Monday, July 12, 2010

India Through Their Eyes

Last week I had some guests at home.

Though they were of Indian origin, they had not been a part of my country for a long time. The husband was an American citizen who left India almost 25 years ago. The wife was an Australian who had never lived in India. Their laptop was stolen at Mumbai airport. The wife sheepishly admitted they were pretty lax when it came to such issues and the thought of locking their suitcases had not occurred to them. "We no longer have the habit" was what she said to be precise. Traffic snarls, potholes and numerous questions later, (What are these? Slums? Is it where Slumdog Millionnaire was shot? How come there are so many people on the roads? Why do trucks have Horn Please written? Isn't it impolite to honk here?) when we finally reached home, it was almost as long as their journey across an ocean and several seas. The weather was gloomy and it continuously rained which created further delays.

And I kept on thinking, what do they see when they look at my country? When they see barefoot children playing in the rain, do they see the poverty or do they see happy children? When they see policemen taking bribes from commuters, ( happened right in front of us) do they see how immune we have become to corruption? When their laptop went missing, did they think this was inevitable? And the unruly traffic and the constant honking? What do they think of that?

When they see my India, a country that I think is vibrant, colourful, confusing and endearing, what do they really see? A billion people working hard just to survive? A dirty, messy, smelly country? A country full of crooked people trying to con the foreigners? What do they see? Do they see the love?

45 comments:

Ms. Hina Mohnot said...

Nice thought!
I believe it depends on each person: the background, experiences and the personality he/she has. For, that defines their perception of the world. One may see a lot of goodness in something where another person may not.

Nikita Banerjee said...

This post makes us all think...doesn't it? I sure have no clue of what these people thought but I wouldn't want to live anywhere else but here! :)

BK Chowla, said...

We surely have problems of corruption, inefficiency,still,we are the best.
I agree, some people will and do carry a negative impression of us when they see all this around.

The Holy Lama said...

We have a non Indian friend who comes to India every year for ayurveda rejuvenation. She loves the place, she likes seeing more people on the roads but maybe she likes the roads to be without those waste dumps:).
And how does my extended family find her? Why does she have to wear that kaftan that sometimes reveals her thigh? Why does she have to meet her boyfriend's ex girlfriend who is also on a vacation to India with her current boyfriend?
What Iam trying to say why bother what someone thinks. If you are comfortable and confident, smile on:)

ZB said...

We catch the attention of the west through poverty, corruption, terrorism etc......and it overshadows whatever stories one hears of economic growth, Manufacturing revolution, IT Triumph etc...... though we think we are the best and great and all that, we still are several hundred years behind west. Sorry to say this, but Adhithi devo bhava culture what we take pride is just manufactured and a blatantly forged.

At Kochi airport while on vacation in March this year, my suitcase was broken open, and my gold chain and wedding ring( sad, it holds so much of emotional value to me)was stolen, apparently by the baggage handlers.......I was stupid, i never imagined this could happen to me. I would have hand carried the valuables in cabin luggage.Sad.

UmaS said...

Good thinking...

Yeah, they may have all those questions...and to understand our country like we do, one needs to stay here for some years and really live like the normal ppl do...

Anu said...

Good one, Aparna! This is an argument which comes up regularly with some of my relatives who have lived abroad with a long time as well as some who wonder why my hubby insisted on returning to India after studying there.... as a kid i used read books and get irritated when i read of our country described as a land of fevers and poverty.. guess the issue will never be solved!

Nu said...

I know what you mean...

I'm wondering what answers did you people gave them of those questions on the way home !

People from outside will see only that moment and form an impression-that's why we say first impression is the final impression...

We live in the mess and the colourful and confusing country and hence we know the pros and cons both..apart from that only because it's OUR country no matter how it is we'll not like anyone remarking it a bad/worse place to live..

I guess it's with everyone..everyone loves his/her country despite of the drawbacks!

sujata said...

I think foreigners like India, but its a different matter when it comes to Indians who hold foreign passports. Its human nature to get used to material comforts, a disciplined and clean way of life. But foreigners who have lived a disciplined life all along , I guess want to know the other extreme and thats the reason they choose to visit India, to enjoy the vibrancy, the rains and the dirt.

