Thoughts on the Indian Culture
I’ve been in India for a little bit more than 2 weeks, and although it’s not nearly enough to see much of the country, it is still a fair share of time to get a taste of India and understand a bit of its culture.
In general, India is a very impressive country, sometimes even a little hardcore for someone like me, not used to such discomfort and poverty everywhere. This country is extremely polluted, in all possible ways, from the constant horns that would make anyone go crazy, to the variety of disgusting smells all around the streets and the mountains of trash along every sidewalk. It is a fact that you get used to it at some point, but that doesn’t make it normal or acceptable.
Anyway, despite how noisy and dirty India is, the truth is that it has something really special that attracts so many people to come, and some to stay. And that is probably the fact that in the middle of these little messy towns full of people and rickshaws, we can always find some lovely market or some amazing temple that makes us feel completely overwhelmed, and feeds our curiosity to keep going and see more and more of the country.
I think I can speak for all four of us when I say that we will come back to India, we have to! Every place we visited had something special, and even cities like Agra and Amritsar, that have nothing to see besides one single monument, still deserve the effort of a 10-hour trip because that single temple or palace is incredibly beautiful, almost magical. Plus, everything I saw in India is completely unique, every time I visited a new city, or temple, or market, or fort I always had the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to find anything similar anywhere else in the world, really!
However, there are many things about the Indian culture that I cannot comprehend or even tolerate sometimes. For me, seeing how women behave in India and understanding their role (or lack of it) in the society was something very revolting.
We met a few Indians with whom we talked about their religion and culture, like the family we had dinner with, a few tourist guides and friends we made along the way. They were the ones who made us realize that women have no voice whatsoever, either in the society or at home. In fact, they are supposed to do as they’re told from the moment they enter this world, and that includes first marrying whoever their parents choose for her, and then finding a way to “fall in love” with him and satisfying all his demands.
And, I believe this may be the image that everyone has of India, however being face to face with this reality is a very different thing, very hard to cope with.
For example, the night we had dinner with that Indian family was very revealing. Ignoring the fact that they completely took advantage of us and got us to pay them a free dinner at an expensive restaurant, it was a great opportunity to understand the dynamics of an Indian family. Everything was weird and made us feel uncomfortable, like the wife covering her face every time the husband or his older sister were in the room, or having him rudely telling her to shut up every time she tried to give an order to the kids when they were misbehaving, or the fact that during dinner she was waiting for the husband to tell her what she could eat out of the Thali they were sharing.
Moreover, she told us she couldn’t go to the movies, study or eat chicken, and when we asked why she merely pointed at her husband. We saw that every time she spoke with us for a little longer he would send her threatening looks, it was scary. In the end, what we could conclude from this is that she could not do anything without her husband’s authorization, not even bring up her kids or going to the cinema, which she openly said it was her favourite thing in the world and had never done it again after the marriage. We all left that restaurant with one thought in our minds ‘how lucky we are not to have been born in India’, because as the wife told us our culture is much better, ‘at least women are free’.
Basically India is a country that in some ways stopped in time. 70% of its marriages are arranged by the parents whose only motives are based on the dowry they’ll receive out of the contract. And women still live through their lives without being heard, or given a choice for that matter! And that is something we could also see by the way we were treated everywhere. Men in India never ever said ‘thank you’ or ‘please’ to us, it always sounded like an order, even when they stop us in the middle of the street to ‘ask’ to take a photo with us – for them it’s obvious, we have to do it just because they said so. And we always let them do it though, it was funny!
Regardless of my opinions, I’m sure this is something that bothers women a lot more than men, and honestly I think it is very understandable that we felt so uncomfortable, it is really sad to see all these women being deprived from so many things!
Nevertheless, the Indian culture has its fascinating aspects as well, and fortunately those are the ones that matter the most. The main one has to do with their religion and their unconditional devotion to their gods, I had never seen such strong believers with a faith deep enough to get them through any difficulty or complication in life. They truly believe that if they pray to Shiva 108 times in the morning they will have a happy day, and there’s no way that won’t happen, simply because Shiva will make sure of it. And then everyday we look around and it’s true, regardless of how poor they are, they’re always happy and cheerful!
I ended up comparing Hinduism with the religion I know better, Catholicism. I’m not a very religious person but it’s interesting to understand why people have faith in something so abstract.
Usually the principles of every religion are more or less the same, in the sense that they all tell you to be good, help the others, share what you have and so on so on. However, the big difference I could see between the two is that Hinduism is much happier and positive. Going in one of our churches in Europe is always a bit sad and the atmosphere is heavy and dark, while in Hindu temples everything is colourful and people look cheerful while they’re praying. Plus, we all realized that Catholicism always looks at things in a negative way, always tells you to ‘don’t do this or don’t do that because it’s a sin’ or whatever, while Hindus say the same things in an optimistic and positive way. And finally, we thought it was fascinating how they focus everything they do in life as a means to reach happiness, and it must certainly work because here we don’t see stressed or worried people. Everyone is so laid-back and relaxed, it’s inspiring really!
Anyway, India has many good and bad aspects about it, and even though it’s not really possible to have good traveling conditions when we’re on a budget or despite getting stomach sick every other day, it’s a wonderful country to visit, and the cultural differences are so evident and shocking that everyone should try and experience them!