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Monday, August 06, 2007

East vs West

The Indian society is becoming increasingly westernized - this is one common observation many people, especially the elderly have in India. So what exactly is westernization - wearing bare all clothes, roaming or being overtly friendly with opposite sex, late night parties, unwanted pregnancies, doing drugs, frequent divorces - just what aspect of our lives do we associate western culture with.In fact we associate only negativity with western culture, but it is much beyond teenage pregnancies and unruly youngsters and drugs. Every culture has its own pros and cons. Even Indian culture ,that we are so proud of, has so many drawbacks like caste system, ill treatment of women to name a few. So why single out western culture and always bash it up for promoting bad habits and immorality in a supposedly civilised society.

I strongly believe that culture is an assimilation of vices and virtues. Culture is something very collective in nature and includes aspects that are of day to day importance also. The very way in which we talk, we behave, we work all reflect our culture.

Thats why I decided to write what I personally liked about western culture .The things probably we overlooked in our hurry to condemn western culture, the things which we knew did not even exist in western culture or never bothered about.

1. Hygiene and cleanliness - This has to go first for me because in India hygiene comes as last of our priorities. 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness' is just another phrase we study in school , later to discard all practicalities of this.I can never imagine going to a public loo or a train toilet in India. Here everything is so clean and tidy.The public toilets and the toilets in the train are maintained well.Toilets in homes are also pretty well planned and treated like a room , whereas in our country toilets are strictly meant for relieving oneself. People might laugh at me for writing this, but this again shows our light attitude towards hygiene. The roads are so clean and dirt free, there is no garbage strewn all over the place with stray dogs and cows feasting on it.There are waste bins at each point of the road to effectively dispose off the wastes. Even in our flat there is a separate refuse store to dispose the wastes. Actually it is a far cry from the dirty lane we lived in, filled with half km stretch of garbage in the posh Indira Nagar area of Bangalore.We are just living in the country side here, not any major city and the care the Town Council and people take to maintain the place clean and beautiful is laudable. The parks maintained by the Council are so neat and pretty. I have never seen anyone spitting on the road or throwing garbage or bottles , atleast not in the main roads.Some people do lack personal hygeine here also, again thats there in all the countries. The overall cleanliness of the place is very impressive.

2.Facilities - You may be wondering why I am putting all this under culture , the reason I have already stated. Culture reflects essentially what we are and what we do.

Some of the facilities here provided by Government are amazing.

Medical care - There is the system of National Health services under which we have to register and then all medical care is available at a subsidized rate.What more all the hospitals and pharmacies across the country are interlinked and even if you shift to some other place within the country, all your details are readily available in the data base for the next doctor.Can we imagine going to a Government hospital in India or can we imagine any hospitals having such facilities. We can afford private health care may be in India, but there are millions in india who die every year for lack of facilities in Government hospitals.

Library - The Council library here is just incredible with its vast collection of books, CDs and internet facilities - and guess what it is all for free. So much for the tax you pay. They have amazingly combined technology with every aspect of their lives. There are online catalogues, 24 hr renewal services - things which even private libraries cant boast of in India.

Job centres - This is a boon to all the job hunters and again for free. We can go browse online jobs and take how many ever printouts without any questions being asked. They even have free telephones in the office to contact the prospective employers.

3. Trust and honesty - This is what impressed me the most , they trust you. We had gone to the council office to ask for concession on council tax as we are not permanent residents of UK. The lady was very kind and she clearly explained us what needs to be done.She just took our passport xerox and took down our address in India and next week we got a letter with the revised taxes.Tell me guys if this is possible in India, have any of you got your tax returns any time. And for any file in a government office to move it takes months together or years together coupled with a good dose of bribes. If we show passport, they want ration card. If we show ration card, they want PAN card. Why is it that we have to prove each time that we are legitimate citizens of India. The reason is we simply dont trust each other. With corruption and red tapism ruling the roost money is the key factor for any thing to be done.

Our blender was spoilt just 32 days within its purchase time, 2 days beyond the stipulated 1 month exchange time.We took the blender along with the receipt and walked over to the store and told the lady in charge it is not working. The only question she asked was what is not working, we told her it is the motor and she just replaced it with a new one, without any questions being asked. There was nothing like ' you people must have done something' or ' its 2 days beyond the exchange time.' That shows their immense trust in people, a thing which I am sure will be misused and taken advantage of to a great extent if in India.

There is honesty and openness in this country. People just say it on your face, whether pleasant or not.When my friend got her dress spoilt the dry cleaners here were polite enough to say ' sorry, this cannot be dry cleaned '.

The government itself works with a lot of transparency. We receive newsletters from the council stating how they are using the tax money and what are the forthcoming plans.They even have open markets for farmers so that they can directly sell their goods.They also take care of the senior citizens who are often neglected in india.

