Monday, March 28, 2011

We The people of India

A few days ago i got an interesting forwarded e-mail from a friend. Unfortunately there is no way to locate the original author of the article, so please excuse me for mentioning it anonymously. So first you would have to read the original article (brown font below) and then my views on it.

Note: My views may seem a very pessimistic viewpoint to describe a nation which is growing fastest by many standards, i would say that most of the facts mentioned are quite accurate.

For the convenience of non-Hindi and non-Indians readers i have illustrated some concepts in italics with blue color font :)

original article:

Why Indians don't give back to society & Why don't we worship Brahma?

Brahma ( is amongst the three gods responsible for creation. Brahma creates, Vishnu maintains and Shiva destryos: and hence they complete the cycle of life. Amongst millions of temples for various versions of vishnu and shiva, there is only one single temple of Brahma at a place called Pushkar and whereas its a religious duty to worship shiva out of fear (since he can destroy) and vishnu (since he maintains harmony) almost nobody cares for brahma :) 

Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism.

Why don't we worship Brahma ? We know he's part of the Hindu trinity as the creator, but we worship Vishnu, manager of the cosmos, and Shiva, its eventual destroyer. The answer lies not in religion, but in culture. But in what way does our religion shape our culture?

Weber explained the success of capitalism in the US, Germany and Britain as coming from their populations Protestant faith. This ethic, or culture, was missing from the Catholic populations of South America, Italy and Spain. Protestants, Weber said, extended Christianity message of doing good deeds, to doing work well. Industry and enterprise had an ultimate motive: public good. That explains the philanthropists of the US, from John D. Rockefeller to Andrew Carnegie to Bill Gates.

What explains the behaviour of Indians? What explains the anarchy of our cities? To find out, we must ask how our behaviour is different.

Some characteristics unite Indians. The most visible is our opportunism. One good way to judge a society is to see it in motion. On the road, we observe the opportunism in the behavior of the Indian driver. Where traffic halts on one side of the road in India, motorists will encroach the oncoming side because there is space available there. If that leads to both sides being blocked, that is fine, as long as we maintain our advantage over people behind us or next to us. This is because the other man cannot be trusted to stay in his place.

The Indians instinct is to jump the traffic light if he is convinced that the signal is not policed. If he gets flagged down by the police, his instinct is to bolt. In an accident, his instinct is to flee. Fatal motoring cases in India are a grim record of how the driver ran over people and drove away.
We show the pattern of what is called a Hobbesian society: one in which there is low trust between people. This instinct of me-versus-the-world leads to irrational behaviour, demonstrated when Indians board flights. We form a mob at the entrance, and as the flight is announced, scramble for the plane even though all tickets are numbered. Airlines modify their boarding announcements for Indians taking international flights.

Our opportunism necessarily means that we do not understand collective good. Indians will litter if they are not policed. Someone else will always pick up the rubbish we throw. Thailand's toilets are used by as many people as Indias toilets are, but they are likely to be not just clean but spotless. This is because thats how the users leave them, not the cleaners.

The Indians reluctance to embrace collective good hurts his state. A study of income-tax compliance between 1965 and 1993 in India (Elsevier Science/Das- Gupta, Lahiri and Mookherjee) concluded that declining assessment intensity had a significant negative effect on
compliance, while traditional enforcement tools (searches, penalties and prosecution activity) had only a limited effect on Indians.The authors puzzled over the fact that India's income tax performance (was) below the average of countries with similar GDP per capita.

We do not think stealing from the state is a bad thing, and our ambiguity extends to corruption, which also we do not view in absolute terms. Political parties in India understand this and corruption is not an issue inIndian politics. Politicians who are demonstrably corrupt, recorded on camera taking a bribe or saying appalling things, or convicted by a court, can hold legitimate hope of a comeback unthinkable in the West.

The opportunist is necessarily good at adapting, and that explains the success of Indians abroad. We can follow someone elses rules well, even if we cant enforce them at home ourselves. The Indian in the US is peerless at the Spelling Bee because the formula of committing things to memory, which in India passes for knowledge, comes naturally to him. But this talent for adapting and memorizing is not the same as a talent for creation.

The question is: Why are we opportunists?

In his great work Crowds and Power, Elias Canetti observed that the rewards religions promised their faithful were all far off, in the after life. This is because a short goal would demand demonstration from god and create skeptics instead of believers. There is an exception to this
in Hinduism. Hinduism is not about the other world. There is no after life in Hinduism and rebirth is always on earth. The goal is to be released entirely and our death rites and beliefs -- funeral in
Kashi -- seek freedom from rebirth.

Christianity and Islam are about how to enter heaven; Hinduism is about how not to return to
earth, because its a rotten place. Naipaul opens his finest novel with the words The world is what it is, and Wittgenstein (The world is all that is the case) opens his Tractatus similarly.

Hinduism recognizes that the world is irredeemable: It is what it is. Perhaps this is where the Hindu gets his world view -- which is zero-sum -- from. We might say that he takes the pessimistic view of society and of his fellow man. But why?

