The Ethics of Being Indian

This a rant post. Or a rave post. It’s a bit of both. But for a change I am not cribbing about my life. Nor am I musing about its changes. No, for a change, all I have to ask here is for some change.

This might anger ‘patriotic’ Indians, but it’s a democracy, right? Freedom of speech et al. Not China, right? So here goes. I have traveled a little. Not much. Mainly in Asia and to the US and UK. I have seen a bit of the developed world in the US, London,  Singapore, and a lot of the emerging economies in China, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Through every trip, I have come back amazed at the state of infrastructure in these supposedly poor countries, and appalled at the state of our own. But that’s fine. Governments change. Corruption may disappear. One day, we may have roads to be proud of. Trains that are fit to ride on. It will happen. We can’t be dumb too long in that sphere.

What though galls me, what I think will never change is the average Indian. Yes, I am one of them, but am I proud being so? Not at all. I feel that the state of a nation and its people is often best expressed on its roads. Not the quality of the roads, but how we behave on them. As I roamed through Laos, I was amazed at the fact that there seemed to be no honking. No honking? You must be kidding me? In Ho Chi Minh City, entire masses of bikes swerved all around, but there was peace. How to describe it? There was a certain civility. In Laos, I abruptly stopped my bike, uncertain which turn to take. The signal was green. As I stood there looking perplexed, not a single vehicle honked at me. No one tried to swerve here and there, and make their own way. They waited. Patiently. Till I realized what a dumb thing I was doing, and moved to the side. Can I expect such behavior in India where I get honked at for staying put at a red light signal? No! I was glared at today, and shouted at (hey, get out of the way was shouted in coarse Kannada) because I had the nerve to wait while the signal was red. Yesterday, another vehicle decided to honk mercilessly at me – and I, poor thing that I was, was 7th in line in a row of vehicles all waiting for the signal to change. He flashed his lights at me. Then once the signal changed to green, overtook on the right, while I was turning right, barely leaving 3 inches gap between his vehicle and mine, to go screeching down the turn. Why would a person do that? Lack of education? Can’t be – take all the other countries I mentioned, not all of them rank high in the educated sphere. It’s not to say that road rage does not happen in these countries, road rage happens everywhere. But it’s the way we carry ourselves.

These are just two isolated instances. But there are many more. I have seen that people here are rarely courteous. On the road, we act like we are in a tearing hurry when our very philosophy in life as told through our scriptures emphasizes patience. We curse, we swear. We make driving the most unpleasant experience. Traveling abroad, I have seen that the only ones who break rules are Indians. I remember forever a trolley ride in Hong Kong, this was a heritage car no less, which requested visitors not to eat or move when the tram is in motion. An Indian family sat down, promptly opened assorted packets of snacks while sending the little ones up and down to pass the snacks. No one else on the train moved. No one else ate or drank. And this was a multi-national train, if I may so call it so. Another isolated instance? Maybe. But we pee openly on the  roads, then blame the government for not installing enough toilets. Fair enough. But how many women do you see peeing on the roads? Are there toilets for them? Nah, it ain’t easy for a woman to zip down and pee, is it? What do the women do then? Whatever it is that they do, why can’t the men do? Nah, they lech and leer and pass comments all the while rigorously scratching their balls, or whatever it is that runs in their pants. Again, a kind of Indian trait. Very much an Indian trait. I have seen women in most other countries, in Laos and China, both communist countries, but I have never been harassed  as I have been in India. And in case you think, its coz I am a foreigner, I don’t look like one there, so friends tell me. I can blend with the crowd in Southeast Asia, they say. Comments that used to hurt before, but now, I am proud! I, at least, don’t look Indian!

Let’s not talk about 5,000 years of civilization please and beat our chests about it. If 5,000 years have produced this kind of primitive behavior, then it is time to abandon that so-called golden history. Can we begin to act civilized now at least?

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