For this project I interviewed Indu Jacob, a Citibank employee in New Delhi who got enrolled in an MBA program in the US and arrived to look for an apartment. She frankly shared her experiences of her own culture and country. Feeling passionate about both, she nevertheless views the present and past of her nation critically and with a grain of salt so that she is able to formulate an independent judgement. Not having been much outside of her nation before, Indu assesses a lot relying on books, periodicals, and her conversations with people from other cultures she met on her way.
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Indu’s opinion of Indian people is that they are quiet, polite and pleasant in communication. She also describes Indians as status-conscious because of the importance still attached to the caste and other hereditary qualities, passionate about good education and family-oriented. Indu notes that morals are stricter in her country than in some others. She notes that the country is home to a large variety of ethnicities that have different cultural norms, and so generalization is hardly possible. Thus, Hindus and Muslims will support different value systems which makes generalization difficult.
Indu says that India is among the most ancient civilizations in the world and one of the birthplaces of modern civilization. The country was inhabited as far as 5 thousand years ago, when the Indus Valley culture was in existence. This is why India retains attraction for many tourists and has a rich legacy of culture and arts. However, the decline of the ancient civilization led India to the period of colonial rule when it was dominated by the British. Indu notes that there have been advantages to colonial rule as the British improved the educational system, governance, and infrastructure. On the whole, however, the nation still has to struggle with the colonial past.
Hinduism is the most widespread religion that the majority of population follows. At the same time, the Muslim population is also large and is a significant influence on the events and politics in the country. Other religions include Buddhism, Sikhism, Zoroastrism, although all of them are followed by minor groups and cannot be compared in size to Hinduism or Islam.
Customs, beliefs, and traditions emphasize, in Indu’s mind, a strong family orientation as the life of many Indians is heavily dependent on their families. Many people, especially in rural localities, live in large extended families, interacting a lot with their family members and sharing their joys and troubles. Traditions also include traditional dress, especially famous sari worn by women. There are also strong religious traditions as many people attach great importance to religion as part of their lives. Pompous religious ceremonies accompany the lives of Indians since birth till death. In India, Indu studies Bharata Natyam “practised ad performed in the temples by a class of dancers known as the devadasis” (Indian Heritage, n.d.).
Indu says that she believes in the future of India’s economy, especially if the nation is able to realize its potential in the sphere of high technologies, drawing on its large pool of graduates in technology and sciences. At the time, however, she rates it as “developing”, adding that among this class of nations India has an excellent outlook. Competing with China, it can become the next Asian superpower. To accomplish this, in Indu’s mind, the nation will have to overcome strong disparities in national income across social and ethnic groups and increase the share of services and industry in GDP. Although India is strong in Business Process Outsourcing, it still has to develop this field to make it a vital part of the national economy.
Indu’s own source of livelihood is her job with the Citibank. She notes that by Indian standards it is a well-paid job, so she is happy to be employed in a Western financial institution.
India’s ethnic cuisine is as varied as its population and so demonstrates a variety of dishes to fit all tastes. Indu notes that foreigners typically consider it rather spicy, but then there are sweet dishes that are palatable to about everybody. Spices are used a lot, including chilli pepper, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, and coriander. Rice and all sorts of vegetables (such as chana, toor, and mung) are staple products. Poultry such as chicken is used a lot, especially in the North, and there are many sweets made of milk.
Educational achievement greatly varies by region as people residing in rural areas are likely to achieve much less in terms of education than those living in urban ones, and if they do so, it comes at a great cost to them. As a result, the Universal Primary Education program targeting 100% literacy in the country has been struggling so far. At the same time, many young people get a higher education that is no inferior to Western degrees, especially in realms like Sciences or Technology in which Indian universities have been always strong. Those who received their degrees from the Indian Institutes of Technology or the National Law School in Bangalore can count on a good job after that.
Indu says that in general she supports the United Progressive Alliance since she likes many of their leaders, although typically she would vote for right-wing party. The UPA that won the past election in 2004 is in contrast left-wing. In general, Indu says, she does not take a great interest in politics.
Among important problems facing India at the time, Indu sees the suppressed insurgency in Kashmir, the state on the borderline between India and Pakistan as a serious drag on the national security, international prestige and resources. She says that sectarian violence is threatening the development of specific regions and the country in general and wishes all conflicts could be resolved soon. The need to modernize the economy and drag a large part of the population out of poverty is another serious challenge, as India remains a nation where affluence and dire poverty exist side by side. Indu also believes that the nation needs to embrace a more democratic approach in relationships among people and foster merit-based selection and promotion, defying caste ranks.
Indu notes that her day-to-day behavior is shaped to a great degree by her assumptions about cultural “norms”. For example, she prefers to eat in Indian restaurants in the US. At home, she wears sari a lot. Her family values motivate her to spend a lot of time with her parents and sisters.
In her view, the modest style of behavior typical of Indian girls can be seen as a disadvantage from the US perspective. Thus, girls like her, used to following a modest style of behavior may not appear to be as much fun as others. The caste system and associated differences in social position can also be viewed as being outside the norm and a disadvantage.
At the same time, there is an advantage about being associated with a normative culture. For example, Indu follows Hinduism, and when she is in doubt as to what she should do in a complex situation, she can always look for guidance in her religion. She says that this can be difficult for someone who is associated with a culture that defies norms and values governing everyday behavior.
Indu’s strongest sources of support seem to be her family, her religion, and her inner drive to realize her potential in career development. Looking at her strengths, she appears to be a type of a modern person associated with a strong traditional culture – the one that combines modernity and tradition in her perception of life to give her strength for accomplishments.
The impact of norms, mores, and folkways ingrained in culture on human behavior can hardly be overrated. An inpidual belonging to a “normative” culture is likely to be strongly influenced by these cultural concepts for the rest of one’s life. In Indu’s case, her belonging to a highly normative Indian culture determines a lot in her life. Her modest behavior and clothing style, her standards for communication with people, including men, and her understanding of career and education as having great value in life all stem from the cultural norms.
Living in the US, she will have to adapt to a different set of norms and values. Thus, American culture emphasizes inpiduality, while Indian is more collectivist. Religious morals play a lesser part in the life of Americans due to persity of religions and unwillingness to impose the norms of one religion on all. Indu will have to adapt to a different culture and society, adopting in part its norms or learning to live with people who support a different set of values.
Learning about Indu’s perceptions and experiences is very useful for me in evaluating the responses of people from other cultures, especially those who, like herself, come from India. Talking with her, I realized the challenges someone in this nation has to overcome in order to make a career or obtain a good education. I also realized that people in this nation come from very different backgrounds and have a persity of experiences defined by their respective cultures and socioeconomic status.
It is also important to realize that religion matters much more in the lives of people in other countries, and India is one of those. When we think of other religions, we first of all relate to Islam thinking of it as juxtaposed with Christianity. It is good to realize that Hinduism comes with a totally different set of norms that governs the behaviors of its followers.
I have also realized that many people in India are impacted by their socioeconomic status and belonging to a lower or higher caste. People can be motivated to aspire to move to foreign countries to overcome their dependence on family and relatives in India. I think many will be inspired to try independent living in the US because they feel that in India they are tied by the need to pay attention to the desires of the family. At the same time, family will serve for them as a mighty source of support and consolation.
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