Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Love America!!!

An old guy, visibly in unkempt clothes, walks in the restaurant, orders a cup of tea. It’s almost peak hour now and the public is rushing in and out of the restaurant. Location is just outside the crowded Pune Station. I’m quietly having my breakfast, have to catch a train in an hour or so.
Waiter in frenzy serves the bill to our oldie before he asks. He’s mighty offended, thinking the waiter is dropping hints for him to vacate the seat.
“Don’t you have the decency of waiting till I’m finished with the tea> don’t we poor even deserve a peaceful cup of morning tea?”
“We too are poor dada. I’m not asking you to leave. Have your tea at your pace. No hurry” said the waiter without taking any offence.
But our man was not content. A few minutes later this small incident lead to big statements about India, Indians and somewhere I could hear the words “Americans”, “English” and “West” being dragged into the bout. Waiter refuted back in full fury saying… It’s better to die than to continue living in this sick and poor country… Why did the British ever have to leave the country… We’re only fit to be slaves…
These dialogs reminded me of popular JFK quotes. Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country. And the one from movie Rang De BasantiKoi bhi desh perfect nahi hota. Use perfect banana padta hai.” (No country is perfect; we have to work towards making it perfect)

It reminded me of another incident which occurred couple of months back. Similar in gist but diametrically opposite settings.
Location – a plush mall in Pune. Popular KFC joint, moderate rush, evening time. A guy walks in. Visibly a techie J may be just arrived from US of A after a long time. Jumps into the queue, seems like we are all invisible. We don’t mind nevertheless. A large order (mabbe accompanied by family or friends), a couple of burgers with extra cheese. Attendant promptly informs about additional cost, a mere 5 rupee per burger. Our desi-firang gets angry, “We don’t pay for extra cheese in States. This is loot. I won’t give a penny more. Where’s your manager?” The poor chap is so scared that he freezes for a second. Luckily the manager’s around and comes to immediate rescue, settles down the unruly fellow.
Thoughts in my mind at that very instance: Dude, go back to your America. We don’t need you here. We have enough troublemakers already. Almost every other guy in the queue shares similar sentiment. I can see it on their faces, as if all were thinking aloud at the same time.
I’ve never been to America. Have interacted with some Americans and have close friends living there, migrated there. Have read a lot about the American Dream. Watched some good movies. With this limited knowledge of USA, I can at most infer that like us, Americans too are also humans. Some good, some bad, some ugly J and this is applicable to the entire human race irrespective of the nationality, creed or religion.
A poor man at roadside tea-stall willing to pay his hard earned money. But does not get the respect he deserves. On the other hand, a well-off but arrogant person at a posh food joint who is fighting for mere 5 rupees.
Something somewhere has gone wrong… and I assure you it’s not America.
Just as we have notions of America… I’m sure Americans might also have some ideas about India and Indians. Surely they no longer think of us to be a land of snake charmers and the rajas and the maharajas. But we still are a land of spirituality, yoga and kama-sutra. The elite and knowledgeable ones might be aware of Indians as being largest growing IT resource pool. Rehman’s Jai ho and Mallya’s Force India are still too small, but have made their presence felt. But, still I guess an average American would not know about India much.
We see western tourists visiting us every now and then. Many are eager to see the real India including the poor and downtrodden people living in slums. It may be something which appeals to them at a different level. Seeing the extremes in which others live make them more appreciative of the good lives they have back home. Some people mature in right directions after their trip. Others just watch the Taj & Gateway.
On the other hand compare an average Indian going abroad. He’s come from this very background, at times disgusted by the filth and environment here, seeking a better life. Now when he travels abroad he is overwhelmed with the progress that he sees. He tends to overlook the fact that even there people are poor (I’ve already seen them back home… and anyways these poor are still rich in comparison). It is naturally frustrating for him to come back and find India just the way he left it.
These travelers have different stories to say. People visiting say Middle East, Africa, Latin America or Far East would have different experiences.
In a way everyone’s correct in his or her frame of reference… like Ayn Rand suggests “Contradictions don’t exist, check your premise.” So essentially it won’t be fair to compare apples with oranges.
It’s not about Americans or Indians. It’s about people thinking and perceiving things and ways that are alien, but seem to be panacea for our local problems… it’s about “not liking ourselves”… it’s about envying others… it’s about things we wish for when we don’t have them and assume others have them by default… it’s about assuming that their ways are superior and there’s something horribly wrong with ourselves… its about expecting respect without having earned it… assuming that we should be respected when we our selves have doubts about our self-esteem and don’t take pride in what we are…
Shouldn’t it be the other way round? “Humility” honored and “Arrogance” shown its proper way out!!! Why can’t we be example setters instead of following others… no harm in learning from others and respect others for what they have earned. But equally important is being able to understand the whole dynamics of this behavior.
Look within for solutions and changes… not outside… roots are as important in growth of a plant above the ground… just looking at the sky won’t help you get anywhere… the more you dwell deeper, the more you’ll flourish… to be respected and envied by others you should cherish what you already have and nurture it…

1 comment:

  1. As an American who has not yet visited India (but definitely hope too), your remarks are very thought-provoking in a good way.

    Your observations about the behaviour of people in their native land and in other lands are quite accurate because, as you note, people are the same the world over. Cultures and ways of doing things vary wildly and the people themselves also differ all across the spectrum. With just a few noun changes here and there, all of your observations could be noted here in the US in the exact same way.

    From my communications (brief and not as deep as I would like) so far with my new friends in India, I would say that the Indian culture is far more advanced (as I would expect from your long history) in the spiritual ways that permeate your daily lives. In the US we (in some ways) have more available technology, but less understanding of and integration of spirituality in our lives. We can all learn from each other, but must keep our own cultures true. It is already sad that so many places in the US and the world are so exactly the same that there is no soul to be found there.

    Your last point is, of course, the most important. We must start from within ourselves! No one else can or will make us whole or give us what we think we want. What we need is already inside us, patiently waiting for us to see and to understand.

    Thank you for reminding me of these important parts of life as I start my day here in the US!