Roshni Mitra Chintalapati said...

I agree with Holy Lama! What do you care what other people think!!
I think they will think exactly what they experience! If they are shown love and consideration, they should have positive thoughts; if they are pawed and exploited, it would be difficult for them to!!

Sakshi said...

I totally agree with what Sujata says. Every American I have come across here seems to be so impressed with our country and most of the time India is among the top on their wish list for places to visit. You can read many American Blogs praising India's beauty and the simple lives of people in our country.

But yeah when it comes to NRI's you get a total different story. The same people who were born in India fail to understand the pulse of their own country and loves bashing the people who make it a nation ;)

Sigh..I think am one blind woman when it comes to just seeing the chaos in my country and rather bask in all the love that makes my India.

Nazish Rahman said...

U see what u wanna see...simple as that!! These type of people are actually educated people with the mind of an uneducated. Problems are everywhere..its just that here its more n easily visible as compared to other places.

Samvedna said...

I meet many people during my stay here and most of the people have only good words to say..but Indians who live here, they are always bad mouthing first and then missing their own people food and places.

Aparna Radhakrishnan said...

I am living in a foreign country for the past 1.5 years...and I keep hearing comments about India...India is this, that and all...but for me it is my country...it where my family is...and for me that's all that matters...I care less what others think of India...why ...becoz you cannot change their opinion and most of the time it is not even worth thinking what they think...

Nona said...

Each one takes home a different experience. I remember two Swiss guys visiting our office in Kochi. This was 1997. They had the most weird experience. :) They were running late for the meeting because of the traffic jam and had a plane to catch after the meeting! Our GM told them not to worry and had the meeting at his leisure. The Swiss guys thought they would miss the plane. But the plane waited for them at the Kochi airport. :) I'm not sure if our GM was responsible for delaying the flight. But, he claimed so! :)

kavita said...

Mystical ! There is something about India that can't be ignored.Rightly you say..it is confusing.

A New Beginning said...

This is an extremely thought provoking post!Reminds me of the atithi ads by Aamir, theres a lot that we still need to learn. Ours is a beautiful country but we have to work inorder to rectify its flaws...they cant be hidden!

Vidooshak said...

Lovely post.

I wouldn't barter the love and humanity of India for all the "processes and procedures" of the developed world. Unfortunately, the lure of lucre has turned some of us into profit-before-all types, where family and foundations can be sacrificed at the altar of the next big bonus. But for the rest of us, life outside the gated communities is still the RIGHT way to live.

Blemishes and all....

Aparna said...

@ Hina, every time we travel, whether in our own country or outside,we end up having both good and bad experiences. It does colour our judgement.

@ Nikita, neither can I think of staying anywhere else.

@ BK Chowla, I do not know whether we are the best, but I can not stay any where else.

@ Holy Lama, I know, even I have so many uncomfortable questions to ask them, but hesitate to offend them. They on the other hand ask away without hesitation.

Aparna said...

ZB, Every time we have gone to Europe, our stuff have been stolen. We got pick pocketed in Paris, In Madrid my husband was accosted by a few men and his wallet and mobile phone were stolen. In Rome, my pashmina stole, which had a lot of emotional value since it was given by my mom, was stolen. These things happen in the best of European cities too. India is no exception. It's just because we are a 3rd world country the foreigners make a big deal out of it.
Most of our problem is caused by over population. Till the time we can learn to manage it, we will be like this.

@ UmaS, some people I know like living in India, but they can't take the noise and the traffic.

@ Anu, I know what you mean, perceptions stay for a long time.

@ Nu, I did answer some of the questions. And India is a very good place to live in, it just takes a little time to get used to it!

rama said...