4. Respect for all jobs - IT people and doctors are not the only respectable people here. All jobs right from cleaner to businessman are considered equal. Its not surprising that a plumber or mason may earn more than a software engineer here, thats because no job is considered inferior to others. This is very important aspect of their culture as it gives equal respect to all individuals irrespective of their professions. In India how do we treat the labourers who toil hard to build our offices or homes , for that matter people who do odd and menial jobs - they are considered third class and we look down upon them. Why cant we consider that also as a decent job, after all they are working hard to earn their living. This hype about software is really killing sometimes.

5.Gender equality - This country is one of the foremost in gender equality. Women are treated with atleast some respect.Yes stray incidents are there, but not the kind of abuse women are subjected to India. In India all this talk to women empowerment is just a sham. Women are emerging in the mainstream, but just how many of them. The horrid stories of female foetuses being dug out every day in some part or the other of the country tells a different tale. Why are women still subjected to domestic violence even if they are educated. Why are they treated worse than cattle in some places.There are even women workers who are discriminated on the basis of wages for the same work. They cant even complain against their husbands or families or employers for fear of social stigma and because of the sati - savitri image we attach to women and we expect them to bear everything.The divorces here may be shocking for us , but I feel it is better than being victims of unhappy marriages - bearing everything and leading miserable lives.

6.Preserving heritage - They preserve their old monuments and castles and take great interest in maintaining them . In India people are hell bent in destroying public property, they wont even spare the Taj Mahal. My cousin was telling me that people had written over the white marbles in Taj Mahal, one of the 7 wonders in the world. All the monuments have writings and paan stains and garbage and what not. Even places of worship are far from neat and well preserved.The Government is also not bothered about the revival unless UNESCO declares it as a heritage site.Even the museums are ill maintained for lack of interest from Government and over zealous destruction desire of people.

7. Work hard, party hard - Yes, they believe in this.We may find them not so ambitious as us, but they strongly believe in working only for stipulated time and enjoying their life too. Good or bad , I feel we should take a cue from this and learn to take it easy in life. I mean Indians are very hard working, but I think we should also start enjoying life a bit rather than focusing on career and work all the time. They never miss a holiday or doing interesting things or pursuing their passions outside the work life.

8. Infrastructure - This is just mind blowing. Even the most insignificant roads and highways are interlinked in a well planned manner. Hats off to the planning , the whole infrastructure is very well built , be it roads, schools, parks, malls or whatever. The public transport system of buses and trains is so well connected and it does not take years to build a flyover.This is one thing India lacks completely and it contributes to India's traffic woes and adds to congestion.

9. Regard for law - This is the most important thing which I really admire about all western countries. No one is above law. In India there are 2 laws - one for the rich and powerful and the other for the common people. And needless to say the mighty escape the long arms of law very conveniently.Here, no one can ask the police man 'do you know who I am ' when caught in an act of crime like drunken driving or rash driving or anti social behaviour.No one cares even if you are the prime minister's son; law is law and will take its own course.

People have respect for the law of land unlike India where people show scant respect and in some cases are not even aware of the laws. How many people obey traffic rules or lane discipline in our country. We even make fun of people who try to obey law or any rules. For us lawlessness is slowly becoming a way of life and days are not far when whole country might plunge into a Jungle Raj.

These are some of the facets of the western culture that I felt like appreciating.I am not being a spokesperson of western culture, let me clarify this. But how long will we live in this assumption that our culture is the best and rest all are useless and have corrupting influence. The problem with us is we have adopted the wrongs in the western culture and conveniently ignored the good aspects.Thats the natural tendency of humans I guess; to see the wrongs first. Perhaps our youngsters consider that pre marital sex ,PDA( public display of affection) and dance parties are cool. But what they fail to see is western culture is not just about that.Why cant we incorporate some of the good things like good and transparent governance, clean and well planned infrastructure , punctuality and honesty, wise use of tax money etc.

The comparisons with India are inevitable as I wanted my points to be seen in right light. I have not meant to demean Indian culture , but all I wanted to say is we should see good points about western culture too.My dream about India is that it emerges as a culturally sound country devoid of corruption, bad politics and dishonesty where equality and respect for one and all is present and for that we need to have a cultural revolution. We definitely need to change our narrow minded attitudes, stick to some virtues and fast track our development in order for our country to reach its rightful place in the world.

9 Comments:

  • What you say is true enough. But like Madhavan says in RDB , "Koi Desh perfect nahin hota, use perfect banana padtha hai".

    Couldnt agree more with you that aping what is the widely held view of Western Culture is unwise - some people just want the worst of both worlds.

    By Blogger Sachin R K, at 2:53 PM  

  • @sachin - thanks for your comments. I am also telling the same- RDB dialogue. How come Indians who dont respect laws in India come and obey laws here.We just tell US and UK are developed countries.But why they are developed, this is what we have to investigate and try to change in our country.I have just tried to highlight some good aspects that we can take into our fold and successfully implement in our country too.

    By Blogger Chitra Shenoy, at 7:45 PM  

  • An overtly pessimistic assessment in my opinion.

    Society is in a state of flux, always has been and always will be. Western culture viz a viz Indian culture is an absolutely meaningless cz the parameters for reference itself is not defines properly.

