it happen in India...?" or " this acceptable in Indian culture...?" - these questions (and many more similar ones) made me realise two things:

a) so far, I had not thought of India as India (the country on the whole). My concept of India was built on a much smaller concept - "home & family". For the first time I realised that - I was born in Delhi, have almost always studied and worked in Delhi, and married an Indian (in Delhi). Just that I am not married to another Delhiite (she is a true-blue Indian, but a Bengali by birth).

b) There is nothing more than geography (being born on Indian soil) that is a common thread running across all Indians, which makes them Indian. It is not language (there are several hundred languages & dialects), it is not religion (there are sections of most world-religions followed across India), it is not food (every sub-region has a specific taste to food), it is not music or sports (yes, not even Cricket!)...ultimately, an Indian is an Indian only because he / she was born in India.
(Thoughts inspired by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudeva's "who are hindus")

Initially, I answered all questions about India (and Indian culture) with my perceived understanding about India - that was primarily how I had experienced India - living in Delhi, and seeing other Indian places as holiday-destinations.

Moreover, I answered these questions with my value-system as the base - assuming most of India shared similar value-system. It was so easy to believe that since I have been in India all my life, and my family (both - immediate and extended) has been in India, that I have the same value-system as most Indians would have...but I was a million-miles away from reality.

To share a little about my MBA cohort - there are nearly 20 something Indians and less than 5 are from North India (let alone Delhi). These 20 something represent almost the entire length & breadth of India (none from the North East though). In this representation - I have observed inaccuracies of my understanding about Indian culture and value-systems, and the lack of a common thread across all individuals. The most interesting observation, for me, has been - each of these 20+ Indians of my cohort have similarly confused understanding about India (and Indian culture) on the whole. Then the question is: is there, or can there be, anything that is truly a common-thread running through all Indians?

If 20 something individuals are different and unique in their respective ideology, thought-process, belief & value-system - I cannot believe that 1.3 billion Indians can be (or should be) put in any one bucket - other than they all were either born on Indian soil, or to Indian parent(s).

It seems that such generalisations are part of human limitations, biases, psychology and need for 'a-system' (common form, understanding and society). In order to feel part of something bigger, something stronger than the self, immediate family and the extended family - we create the notion of society & culture, something that we can relate to. In the process, we super-impose our own thoughts & beliefs on the larger society. Whether this is true or not - it puts us at ease, gives us a sense of belonging and helps us believe there is some land that we can call as home.

Finally, to bring in the first management lesson I learned in during my MBA programme - the answer to all generic questions is the same... "it depends!".

It depends on the individual, who is looking at the problem (the object being questioned) depends on the depends on the audience of the depends on alcohol depends on theory of relativity!

No comments: