Tuesday, December 04, 2007

India... the last time (maybe)

I've been thinking and talking a lot about India over the last week or so. Alexis returns home next week so that has started a lot of conversations and has helped me to process things a bit more. Plus reading Alexis' recent blog entry100 things I learned in India pushed my thinking as well.

So here are some random thoughts.

It truly is the land of almost... just about anything you can mention, India is almost. Almost western. Almost modern. Almost falling apart. almost...

I've been realizing that one of the reasons it was so challenging for me is that it is completely foreign to me. The foundation for ethics is different. Social structure is different. Expectations and hopes are different. When we visited Haiti, I felt like I understood it even when I was horrified. India was just too foreign.

I wonder how India, and perhaps other cultures that are equally foreign to the west, will interact with the west in the future. For example, the caste system colors every interaction there but doesn't translate elsewhere. Each time we met an Indian, it felt as if they were trying to figure out where we would fit in the caste system so that they would know how they could interact with us - what was proper, what was allowed, what they could expect. Until they fit us in somewhere, they weren't quite sure. Reflecting back, I realized that folk from the lower castes whom we encountered interacted with us in very different ways than those from the upper castes. And, caste and class are not the same thing. On top of that, the government has outlawed caste discrimination while at the same time institutionalizing caste by establishing quotas in a number of areas of the society. How can that all work when interacting with a society like the US where our mythology says anyone can pull themselves up and even a poor boy can grow up to be president?

Religion is different too. It may not be any more diverse than in the states but it certainly is taken more seriously. I was told that Indians really don't have a concept of an athiest. Obviously, everyone does not practice their religion to the same degree, but everyone has one.

Much of the time, you can tell a person's religion by their dress or hairstyle. Again, the walls of separation in the society are daunting.

I can't imagine the scene of thousands of people we saw waiting to get inside the Bahai Lotus Temple, some to pray, some to sit in silence, and some to see the building, taking place in the US. No matter how spectacular, a religious site just wouldn't have that kind of draw.

I was struck by the complete inadequacy of the infrastructure and found myself wondering whether India could catch up to the developed world without catching up there.

Contrast... beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, 21st century and 17th century, west and east... The contrast is always in front of you and always as stark as it could be.


Adam Gonnerman said...

Fascinating post. This sounds like what other people have told me about India, as well as what I glimpsed in the documentary "Born Into Brothels" ( http://tinyurl.com/23fkbq ). Though I lived in Brazil and saw things in that third world nation that depressed me, I've never seen anything like what India appears to be.

roy said...

Thanks for stopping by Adam.

Yes, we had been in Haiti some years back and while it certainly was depressing and difficult, India was somehow different. I think part of the issue was that I felt like I understood Haiti while India was just foreign in every way.
It will be very interesting to watch the place that India takes in the world. I just don't know how it will fit in with the west.