    All other things that you mentioned about how 'western countries' are better than India are non-issues in terms of comparison, because most western countries are welfare states that have grown over a period of time. The UK you are talking about was in a much worse shape less than 100 years ago and that includes class war, corruption, healthcare and almost everything that you took as examples of the ailments facing present day India.

    I am not trying to defend what is happening here, but we should understand that India is a relatively new country and the diversity of its population in terms of religion, culture, language etc I believe do not exist anywhere else in the world. To carry such a diverse group of people forward from the humble beginnings of over 60 years ago required enormous amounts of fortitude, patience and compromises. England or any of those welfare states was not created in a day...it took them centuries.

    Like the RDB quote...it takes effort and who should make those efforts...he..her..you..me?

    One more thing...we as Indians didn't go dropping bombs on hundreds of thousands of men, women and children and impose sanctions that meant that over half a million further lives were lost around the world. Are these actions of a morally sane and evolved society / culture / country?

    BTW...I would suggest you read the delightful Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister compilations to get a better understanding of the Civil Services Administration in England.

    Sorry about the long winded comment Chitra...but

    Cheers

    Rahul

    By Blogger ReadnRyte, at 9:39 PM  

  • Hi Rahul,

    Thanks for your comments.I may not be politically right in my statements , but I just wrote a layman's view of what I found good in western culture. I am sorry if it did offend.:(.

    I do love my country and thats why I am saddened by the state of affairs.Dont you think we could have done much better.The least we can show is attitude to walk in the path of righteousness, but that is also not there.I know 60 years is too short and not trying to demean our country, not at all. What I meant to say is we adopt all wrongs in Western culture, where as there are some rights also.Its not a comment on state of affairs in India or in UK.Dont you think we should adopt something good from other cultures also, unfortunately we dont.I mean I really find things like spitting in the roads and writing on monuments very offensive.Hey am I sounding like justifying myself..:)

    Anyways thanks for the feed back.Would definitely try to read what you recommended.

    By Blogger Chitra Shenoy, at 2:51 PM  

  • "I am not trying to defend what is happening here, but we should understand that India is a relatively new country and the diversity of its population in terms of religion, culture, language etc I believe do not exist anywhere else in the world. To carry such a diverse group of people forward from the humble beginnings of over 60 years ago required enormous amounts of fortitude, patience and compromises. England or any of those welfare states was not created in a day...it took them centuries.

    Like the RDB quote...it takes effort and who should make those efforts...he..her..you..me?"

    How frightfully eloquent.

    The pace of change has changed over the years. What took centuries now takes years, what took years takes months, what took days takes minutes. Yet 'we the Indians' stick by our 'fortitude, patience and compromises' like a drowing man clutches at a straw. Not to mention the high moral ground.

    Today we hurt our lungs shouting we are at par with the world, but when someone points out the crowded roads and stinking dumps, we stand back and say it took centuries. And for good measure throw in a committee to decide who makes the effort.

    For God's sake, learn to take constructive criticism.

    Paddy

    By Blogger Paddy, at 6:58 AM  

  • Hey Chitra
    I was never offended by your write up..it was just that it was quite a lop sided view point. But you have the right to express your opinion. My comments were directed at that lopsidedness, though I agree with almost everything you wrote :)

    I too have my grouses against 'India shining' and and 'economic superpower' kind of crap when we have the largest amounts of impoverished people living in sub-saharan conditions. But in the name of constructive criticism, what do we do other than talk or write about it.

    I am not a snob either who looks at western culture as something evil...because I believe we can learn so much by trying an understanding other cultures.

    Paddy : In trying to contradict what I wrote, you fell into the same pit of making argument of a non-issue. You obviously couldn't understand the gist of what I was trying to state. So if I am going to argue like you did (selective abstraction)..I would think that you would agree that we bomb all those people who dont agree with us or look at our world view (This is a very tangetial argument here...hehehehe..I dunno if you got it). Keep on making those'constructive criticisms'...:)

    Sorry Chitra for taking so much of your comments space..but I do like reading your essays and I believe that we can all do with a healthy debate on issues..which might at least make us see from perspectives that we might have not thought existed.

    Cheers and keep writing.

    By Blogger ReadnRyte, at 6:04 PM  

  • Thanks Paddy and Rahul for all your valuable comments..
    As the HSBC ad states - Different people, different view points. So there is enough space for debate/argument..hehe..Let the war of words continue..:)( May be in some other post but!)

    By Blogger Chitra Shenoy, at 1:44 PM  

  • Its very true. One shouldnt criticize "western" culture when ours is not so perfect.

    India didnt play well for last world cup, and people started destroying Dhoni's new home.. Now they won the cup, and he must be their hero! When it comes to destroying public property our people do their job so perfectly..

    When anyone boast about Indian culture, I hope they give a thought to how much of it is good, and how much of western is actually bad..

    By Blogger Chanchal, at 8:22 PM  

  • nice article....india would be perfect if it imbibes these attributes

    By Blogger prakash, at 6:52 PM  

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