Saturday, December 20, 2014

Choices Or Voices

People are people and at a very basic level, we all want the same thing. They are > jobs for self, quality health care for our parents and future relevant education for the next generation of the society. The next generation could be your kids or you are probably a good Samaritan and really care about the future of the society/country/world.

I have visited Europe and USA a few times since the year 2011. But living there for fourteen months gave an excellent insight into how the western world is very different from India.

Western world: Individualistic society. The individualism and the level of individual freedom that exists to whatever an individual wants is unreal. As long as you are not breaking any written law, life is good!

India (and parts of Asia): Collective society. Plenty of freedom for the individual. Yet, one is expected to conform to the societal norms/unwritten laws.

Individualism and collectivism both have their merits and demerits. To keep moving forward as a society, I believe we must not hold on to a mindset for too long. How about we evolve to switch between the two types of thinking that is most aligned with the times? Easier said than done.

As a society, “collectivism” is at the core of everything in India. It is not uncommon to see an individual sacrifice his choice repeatedly in favor of collective voice. In India, “collective voice” is broadcasted to individuals in covert and overt forms. Source of broadcast is usually the family, or the neighbors, or what is shown in any one of the Hindi soap operas. It is impossible to list all of them out. If you are one of those who made most choices based on societal input and are around the age of thirty, chances are very high you have already made many life defining choices. ‘Life defining’ because your life would have a completely different trajectory if you were making choices that you wanted versus what the collective voice dictated. This could be choosing academics versus sports, choosing biology versus linguistics, choosing a life partner versus staying single, divorcing versus being stuck in an unhappy relationship. If you have listened to the collective voice and have got married, please allow me to break it you, making babies will be  a very natural outcome of you getting married. A certain elderly gentleman in a family had one of his feet on a banana peel and the other inside the coffin. Despite his fragile state, legend has it that he emotionally blackmailed his grandson to make the “push” for a great grandchild before his entire body goes inside the coffin. Please don’t miss my mean streaked humor ;).

I have consciously chosen to be single by shutting out the collective noise. In my mind, I am absolutely clear that if I get married, I will get married only when I want to. So far, that has not happened. My decision to stay single in a collective society obviously has repercussions. For example, my parents have been bombarded with variety of questions. Let me put the best one on this blog for your consumption. One of my father’s friend asked him this question in chaste Hindi “आपके बेटे मे कोई कमी तो नही हैं?” (this means “Is your son impotent?”). The weird part is, my dad comes home and asks me that question! I suspect my dad was hoping I will change my mind, get married, get busy making babies in my spare time to prove my virility. Nope, not happening. I can’t let the overt broadcast win this one. 

Also, I want to share the million dollar question from Pammi aunty. Let me alert you, Punjabi Pammi aunty is tour de force, a heavy hitter when it comes to adding muscle to collective noise. This question was an atom bomb directed towards a friend of mine who was dragging his feet on making a decision about his marriage. Unfortunately, it was his mom who ended up fielding this question. The question “आपके बेटे ने कोई ओर लड़का पसंद कर ली हे?(figuratively, this means “Is your son gay?). My friend reeling under the weight of this question is married and has a three year old daughter now.

If you have ears out for the “collective noise” (sorry, I mean voice), you will regret some of the choices when you reflect on your life. To “avenge” this, you will add to the “collective noise” unknowingly and try to influence someone else’s life at some point in future. Power to you if you are able to stay quiet and break this vicious cycle.

Consider yourself incredibly lucky if the society’s collective voice and your individual choice converge to a single point in your life. Something like one in a billion kinda lucky.