Sunday, May 30, 2010

People at a wedding

This afternoon I attended a wedding reception of my colleague’s daughter. I reached the hall early. As the bride and the groom hadn’t reached I waited outside the hall. I sat on one of the chairs there. Though it was drizzling outside the humidity was high and I was sweating. I was watching the people as I kept fanning myself. There were just half a dozen of men and the rest were women.
The women sat in groups. The women were all decked up like Christmas trees – fully adorned. They all wore heavy Kanchipuram saris. Some had zari while others wore fancy saris with beads, sequins and embroidered ones. I sat a little far from the women crowd as I didn’t know anyone there. I felt like a fish out of water.

The women looked at me and started whispering to each other and occasionally glancing at me. I wore a chikan work (Lucknowi) salwar. Though I paid a few thousands for that, I guess it did not suit their crowd. Over that I do not have the habit of wearing ornaments – be it platinum, or gold or silver or those fancy ones. So I stood out in that crowd. They were busy trying to find out who I was. They were happily talking in Malayalam thinking that I couldn’t understand their language. (Thanks to my alien look). I overheard a lady guessing that I belonged to the Pentecost community. That was their wild guess and I did not go to correct them. I didn’t have to prove to them about my caste and community.

There was another group who sat there exhibiting their ornaments. I saw four heads together admiring an enormous gold bangle on the ‘thin arm’ of a puny lady. The bangle was studded with red and white stones and she was wearing a green sari!!!! It was just not going with her sari. Then the attention was changed to another lady’s earring and so it continued one after the other. It later turned to their saris and in course of time it was about their husbands and children. One boasted on how her child secured all A+ grades for her HSC examination. There were oohs and haaas from all the ladies. Then the discussion was turned to how someone’s kid scored a high rank in the engineering entrance examinations. Again the ooohs and haaas could be heard. There were occasional glances at me. I gave them a totally disinterested look though I was watching each and everyone keenly.

There was yet another group who looked sophisticated. They were sitting there with their noses up in the air and trying to find fault with the arrangement of the reception. The caterers had already started serving the welcome drink. An elderly lady with short coloured hair thought it was very unhygienic to keep the drink opened as all the guests hadn’t arrived yet. She waved her hands as if to show her long nails with red nail polish, and told the guests who came late not to drink it. Was she playing a ‘Good Samaritan’????!!!!!

By then one of my colleague had arrived and we together went and had the welcome drink. The ‘Good Samaritan’ gave me a disgusted look. I gave her a ‘u mind ur own business’ look. She made sure not to look at me again. I was exchanging pleasantries with my friend in Malayalam. Soon other friends of mine joined us. The lady who had guessed that I was a Pentecost gave me a sheepish grin. She understood that my looks had deceived her.

Soon the bride and groom arrived and the halls were opened. As soon as the door opened there was a mad rush to grab a seat for the first sitting itself. All the sophisticated ladies too could be seen running for their seats. (Wonder where their manners and sophistication disappeared???!!!!) My friends and myself (there were five of us) found a place near a family- a father, mother and a little boy of maybe four or five years and three other people. Even before the toast was hosted the people seated on our table quaffed off the wined and gulped down the cake. The chicken fry, salad, sweet chutney, and fruits were covered with cling foil. As soon as the briyani was kept on the table the grabbed the spoon and started serving big helpings. (Even then the toast hadn’t begun at the stage)

Five of us waited for toast to be hosted. Only after the toast we started with cake and wine. By then the people finished their first helping and started with their second. (It was even more disgusting to see the people use their right hand covered with the briyani and raita to take their next helping!!!) It was the first time I saw people eat so heartily at a wedding. By the time we started our first helping a few were having their third!!!! Their capacity is really great!!!! Luckily the food was being served in plenty that we did not have to starve.