Hi,
I am Rama from Bangalore. I can fully relate to what you feel, for not only you but many of us feel that way.At times I have given them left and right when they said such horrible things about India, at times i felt that it is no use ,and kept my trap shut.
My own son is there and it has just been 2 years since he has left India, he is already talking about how things get done easily there without any hassles, how the people who are supposed to do certain work do it with commitment without expecting anything extra in return,blah blah...
I know one day these very things will become boring for him, will have not much of a meaning for him and he would be dying to come to India, but alas, he will never be able to come back, for so many things will stop him from coming back.
A time would come when he can neither be totally American, nor an Indian, and lead a very lonely life in some alien country.
I can see him slowly getting sucked into the American life style.
But what to say to someone who already knows his India very well, and still prefers to point out the disadvantages of living in India.
At times like this silence is the best tool.
At one time we were also crazy about going abroad, but now we can see that we have everything and even more than any other country can ever offer.
Mera Bharat Mahan!!!

Aparna said...

Sujata, you are right. Most of the critics are Indians living abroad. But when I see certain things that I see when I'm with them, I too get disillusioned with the infra structure in India. Basic things like roads are in shambles and we just shrug and move on. We have got used to such sub standard living.

Roshni, I do care, because every time some one says something negative about my country, I take it as a personal insult. It is rather juvenile, I know. I am also a realist, I do see the shortcomings and I feel bad as can not rectify them.

Sakshi, India thrives because it is a multi-cultural, multi-religious society. Because of different communities with different priorities and beliefs staying here, it is bound to be chaotic. But I do see the shortcomings. And it bugs me that we have become so used to them.

Nazish, you are right, things are more glaring here. Stealing etc. happen in Europe too. Not many people know about it.

Samvedna, that is the irony. They can not live without Indian food and Indian friends.

Sonu said...

Great post...nice thought...and i agree to Sujata di's comment..i think when it comes to NRIs they sometimes think its shameful to be an INDIAN..and they always go gaga over the facilities they gets their.they don't think India is still a developing country,not developed..
keep writing..

竹青 said...

A crowd is not company...................................................................

ani_aset said...

lets try and work towards what can be done and lets leave it to people what they think of us :)

Deepa said...

People's realities differ. And we make decisions based on that. Your friends are culturally and emotionally distanced from India or Indian-ness. Not their fault. They've spent a good part of their lives away from here. I'm sure there are struggles and issues in their country which would make us wonder.

My take is: If you can make a positive contribution do so. Or if you can understand, try to do so. And if you cannot do these, then at least accept and be sensitive. Thats the best way to co exist.

The Ketchup Girl said...

indians living abroad vis-a-vis foreigners' perspective of India are entirely different. This might sound biased but i think when indians living abroad visit home they are constantly comparing and somewhere forgetting their roots. This is carried down to their children who are further confused about India. This post made me very sad, Aparna. I'm pone of those indians living abroad, and i know exactly where your thoughts are coming from. But I wish Indians abroad were more sensitive.

Ms. Hina Mohnot said...

I agree, Aparna. We have both kinds of experiences and that shape our personality, and outlook: positive or not.

When I was out of India, It mattered to me how others thought of my country, India. Many of my friends (not Indian) were just fascinated by Indian culture and heritage. For others it didn't matter.

Sharmila said...

I think they just see/look at whatever they see ... do not register anything. But then I love India ... and am really not bothered what they make of it. :-)
Most of them crib ... but will buy stuff like they've never been to a shop ever before. ;-)

Destiny's child... said...

When it's foreigners it is tolerable but when Indians who left the country, like say, 2 years ago, pose these questions...I lose my cool.

I guess it's about a sense of belonging. We hate it when someone passes remarks about 'our' parents, siblings or friends, though we do the same all the time...

ராம்ஜி_யாஹூ said...

It is just perception.

Eeven if it is very neat, corruption free I cant like Australia or new Zealand more than India. The reason is simple.

I have drunk Indian soil river water, had eaten Indian foods, Indian fruits...

Its harmone and emotion related.

For me Saravana Bavan mylapore coffe will be tastier than Grand Hyaat London's coffee.Hyatt

Nu said...

Yes India is India :) and nothing can beat that :) YAY that we live here !

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Guess their way of life is 'sanitized'. And that can be why it's unnerving for them. Personally, I've visited India thrice - Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and I love it.

Aparna said...

Aparna Radhakrishnan, I guess at times what they think hurts because it is true.

