Thursday, 10 April 2014

Every thing from Indian Stereotypes to the Indian Super power

As an Indian abroad, your initial amusement at the world perception of India soon turns into peevishness with an over dose of Indian stereotypes and at times blatant exaggerations of partial facts.

As a self proclaimed ambassador of sorts representing my country (which I believe every citizen abroad is) I obliged to clearing all doubts about India I was asked; some of my favorites being about the sacred cow, the significance of wearing a Bindi, the elephant god, why our gods had so many heads and the need for 330 million gods. Also of the eclectic mix of over 8 prominent religions we have in India and how one is essentially different from another. As a beef eating, athletic, non Bindi wearing tomboy, I probably was not the best example of a Traditional Hindu Indian girl. But I most definitely did justice to portraying the varied shades of India by giving an unbiased picture of things, sporting a Kurta to work everyday, having Bollywood movie and dance sessions, engaging in countless debates on broad issues from women safety on the streets to why arranged marriages work for us to racism and also as the delivery boy of local news(Homosexuality was made illegal in India while I was in Colombia). Objectively talking about all these problems brings to it fresh light and you learn more about your self in order to take the right stance.

All this made me think of The Elephant, The Tiger and The Cellphone, an eloquently written book by Shashi Tharoor about India covering a myriad of topics from politics to pizzas and our country's innate Soft Power capacity. Its one of the few books I've read and if you can't get your hands on a paper back copy of the book, I strongly suggest you catch the two chapter extract of it in the form of his TED talk here.

In this globalized age, our soft power is fast spreading, since chicken Tikka masala is known as Britain's national dish today. There are Bollywood movies with Spanish subtitles played in domestic transit buses in Argentina. My host brother's university has Yoga as a part of his Physical Education class  in Colombia. I was most surprised when I came across two travelers from LATAM, completely unrelated to each other, both with Lakshmi tattoos on their arms, ending up together with an Indian girl in an Ecuadorian hostel. The whole thing was like a bizarre yet serendipitous play by gods telling me to learn the Laxmi Strotra again from childhood while the two strangers were so excitedly talking about the Goddess of Opulence and her Indubitable beauty. And while all this is being made popular out there I believe the real credit goes to Apu from The Simpson's and Rajesh Kutrapally of The Big Bang Theory for doing such a great job in bringing about awareness about Indian culture abroad. (On a side note: Simpsons in EspaƱol, Hilarious!)

In spite of all this we have the other ignorant bunch, who still confuse the middle east with India. If you walk the streets of Ecuador you ratify the abundance of Indian Population with the countless Indian restaurants all around.We Indians are in every corner of the world and obviously more so in the country with the most liberal visa laws in the world. But with big posters of Bollywood actresses and Shawarma places with signs of Indian food you start to question the Indian-ness of it all. Mainly because Shawarma is not Indian food! Its Lebanese. It is only recently becoming popular in India. But I don't blame them since we do have heavy influences of Turkish culture due to the Persian conquest thus, inducing Mughalai food. Still it is heart warming to see our Pakistani and Bangladeshi Brothers running Indian restaurants and grateful for being Invited in by their families, to my first real Indian food in months. Bliss.

One of the other annoying assumptions about India that got me indignant was every time some assumed we all know magic and can make our selves float. I was asked a couple of other absurd stuff but let me sum it up for you. "No I do not ride to school on an elephant. Belly dancing is not from India, only Kartina kaif does it. India is not in the middle east, try south east Asia! It's closer". Here is a mnemonic that might help: Arabian nights? No! Jungle book? YES!" And the clarifier for the most annoying one of them all! "Yes, we speak English! We were a British colony for about a 100 years and English happens to be our second official and business language." Thank you!

Is there any thing cuter than a bunch of 2nd graders doing Yoga? :)