After the wedding while I was going back home I thought about the Indian weddings. (I was using the public transport so my imaginations were free to run wild). Indian wedding were a place of pomp and splendour. Be it rich or poor, the weddings are always a grand function even if one has to borrow money. It was also a social gathering where people updated their knowledge of other people and were ready to pass the already spiced news to other gossipers. Why do people go to weddings like Christmas trees? People should at least have a sense of colour while using clothes and ornaments and should make sure if it suits them or not. Last but not the least people should follow the basic table manners. Nobody is happy to touch a spoon with others leftovers on it!! I personally feel that weddings should be a function limited to a very small crowd and it should be very simple. Though I am of this opinion I really don’t know if I’ll be able to follow this when it comes to my daughter’s marriage. It is easy to preach but difficult to practice, right???

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Are we Indians poor?

This is a question I often ask myself? I have always felt that people from other countries look down on us. They are not willing to accept that India has the necessary manpower and resources to become a prosperous country. They still consider us poor and underdeveloped.

I had an experience when I visited Malaysia a few years back. My family – my husband, daughter and myself were there. We were put up at a place called Petaling Jaya near KL. As many of my relatives lived in different parts of Malaysia I made it a point to visit the elderly aunts of mine. An aunt of mine stayed at Johor Baru. It was an overnight journey from KL to JB. Johor was mainly an estate region. I reached there on a Father’s Day. There was a get together of the parishioners of Johor at my aunt’s place. The morning we reached there, she was busy preparing food for the celebration. She told us that we were their special guests and my husband had to take part in the celebrations as he was a father too.

By evening the guests started arriving one by one. Most of them were Chinese and Malays. There were just a couple of Indian families too. As it was a party, I dressed up in a party wear - a laced frock and wore a gold belt around my waist. People kept coming and we were introduced to their guests. Finally the priest arrived. He was a Chinese. When he heard that we were from India, his eyes popped out of his sockets and exclaimed…

“You don’t look poor!!!” (How could I look poor when I had excess flesh all over my body??!!!)

“Who told you that we are poor, father?” I asked without showing my irritation

“I thought Indians were poor,” he replied, still in disbelief.

I told him that all Indians were not poor. There were poor Indians as well as well to do Indians. He was also surprised to find us talk in English. I was thoroughly irritated. Did he think that we Indians were barbarians? Or did he think that we knew only our regional language just like how the Chinese did? I argued with him. I made sure it did not become a heated one as I did not want to embarrass my aunt and spoil the occasion.

Finally the priest said, “You don’t look like an Indian.”
I did not argue with him over that because this was some thing that I have been hearing ever since I can remember (I don’t know from where I got my alien look). Many people mistake me for a Malay or at least they think that I am of a ‘hybrid variety’.

That visit really made my opened. Why were we always being targeted? In every country there are well-to-do people as well as poor people? Are there not poor people in China? Are there not poor people in USA, or in England or in any other developed country? Poverty is a relative term and the degree of poverty varies from country to country. Why did the priest think that all Indians were poor? Why did the people of Malaysia think that Indians did not know English? The very thought was disturbing.

In most of the foreign magazines and in flight magazines one can find the dirty side of India. The pictures published are the ones taken from the interior most villages in India. It can be a girl who has not bathed for days or a snake charmer’s picture or the dhobi washing the clothes, or a tribal woman in all those multi-coloured bangles and head dress. You might remember how a foreigner was caught photographing all the dirt found on the road sides. Why did he do so? Is it because there are no good places in Kerala that he had to photograph the waste strewn all over? No wonder people believe that we are poor people from a poor country.

The Indians who migrated to Malaysia in the 1940’s, 50’s and 60’s are still of the opinion that India is very backward. Most of the Indians went there to work in plantations, married Indian brides and settled there. They had big families and it was not possible for them to come to India due to financial problems. Their idea about India is still the undeveloped India of the 50’s!!! They are still in their 1950’s!!!! They have painted a very bad picture of India to their children. Their children still believe that India is undeveloped with bullock carts on roads and people ate rice in the morning, afternoons and evenings. The children also believed that no foreign brands of food items or any other stuff were available in India.

