Indian cultural decisions

India is a country, like many others, that doesn’t really give a flying f**k about it’s citizens. I am told that the corruption is rife but I have to admit that I’ve barely looked at Indian politics. Indian cultural decisions, to me as a western observer, seem way out of date, they subjugate and repress the people through strictures and mores that really no longer should apply in an up and coming nation of the 21 century (in the Christian calendar).

While the cost of living in India is low, the wages are worse. As with any country the vast majority live from hand to mouth, struggling daily to make ends meet and pay off the debts that the society has forced them into. While the politicians promise the world, deliver nothing, accept their various bribes and incentives from their crony capitalist friends in the world in which we currently live.

Democracy is an illusion, a preset program long installed by the powerful, to make you think that you have a say in society, have a voice. You don’t. The world is currently dictated to by banks, big corporations and their political pals who hand down control and perpetuate the illusion of freedom of choice whilst exploiting the citizens and making them poorer.

Control through Indian cultural decisions

But that’s not all… The Indian cultural decisions are oppressive and repressive. Most of the Indians I have talked to will tell you “It’s part of our Indian culture, it’s been like this for thousands of years” like that’s an excuse for being oppressed, subjugated, downtrodden and repressed. Yet their age old culture doesn’t include cheap tatty LED decoration, bling bling on cars, mobile phones, digital TV, T-shirts, Brand name running shoes or any of the other accoutrements of the age and western introduced capitalism, but they are accepted into the way of life… now. So culture is also a pre-programmed illusion to which these lovely people acquiesce.

The main thing I’m thinking about are arranged marriages, caste separation, segregation of the sexes, dress codes, dietary restrictions, and the list goes on.

Marriage is an Indian cultural decision too

I know a young girl. She’s just eighteen, at the time of writing, and at college in her first year. She’s just been told that she will be getting married in a few months to a lad of twenty two that she doesn’t know and that lives in a different country. All this is because he’s from a good family and because it will bring prestige to the parents. So feel free to screw up your daughter’s life so that your social standing is approved of by colleagues and neighbours?

I’ve seen plenty of wedding invitations since being here. They will frequently include the qualifications of the people about to be joined in this draconian match-making. Ajith Patel Ba Eco is marrying Swati Kumar BSc. This is about social standing too. Who gives a rat’s ass about their academic qualifications when at a wedding? Only the parents, it raises their profile. “Didn’t they do well to get their daughter married off to a doctor (or an airforce captain or a government offical)?”

To return to my 18 year old friend… If this proposed marriage goes ahead she will have no choice in anything. She will have to give up her education and move to a foreign country, totally alien to her, with a western type culture for the most part and a way of life that she’s never seen. Admittedly some things she will enjoy. An infrastructure that actually works. There again, due to the sexual segregation and the moral upbringing in India, she’ll be like a fish out of water and pregnant within very few months and probably again within the year following the birth of her first child. There is a good chance of more children too. Effectively she’ll never experience being young and having a bit of freedom of youth. When eventually she stops popping out babies and finishes minding them she’ll be in her mid to late thirties with no qualifications except having babies and halfway through a wasted life with no chance of a career of any standing because her education was curtailed for the sake of image. This, apparently, is a successful marriage!

I have met two girls in this position. The one described above has asked her parents to at least allow her to qualify and get her degree and after that she’s prepared to marry whomever they choose. Acquiescence. The second is a 27 year old who has been living with a girl friend in Delhi for a few years. Just recently on a visit home she was told that she’d be getting married to an old childhood friend. I saw her just after this bombshell had been dropped. She was obviously preoccupied, worried, pensive and not that happy. That said, a few months later the situation has been accepted and she seems more at peace. She too will have to leave her country, family and friends for the sake of a “good marriage”? It’s a Indian cultural decision you see?

And the Indian youth blindly follow this social illusion and allow their parents to dictate their lives because it’s a leftover from thousands of years of Indian cultural decisions and oppression that once apon a time had a reason. Had my parents tried that I’d have been the other side of the world with no forwarding address in very short order.

Friendship and cultural divisions

Indian cultural decisions
Forget it
Another Indian cultural division that I’ve witnessed is… while it is perfectly ok for an Indian woman to know and be (a little) friendly with a man from a different race, but there is no contact. However there is little chance of them having a romance. That would be frowned apon by the village, the colleagues, the friends and relatives. So again, personal individual happiness means nothing to this collective non-empathic Indian culture. It’s all about image and it would be deeply infra dig for the community if the poor woman were to fall in love with her racially different friend. She would be ostracised, abused, suffer petty gossip, be labeled as a bad woman (probably a whore) and maybe lose her job because of her feelings. This is something that, thankfully, western races have nearly abolished, cross racial relationships and marriage are fairly normal now. Naturally the system would tolerate a man falling for a blonde bombshell. It may be frowned apon, for a while, but it would be ok in the end and seen as its own social status. If you are gay – well that’s simply seen as revolting and disgusting and not talked about.

