08:00 am – I finally wake up after snoozing my alarm for the umpteenth time. I grab my phone and with one eye closed I manage to check “who-married-whom”, “who-checked-in-at-which-airport”, “who-is-missing-whom” and “who-ate-where” updates on Facebook.
09:00 am – I get a notification reminding me of a friend’s birthday. Oops! I forgot to wish her last night. So, I write a longgggg happieeeee birthdayyyyy post with lots of lovey-doveys and miss-yous. I have no intention of melting her heart with my words of love for her but I wouldn’t mind if she drops a tear or two after reading it.
11:00 am – My post gets 200 likes and 80 comments. I struggle to scroll down to see if she has seen it and thanked me. She did thank me with a Thank You and a ❤. It must have been the best birthday present for her, I proudly think to myself.
01:00 pm – My mom calls me because she can’t login to her Facebook account. I tell her to wait for me to get back home and log-in for her. But, she can’t wait. She wants to check out some pics uploaded by her friend who went to Amreeka and wore Jeans for the first time. “Mom, Denims and not Jeans!”, I correct her. She snaps and disconnects the call.
04:00 pm – By now, my friend is flooded with birthday wishes from near and dear ones; so “near” that I actually wonder if people have stopped wishing in person or over the phone. The messages are filled with emotions and I see a tear drop on my phone. Ah, sensitive little me!
06:00 pm – I see an update that a friend has checked-in at London airport. “When did he go to London?”, I asked my friend inquisitively. “He is going to California for some office work. Maybe, the flight has a few hours halt in London”, he said. Getting carried away with the peer pressure, I get an “I-am-so-useless-good-for-nothing” feeling that I decide to explore travel opportunities with my Manager tomorrow.
09:00 pm – My mom is still ignoring me while I sit next to her. I help her login to Facebook. She forgets everything and her eyes immediately start looking for her friend wearing Jeans. But, thanks (NO! I don’t really mean to thank) to the infinite scroll feature, something else gets her attention! “Even she got married!”, she screamed drawing my attention to her. “Good for her!“, I said. My mom turns into the perfect “Bollywood Maa” cursing her luck and complaining to God that everyones daughter is getting married except hers. I ask her to stop panicking and divert her to her friend’s photo album that she wanted to see.
11:00 pm – As I try to sleep, I recall all the events that I witnessed through this virtual world of Social Media. The fun of being able to see what’s going on in his/her life comes with a lot of peer pressure which leads to momentary sadness to jealousy and sometimes to depression for people who can’t handle it. It’s a virtual playground where everyone wants to compete to show who is having a better life than the other. The sole purpose of Social Media was to stay connected and get in touch with long lost friends. But, this is turning into a dirty race of showing who is at a better place in life. While some do it on purpose, some are innocently unaware of it. It is taking an ugly path where instead of connecting with each other, people are getting detached. And, it is an addiction on the rise!
The next morning –
08:00 am – I finally wake up after snoozing my alarm for the umpteenth time. I grab my phone and with one eye closed I am ready to take a sneak peek into the lives of my “virtual friends“.
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. All incidents or events mentioned here are authors imagination. Any resemblance to a person, incident or an event is purely coincidental.
Perspectives may be aplenty at what creates an image of a nation, but here is mine – “If world is a canvas, then nation is a painting and its people are the artists.” To answer the simple question “What ‘really’ defines a nation?” I would, so would many, say “its people”. The reason I stress on “really” is that there are many attributes that define a nation but not all are factors that can be changed; and some, if changed, would still not make a difference. What do attributes like geography, climate, and area tell about a country? These characteristics define only the body not the soul. It’s the people who define the soul. A country may be an island; or be alpine; or be a plain; or a mix of all. Each one has its duality of yin and yang. A country may have tropical or Mediterranean or arid or subarctic climate or all in different parts. Each can be enjoyable or distasteful. Some people like one type, some like the other. It’s all subjective. I can go on writing about why they are not worth attributing to a country’s essence but I would, without further ado, like to get to the meat of my notion.
Taking excerpts from my own life, my deep realization that people are the lens through which the world sees a nation started when I moved to the United States for my Master’s four years ago. As much as I was thrilled to be here and learn the new culture, I also learned a lot about my own country, India. This was a totally different angle to perceive what was blurry until then. Undoubtedly, so many Indians are showing their mettle and making a mark all over the world, but little do we realize that some are tarnishing their own country. The kind of picture we portray about our nation is what the world would see. How many Americans or Europeans or Chinese have been to India? An abysmal percentage of their populations. But each one seems to have an opinion about India, mostly ghastly. Our fingers might immediately rise up to point to the dime-store media. Yes, but who constitutes this kind of media? It’s the people. However, there is more to it than meets the eye. It’s the common man that paints such an abhorrent image of our beloved nation. Name one country that is not reeling under tensions. All are, though magnitudes might differ. Moreover, it’s the way we Indians represent our nation that etches an appalling picture of the nation. I will get to the question, “Why we do what we do?” later but first, let’s see “how” we achieve this distinction.