Nona, Typical Indian GM! Hope you still have him in the company. By the way, my husband has a lot of interesting travelling tales. May be one day I'll share.

Kavita, you are right, nothing compares to Indian mystic!

A new Beginning, every country has flaws, some more than others. But you are right, we have to educate the people here on a lot of matter.

Vidooshak, I would not barter the love either. It is the best thing about our country.

Aparna said...

Rama, welcome to my blog.
A special comment like yours deserved a separate space.
I have a daughter who is almost 15. She is already talking about going to America to study, and later, settle there. She has an image about that country and she thinks she will fit in there very well. I too, like you, know once she is there she will never be able to come back.
I have problems with her decisions but I know I'll have very little say in her future. It is after all her life.
However, I can not understand those people who stay here all their lives, get a good education, get love, adoration and all the support and then later crib about their own country. I only hope they do not feel sad and lonely in their adopted countries later on in their lives. Because no matter how often they say it, how loud they say it, first generation immigrants are often misfits in a foreign society.
Thank you for responding to my post. I am sorry if my comment turned out to be a big rant!

Aparna said...

Sonu, thanks for writing in. Yes, India is a developing country and we still have a long way to go.

Ani-aset, I'm all for it, work hard and your life will only get better...

Deepa, you are absolutely right.

The Ketchup girl, people see what they want to see I guess. I do not think our friends wanted to criticize India, they just did not understand how we could be so nonchalant about certain things here.

Hina, yes, there are a lot of people who are very fascinated.

Sharmila, I have a friend who comes to India every year and buys stainless steel cookware!

Destiny's Child, yes,it is more difficult handling criticism from Indians.

ராம்ஜி_யாஹூ, thank you for your comments. You made me smile...the best coffee I've ever tasted was on the way to Pondicherry from Chennai! It was served ina small steel container and the flavour was heavenly.

Nu, yayy!

Keats the sunshine girl, next time, try the state of Rajasthan, it is simply beautiful. And the Himalayan states are also breathtaking.
Thanks for writing in.

Neena Sharma said...

They do...The foreigners see a country that is undefinable and complex but so genuine. Through all the squalor, corruption and destitution they can still hear the heart of India beating because India has something which most countries don't have: humanity.

致念致念 said...

A truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour. ............................................................

Bikramjit Singh Mann said...

Nice article.. it depends I think.. when i was in india living here I thought of the pverty the kids had , the bad policeman
but now when i have seen life on the other side also.. I have mixed emotions .. I can understand the Happiness the kids are having jumping in rain barefoot, CAUSE WE CANT DO IT HERE... but i ca nalso see the poverty..

I can see the corruption being bad but i also understand that it is something that has sort of goone into our roots its become a habit now but
end of the day its my country and i love it good or bad ..
we have made it like this and its WE who have to make it otherwise :)

The Panorama said...

Aparna, I have Norwegian friends who have travelled to India and here is what they say: you either love India or you absolutely hate it. There is no in between. I know people who go back to India again and again and some who will never step a foot there again.
India is a culture shock for many. But you know the thing with Europe is , you don't see the "potholes" visibly. But they are there and you realise it when you start living here. There is discrimination in the job market and some people always consider you a second hand citizen...etc. I could go on.

My own relationship to India is a love- hate one too!!

Onkar said...

There are two sides to a coin. A thinking person is expected to take a balanced view.

Onkar said...

There are two sides to a coin. A thinking person is expected to take a balanced view.

怡迪怡迪 said...

吃飽了嗎?~~~還沒下班,好餓哦............................................................

Sumandebray said...

One philosopher said that "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder" and the other said "you see what you want to see"
If there was a perfect place in the world .. we would love to mould our country to match that. Till the time we find that place, I guess we need to move forward accepting the bad alongside the good and Sing ... Ma tujhe salam!

Nikita said...

A brilliant question, Aparna. The post reminds me of a lecture we had in college where some exchange students were present. we were discussing 'what defines india' and surprisingly, while the american students talked of the hospitality, warmth, vibrancy and more...the indian students stuck to classic DD images of villages, bullock carts and chaos. I wonder if we ourselves always portray the right picture of our country!