Caste driven discrimination

Then of course there is the caste system that I mentioned in this post. Marrying outside your caste used to be illegal. In many senses it may as well still be. I met a young man of 22 years who had fallen in love with a girl, who admittedly was of the same caste, but he is Tamil. Can’t have that. For some reason Tamil people are ostracised. Maybe it’s their language? Can’t see why though, there are dozens of languages here. So the Indian society has dictated (even though the caste system is illegal under current law) that Ajith can’t marry Swati after all because she’s Brahmin and he’s Vaishya. The Brahmins are the upper priestly caste and the Vaishya are the merchant caste, effectively two social strata lower. The fact that there is a chance that Ajith the Vaishya will possibly enjoy financial success and wealth isn’t important. Have to keep that illegal caste inbreeding going.

Public shows of affection

agains Indian cultural decisionOn my wanderings I have noticed that you practically never see a young mixed sex couple walking through town holding hands. It wouldn’t be right. You do see boys holding hand with boys and girls holding hands with girls, but mixed holding of hands isn’t really seen. Sex of course is quite simply out of the question until your parents have married you off to a stranger or you are a bad girl. (For boys again it sort of ok.) But I have also seen, in a few towns, parks where the young do go to hide and kiss and cuddle. In fact some of these parks would probably get the name “knocking shops” in the UK because of the number of people snuggling, and except there’s no knocking going on. Just a bunch of repressed young Indians trying to have some fun with their boy or girl in opposition to Indian cultural decisions and before the folks marry them off to someone from a “good family”.

Dietary restrictions

Dietary restrictions are mainly religious observances and you are free to adopt whatever you want. Again, in general, it’s how your family brought you up and what your parents want. In the north of India the people lean more toward vegetarianism due to their Hindu way of life. It doesn’t stop them getting drunk as skunks on the local rum though. The strange difference comes in the south of India where the Hindus seem more religious but will eat meat and fish. It tends to be white meat and not red meat but wild boar is highly prized in some areas. It goes without saying that you don’t get beef. The cow is sacred. Effectively you do what the community wants or acquire yourself a label. I know one Hindu that doesn’t eat meat – except when he’s drunk.

The weirdness of the Indian beach

Indian Cultural decisions - sarees on the beach
Indian women in sarees on the beach
On the beach are loads of young lads. By far and away the greater percentage of the beach crowd. They’ll be larking around in the sea, maybe surfing or in a few cases showing off and taking risks with the bathers on their jet-skis in ways that would be illegal in the west under health and safety regulations. Women? Hardly any. And the few that there are will go bathing in their full saris. You do not see Indian women in bikinis or bathing suits – well at least I haven’t seen any. Maybe in Mumbai, a more cosmopolitain city, you may see a few modern, rebellious young Indian woman giving the moral strictures and Indian cultural decisions the big finger, but mainly if she’s in a bikini she’s western.

Bathing in a sari is absurd! Yards of wet fabric just waiting for a wave to pull you under and hold you there. As aquadynamic as a house brick. Positively dangerous. Should the woman get into trouble the poor life guards have to risk their lives with trying to deal with a ton of wet fabric as well as a flailing woman (who is probably trying to push the man away because they shouldn’t be touching her). A recipe for disaster. In Mangaluru I witnessed a woman, knocked over by a wave, struggling to get up and a half dozen of her friends laughing and trying to help her to her feet. The waves weren’t much above two feet tall.

Cultural decisions from a western viewpoint

India is a strange country. Very friendly people that are firmly rooted to past centuries and obsolete restrictions that (maybe) made sense a thousand years ago. The youth, while awakening a bit, sadly still obey mindless Indian cultural regulations based on archaic thinking and dubious parental judgement. A young Indian is taught to respect their parents because their parents gave them birth. Therefore it follows that you do what they say and provide for them in their old age as they provided for you in your childhood. Then you get to impose the same narrow inhibitions on your children so that the repressive Indian cultural restrictions can carry on as it has for millennia. And whatever you do – don’t mix the caste even though it is illegal to differentiate. If you are born gay, emigrate, if you can, run away do anything that will save you the burden of being married to a stranger to whose gender you aren’t even attracted.

The Indian enigma

Sari fabrics

Indian experiences and observations

India is a strange but lovely place. I refer to it as the Indian enigma. It’s beautiful. The people are very friendly, polite, talkative and above all interested. A lot of them speak very good, if a tad antiquated, english. English you might have heard in the 1940s or 1950s. Clothes are referred to as “dress”, which in its way is correct. He was in formal dress. But in english english we don’t really use it any more. I am instructed to “get my dress for washing”. It makes me smile. I have tried to explain that we would use the word “clothes” now, and that dress is really only used as a verb or as a woman’s article of clothing. She looked nice in her new dress. Or I dress myself in the morning. (We wont go into dressing wounds here, or how one can give someone a dressing down.)

I am staying in a village. A village of predominantly rubber tappers and associated types of agricultural work. I am the odd man out. Many of these people have never seen a “white man” in the flesh before. Some necks crane so much that I fear the individual will fall off his motorbike. I’m a source of interest and gossip. Sometimes I find it a bit intimidating or off-putting but on the whole I don’t mind. I like the way young children stare or hide behind mummy’s sari. When the realise I’m not going to eat them they are usually the friendliest.