One fine day, I was having lunch at my college cafeteria in Boston, with a few other Indians at my table. A humble gentleman walked up to our table and asked if he could join us. I appreciated the gesture and offered him a seat. He happened to be a law student hailing from South Africa. We all had a long talk on lots of subjects, one of which turned to be India, and obviously another about South Africa. This is not an unusual sight in universities in the US when students from different regions or cultures meet. Matter-of-factly and surprisingly, he knew a lot more about Indian history and politics than most of us at our table. Nevertheless, I was elated to see a foreigner knowing such details about India. He asked a very innocent question, “What do you feel about India?” Honestly, I and one of my close friends, who shares many of my beliefs, started blabbering about how great India is, feeling proud and nostalgic. My other friends at the table, however, had something else in mind. They did not shy away from criticizing India to shameless degrees. “Corruption, abject poverty, rapes. That’s all that happens in India. God save India!” – Literally, these were their words. I, genuinely, feel ashamed at playing a mute spectator at that moment. Our new friend from South Africa, to everyone’s astonishment, tried to explain us why and how we should play a role in fixing India’s problems, whatever they may be. I was nothing but nonplussed and shamefaced to see an outsider convince us how it is us who can make India better, when Indians at the table made a mockery of their own nation. Believe me, there was not a single wretched thing he said about his own nation. Is South Africa free of all malpractices and worries? Absolutely not! But it’s how he depicted his nation. “Every country has problems but that does not mean we cannot deal with them,” he said. He epitomized a responsible citizen who respects his country and acknowledges that it’s the people who can make their country worth living in.
The other day, I was commuting in a bus when, from my back seat, I heard distinct voices of two men talking, an Indian and, most likely, an American. I tried not to eavesdrop as much as I could, but after a while there was something that I could not help lending my ears to. The Indian said to the American, “In India, we don’t buy cars, we get them in dowry!” What a real shame, stooping to such utter depths of brazenness! What will this American, who may have never visited India, create as a mental picture of India? – A country where relations are means to garner luxury, men are parasites that thrive on in-laws’ hard-earned dough. I do not deny that such ill-practices are widespread in India, but it is surely on the decline and moreover why kiss-and-tell? First, this man, apparently, commits such a crime and then is nervy enough to admit it with pride and blotches the whole nation with this disgrace.
Hearing all this baloney, how do we expect people from world over to picture a beautiful India? An American bank representative once asked me, “I am supposed to visit India on a business trip but I am a bit skeptical because I am not sure if there would be power at all the times. I heard that there is power outage for more than 15 hours a day even in big cities. That’s totally crazy! What are my options?” I had to convince her that she had been misled, for this was an exaggeration. Indian cities are bustling with state-of the-art office campuses and malls. India is not at all what she or anyone else thinks. Now, one might say that she is ignorant of what is happening in the other side of the globe. Sure, she did not try to get her facts straight ever before from the trusted sources but who gives anyone the authority to take advantage of the oblivion that people like her live in. When I asked what made her think so, she said that one of her colleagues from India had kindly obliged; well, that was no surprise to me!
One morning, at a metro station in New York, bustling with commuters going to office, I heard a distant, repetitive chant which went something like this, “I left my wallet at home and I need to get some place for an interview. This is the last chance I got! Can someone please spare some cash?” The man behind the voice was presumably an American and evidently intoxicated. Though this gimmick was not at all surprising to me as it is quite a common scene in metropolitan downtowns, but what stunned me was a pleasant yell from the other end. The words, barring a few expletives, were captivating. “You live in the world’s best ******* country; go find a ******* job!” And what left me totally confounded for a while was that the yeller was a janitor with unkempt hair and shabby clothes, mopping the station platform. Though a blue-collar worker with a meager income, the man still loved his country and was infuriated at the vagabond disgracing his nation.
It is not always what we say, it’s also what we do. There are so many things that Americans can learn from Indians and likewise Indians can learn so much from them. The thing that I most appreciate about Americans is their chivalry. They are always so patient; be it in a line, waiting for an attendant at a shop counter; or waiting for the bus. Contrary to that, we Indians are a bit tight-fisted when it comes to patience. Here is an incident that I am sure many can relate to. I was at a bus stop one morning, waiting for the bus to arrive. There was a line, in which, a couple or more were Indians, and the rest were mostly Americans. One of the Indians was third in line. As soon as the bus arrived and the door opened, he broke out of the line, lashed at the entrance, nudging the lady in the front, in the process. The lady looked at him, totally perplexed, probably thinking, as was I, why that man behaved so impatiently. Seriously, why? What is ironic is that the bus was nearly vacant and there were as few as five people in the line. I understand that in a country like India with more than a billion people, it is a tough task to be patient at public places which serve on first-come-first-serve basis. But, we have to change. At least in a foreign country, we need to behave well. We don’t realize that our misdemeanor costs our country its reputation.
