Thursday, 7 May 2009

The Cup is Always Half Full

It was past 2:00 pm and I was hungry. In the queue to buy lunch I was restless and was looking around. Suddenly a lady jumped the queue and went to the top end, but before I could react I realised it was a mistake. Everyone is allowed such errors, but that was not what the person behind me thought. Even after the lady apologised and joined the end of the queue, he shook his head in grave disapproval. Watching this scene play out, I missed moving forward which drew another groan from Mr. Perfect. Normally I would have laughed this out, but the fact that it was a Caucasian male disapproving of brown skin errors, made it a hard to ignore act.

I am myself critical of the weaknesses of my fellow countrymen and our systems, but sometimes find the intolerance of foreigners a little overbearing. It is not because I am holier than thou that I think I can be nit-picking and outsiders cannot be, but it is because I think I can look into my own house and set right the wrong. If we do not amend our own limitations, outsiders will only exploit us. But the outsiders need to look into their own affairs before they start raising eyebrows at our dealings. It is the assumed higher ground of some foreigners that I have difficulty in accepting.

The first time I went to live in Europe, I was asked if I could really afford the education and life in France. There were questions on if I had ever travelled outside of India, how I would repay any loans I had taken and did I watch movies other than Bollywood productions. These were amusing questions asked by the intrigued French and initially seemed to be harmless. But on the one occasion that a French policeman tore my Indian driving licence and bad mouthed India, I felt the discrimination. When a friend, whose car was burnt by French hooligans was asked by the French police if he had set fire to his own vehicle to claim insurance; I confirmed that brown skin was not looked upon favourably.

A couple of years ago, on a business trip to India, I met with a British professional who had decided to come to India and gain some work experience. It was a voluntary decision and there were no personal or professional pressures that prompted the decision; but apparently her decision was making her very unhappy. In her few months in India she concluded that nothing in India worked, no one cared about the surroundings and that it was all doomed to the end. Her lamenting went on for twenty minutes, after which I had to bring to her attention that if she waited for two weeks for an internet connection in Mumbai, in London too it takes three weeks. If the cable set up in Mumbai happens in 3 days, in London it takes 5 working days. If she felt salespeople were too pushy in Mumbai stores, in London they were sometimes apathetic. On the other hand, if she fell ill in London, she would probably have to manage on her own; in Mumbai, however, an unknown neighbour would readily help. If in London she wanted to meet friends, she would need to book her slot; in India though she could just go across. If in London she needed groceries immediately, she would need to go in person; whereas in India she could have them delivered at the doorstep for no charge!

Each nation has its own sets of strengths and weaknesses and if everyone would learn the best practices of the rest; the world would be a better place. To balance my own blog, I will increase the positive coverage of India, Indians and our rich history and culture. If I do not sell our strengths, I cannot expect others to acknowledge them. If I want to have the right to find flaws publicly I must recognize the strengths more openly. This is my resolve and I hope I live up to it.
PS: As there are those who moan about India, there are those foreigners who appreciate the country and the culture. I would like to thank all my friends and the strangers, who over the years have brought to my notice the richness of the country that we live in

1 comment:

Atishbazi said...

Research shows that it takes about 6 months for a chap to become accustomed to a new country where a more rational assessment can be made. Natural aversion in the first few weeks is common and statistically predictable.