A cousin of mine visited us a couple of years back. She is living in Canada and is married to a German. It was her first visit to India. She had born and brought up in Malaysia and then migrated to Canada. As she did not know India, she brought her mother along with her. The picture the mother gave her about India was a very bad one. This cousin of mine came with two very big suitcases for her short stay of ten days.

The first morning she bought out a packet of Quaker oats and said that she had the habit of having oats in the morning. I asked her as to why she had brought that packet; she replied that she thought we wouldn’t have oats at home. She brought biscuits, potato wafers and a whole lot of eatables. I was thoroughly irritated but did not say a word. After all she was my guest. (It is better not to have such guests!!!) She wouldn’t drink the water from our place. She felt the water in India had e-coli germs in it. She bought a carton of mineral water for her use. (Lucky that she did not bring that too from Canada) Poor soul doesn’t know that the mineral water was the most unsafe thing to drink!!!!

Two days after she arrived I had to do a bit of shopping. This cousin came along with me to the Spencer’s at Spencer junction. She went around looking from rack to rack and she was surprised to find everything that she had brought available in India. She started scrutinizing the prices, then converting it to dollars. She then exclaimed,

“The prices are the same here and in Canada.”

I just kept mum. She came home and told my aunt,

“Mum, you get everything here. You were the one who told me that nothing was available in India.”

I understood who the culprit was. Then this cousin told me the instructions my aunt had given her before she came to India were many. My aunt told her that people in India never wore knee length dresses. So she was supposed to bring knee length dresses, shorts or Bermudas. She had to wear loose fitting tops. She had to wear gold and so went the list. When was shocked to find me wearing Bermudas and knee length frocks. She then understood what her mother had told her was all crap. This aunt who left India in the 1950’s hasn’t changed her mindset. She was not aware of the changes that have taken place in India. Or was she not willing to accept the changes that took place in India? The feeling that these Malaysians (All people living there from different origins) have is that we are all very poor and we go there in seek of some favour. They never realize that we are living in a much better position here.

Before I conclude, let me tell you another experience. This happened just a few years ago. My husband had to attend a conference in Japan. So my daughter and I stayed with my co-brother at Singapore. My mother-in-law rang me up asked me to visit a few relatives of my husband. Very frankly I don’t like visiting relatives because of their snobbish attitude and the way they look down on relatives who come from India. When my husband got back from Japan I passed him the information my mother-in-law had asked me to. Finally we decided to go to one aunt’s place and one of my husband’s friends took us there. We went there and it was a cousin of my husband who opened the door. He said that his mother was bathing. He made us sit there and he wouldn’t talk to us. He was keeping aloof from us. Though we tried talking he looked very uncomfortable. He just wouldn’t talk to us. He spoke to that friend of ours. It was then that friend said that my husband had just returned from Japan after a conference. Suddenly this guy’s eyes opened wide and started talking to my husband. My husband told him that he had a doctorate in Astrophysics and that he was continuing his work in that field. I was really irritated. Until then he looked down upon us and now he was talking so freely. It seems he was a secondary teacher. I asked him which subject he taught in school and he replied Physics and Chemistry.

“So…. do u have post graduate degree in Physics …..or in Chemistry?” I asked

“No, I don’t have a post graduate degree” he replied feeling a bit awarkard

“How can you teach in a secondary section without a post graduation?”

He told me he taught up to Class X and a degree was sufficient. He really felt belittled. I really wanted him to feel belittled. I know it was very wrong on my part to do that but I just wanted him to know that we were much more superior to them. I just wanted them to know that we did not want any favours from them. I also wanted them to know that we were in no way inferior to them and that we held respectable positions in India.

Indians should realize that they are in no way inferior to the rest of the world. We Indians have the potential to become world’s no 1 economy if politics and religion doesn’t play a role in hampering the developments and the mindset of the people.