Coming back to the censorious, publicity-crazy media. I strongly adjectivized media here to refer to a specific kind of media because not all media are equal, just as not all people are alike. Media is the amplified voice of the people that is heard world over. The kind of media described here, makes the matters worse. The exaggerated problems in India, that the Indians themselves might have failed to convey, are broadcast by this media. A Muslim cab driver from Morocco once said to me, “What I fail to understand is why the news about India always says that minorities are ill-treated and given unequal rights. If that’s true, how come a Muslim leader was appointed as the President of India? That, in my opinion, is truly praiseworthy!” Well, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam is a man of talent and his talent was duly rewarded by India and its people. That’s how bad media taints our reputation. Some Bollywood movies (even Hollywood for that matter), likewise portray India in bad light and Indians too relish watching them. Why does every movie about India have to show the shadiest corners in India, 99% of the population poverty-stricken, cows sun-bathing in the middle of the city streets. If this is what media shows to the world, India will never be uplifted in the eyes of the people who have never been to India; and might as well be dissuaded to make a trip. We ought to encourage people to visit India to see it in its real glory.
Now, as promised earlier, answering the question, “Why Indians do what they do?” Again, this is my perception. Indians, when engaging in conversation with outsiders, hesitate to talk about things outside of their cocoon, where the lack of topics can, obviously, be attributed to the differences in culture and interests. Well, so do many other people from different nationalities. But Indians find it comfortable only talking about what they know best, which in this case happens to be “India”. Now, the question is, “What else can they talk about?” Indian values? — Nah, that ain’t sound so cool. Sprawling Indian cities? — Well, why would foreigners find that fascinating? Cricket? — Ah, to the people in most corners of the world, it’s just an insect.
Why can’t we talk about the exquisite Indian delicacies? Why can’t we talk about our rich history? -That, by the way, our ancestors will thank us for. If there is nothing to talk about, pertaining to India, why not talk about global, current affairs? Talk about anything except the problems in India. One has no right to talk about problems that they can’t play a part in resolving. Suffice it to say, our relation to our country is analogous to our relation to our home, our family. Does anyone tell their neighbor how filthy their bedroom is? No, right? Then, who gives us the right to tell the rest of the world that our country is a mess?
Believe me, every country has its share of maladies. But do people from all countries whine about what miseries their countries are facing? “No.” – that’s what my experience has to say. I have had the fortunate opportunity to work with an eclectic bunch of students and office colleagues who hailed from different parts of the United States, Europe and Asia. Not one person, apart from Indians, ever complained about their countries. All I heard was how much they love their countries. It’s also no surprise that no other country shares the same opulence in history as India. Can anyone ever fathom what a remarkable feat it is to manage a country with more than a billion people? China has more than a billion people but they do not enjoy so much liberty as Indians do. Now, let’s see what impact, we, the people of India, have on the influx of international tourists. An interesting fact says India had almost the same number of annual international tourists visiting as Tunisia last year. I would say this is utterly commendable on the part of Tunisians who woo so many foreigners to their small land. This is a fine example of physical attributes like area not being more important than the people because if size mattered then India should have attracted more than at least 20 times the number. Given the diversity of landscapes, cultures, food, climate and rich history, India should be one of the top tourist destinations in the world. But looks like the Indians beg to differ. I recently watched a beautiful documentary on Jerusalem by National Geographic that presents how Jerusalem is a haven for people from three cultures viz. Christians, Jews and Muslims, flourishing together in such a small city. All I could think while watching it was that by these measures, India is a land of so many more cultures, backgrounds and languages and yet so balanced. If we can prosper together, why can’t we welcome foreigners to our land and give them a feel of our warmth? Hasn’t hospitality, historically, been considered one of our strongest suits? Opening our hearts to outsiders is one of the virtues by which we Indians can inspire the rest of the world.
All that said, I have no qualms in admitting that we have made tremendous strides all over the world and held our country’s esteem high in many respects. Indians are considered to be intelligent and erudite, world over. The kind of reputation, attributed to their success, Indians have built here can be best described by a scene from a comedy show held here in Hawaii, where a famous standup comedian, Gabriel Iglesias, joked about imagining an Indian committing a crime. Hearing this, the whole audience broke into laughter. The comedian then exclaimed, “See, no one can imagine that because Indians can never commit a crazy crime!” That is all great but being lawfully upright does not give us the liberty to be morally or ethically unrighteous; or to blemish the dignity of our nation.
While the resident Indians should consider it their duty to show unwavering hospitality to the tourists and send the right messages abroad, it is the responsibility of the non-resident Indians to show foreigners the unsullied colors of India.
Let’s leave behind our shallow thoughts and embrace our nation as it does us! Let’s paint its true colors! That’s the least we could do! After all, who likes the tricolor painted black?
Sensible Indians! Incredible India!
This post is written by our guest blogger, Sumit Raina. Thank you for writing for us!