Everyone, or nearly everyone, asks “what country?“. What do I tell them? I have an english passport, I feel more Irish than English, I was born in Kenya and I live in Spain. Maybe a bit too much on the first meeting? A lot of the younger people want to know how they can go and work in Europe. I ask them “why would you want to leave a country where a cup of tea is 10 rupees” (about £0.12p or €0.14¢)? When I tell them that in the UK you’d be lucky to get a cuppa for under £1.50 or to them 125+ rupees they are shocked. Naturally I have to then explain that to catch a bus or train is absurdly expensive compared to here. Rents – well forget it if there aren’t a few of you. And yes the wages are higher but the cost of living is exorbitantly high. In general you’re better off here.

Smoking kills – so does life

Gold Flake cigarettes in India
Gold Flake – still in 10s
A pack of 20 ciggies here are about £2.50 where as they are knocking the £10 pound mark in UK and Ireland – in Spain they are a bit cheaper but still twice the price of here. Mostly they are sold here in 10s or singly from the stall. And here you have the other India enigma, the beedis, the funny little Indian cigarettes rolled in a leaf that actually have some flavour (yes I had a lapse – but I’ve stopped again). They come out at between 19/-INR and 25/-INR for 20 – 25 depending on brand. To us that’s less than £0.30p. Up until recently the beedi wasn’t taxed but now the packs appear with the same anti-smoking photos to which we in Europe are well used and tax has been levied.

The India enigma – the beedi

Europe in the 18th century

The culture is so different – again an Indian enigma! It’s probably akin to Europe in the 18th century. Aside from the towns, women do not wear short skirts, they still wear traditional saris and the salwaar kameez. Even in the towns you don’t really see women in shorts or mini-skirts. Yes the younger girls will wear jeans and T-shirts, but nary a leg is seen, and they usually have a “scarf” that is draped across both shoulders and hangs down the front. Why? I think it’s to hide their breasts. The boys mostly wear long trousers, long sleeved shirts and a vest. (I haven’t seen a vest in years.) In the south the men wear lungis, which are sarongs to you and I. Guys in shorts are seen but they are the more “hip” of the crowd. And you don’t go out anywhere without getting dressed up. That buggers me up – hey? 🙂

Girls still wear saris, the salwaar kameez, churidaar and lehenga choli (skirt and blouse), and a few variants with odd (to me) sounding names. Wikipedia has a good entry. Ok, the examples I have picked as the images illustrating these fashions are particularly beautiful and some are wedding apparel, but they are a riot of colours and I’m going to miss this when I return to Europe.

Gagging for a beer

There are no bars. Well that’s not strictly true. In the towns there are but women don’t frequent them (few women smoke either). The women that do go to the bars are probably not the women you want to meet. On second thoughts – maybe they are? In the village where I am staying there is no bar and the closest one is a short drive away. It’s mainly full of men having a beer or rum after work or getting pissed up. Rum is the most popular spirit but you do see Indian whisky or maybe it’s whiskey – who knows? The normal beer is fierce strong at about 8% but I mentioned that in this post. I have been told, but I have no proof, that normal beer is brewed and then ethanol is added to bring it up to sledge hammer strength. They do brew a “light beer” which weighs in at 4·5% or “normal strength” in Europe.

So, what this is leading up to, is that social interaction is effectively nil. There is no “popping down the boozer for a swift half” and getting to meet the locals. Result is that I’m glad I have this blog to write and my uke, or I’d be bored out of my tree or be getting into trouble. I’ve tried 4 Indian beers, the first mentioned here called:

  • White Rhino – nothing special.
  • Hawards 5000 – silly strong.
  • Kingfisher – easy to find. The normal one is 8% and the Premium 4·5%.
  • UB Export – I had the weak one, 4·5%

And don’t even think of trying to chat up a woman. You’ll be run out of town or knifed. Go to a club or disco, that’s your best bet for girls. But you’ll find that it’s mainly boys dancing together from what I’ve seen.

Women’s lib – another Indian enigma

When I’m in the house I’m told off for doing chores that I take for granted in the EU. I’m not supposed to take my plates to the kitchen after a meal. I get scolded if I sweep the floor. I sweep the floor because this part of the world is a bare-foot community in the house and I hate walking on crunchy floors. This is still women’s work. The local village people say I’m a good man. Luckily I have earned a good “reputation” largely because I’m polite and considerate (something with which my daughter would probably violently disagree) and try and greet everyone with the correct “namaste”. And why not? We may be different colours but we bleed, cry and laugh the same.

So where does that leave us? In a beautiful Indian enigma, with its 21st century trappings of LEDs, mobile phones and the selfie, crap internet, auto-rickshaws or the tuk-tuk, and daily power cuts 😐 but firmly planted in a different century culturally and socially. This is the Indian enigma. Yes the towns are more cosmopolitan but, for example, I can not sit in the same row of seats on the bus as my hostess – just not done. I can sit with her daughter and son though. Tongues wag just the same as tongues wag in any country – especially about the white man.

Isn’t gossip a wonderful world wide phenomenon?