The Hindu devotees relationship with god is transactional: I give you this, you give me that. God must be petitioned and placated to swing the universes blessings towards you. God gives you something not through the miracle, and this is what makes Hinduism different, but by swinging 
that something away from someone else. This is the primary lesson of the Vedic fire sacrifice. There is no benefit to one without loss to another. Religion is about bending gods influence towards you through pleas, and appeasement, through offerings.

Society has no role in your advancement and there is no reason to give back to it (in any way, including leaving the toilets clean behind you) because it hasnt given you anything in the first place. That is why Indian industrialists are not philanthropists. Rockefeller always gave a tenth
of his earnings to the Church, and then donated hundreds of millions, fighting hookworm and educating black women. Bill Gates gave $25 billion (around Rs1.2 trillion), and his cause is fighting malaria, which does not even affect Americans. Warren Buffett gave away $30 billion, almost his entire fortune. Andrew Carnegie built 2,500 libraries. Dhirubhai Ambani International School has annual fees starting at Rs. 47,50,000 (with a Rs 24,00,000 admission fee) and Mukesh Ambanis daughter was made head girl.

An interesting thing to know is this: Has our culture shaped our faith or has our faith shaped our culture? I cannot say. To return to the question we started with: Why is Brahma not worshipped? The answer is obvious: He has nothing to offer us. What he could do for us, create the universe, he already has. There is no gain in petitioning him now. 

My views:

thats a cool take on Indian Psyche (see below). I agreed with most of the points that culture (which does erupts out of religion beliefs) does have a major chunk of opportunistic attitude in friends, family and society in general. Its also hard to disagree from the point mentioned about Brahma since it looks very logical from the argument presented. Though ascribing almost everything to Hindu viewpoint is understandable from the fact thats its a majority, but then it wont be accurate. Almost everybody (even from other religions and belief-systems in general, event atheists :) behave that way : the so called "Indian way" (which some like to call the "chalta hai" attitude)

So maybe the next question is why did Indian subcontinent developed this way?

Maybe its because this land was the land of plenty. Few natural disasters occurred here (fewer than civilizations on shores and in extreme cold and hot climates and those on an island with limited resources). There was ample of food and resources which led to development of big cities and then to kingdoms. The role of kingdoms is an important one here since this is where oppurtinism became a feasible option of interacting with peers. All you had to do is to be okay with king (in general "the authority" like school masters, head priest in temple, bread earner of house, head clerk of an administrative office: We developed our love for hierarchy here. The so called "kissa kursi ka" :) ). 

If (s)he changes, change with them and just be okay for you can only survive this way. This explain why most of the wars with so called "foreign invaders" (as Hindu fundamentalists love to put it though they will vehemently oppose the idea of Aryans themselves being foreign invaders) were lost due to betrayal of a key minister/ally at just the right moment since (s)he was offered something more lucrative. Loyalist were the crazy ones. More interestingly, loyalist were conveniently used by the opportunists to fight their wars for them and this idiosyncrasy is repeatedly observed in almost all major conflict (recently it was Kargil when BJP government forced army to to make a "quick" war to gain political and social points, instead of letting the intruders face the harsh winters and continuous bombings for longer time which would reduce Indian troop casulaities).

the term "kissa kursi ka" literarly mean the "story of chair" and it means that Indian society has a strong tendency to grab a "position of authority" (usually a chair in an office which controls the management of many people: like a principle in school, boss of a lab, head of university, president etc ). There is also a tendency to not only grab the chair but "not to leave it" for as long as possible. Take a look at politicians, offices, management etc in India and mostly you would find an old guy who cant even walk and talk properly and has one leg in coffin, but wont be ready to let go off the chair he holds since "chair defines him" by the virtue of authority it holds.

One funny way of understanding this opportunism based way-of-life can be shown in the statement which somebody mentioned to me many times : मुसीबत में गधे को भी बाप बनाना पड़ता है 

(" मुसीबत में गधे को भी बाप बनाना पड़ता है " which says that "when you are in trouble, you should even accept donkey to be your father". Donkey is used in negative sense as the animal which is retard because he carries loads for no profit of his own :)

INTEGRITY becomes a trade-able entity in such societies.

(Wo)Men-of -honor (i must clarify here that honor does not lies outside you in materialist things, its inside  

so as the video goes, shaurya isnt the dress, but the idea of the man who dons it as a standard and this is amplified in the line "marti marti is duniya mein, nihathey datey rehney ki himmat") are the crazy ones who makes their family and everybody else suffer because of their "crazy principles".

Translation of poem in the video: "shaurya kya hai" (translation: what is honor):

what is honor?
The thundering noise of marching soldiers
or is it the noise of blitzering guns screeching a quite sky
what is honor?
few medals on your green uniform
or making borders in the name of unseen divisions
what is honor?
to shoot down a quietly flying bird with your gun
or to burn down a city with your firepower
Honor !
is it achieved when a hot boiling blood running in veins suddenly stops
or when we make about present hell in search of an unseen heavens as promised
what is honor in this sky full of smoke
what is honor in the cries of funeral at a small village in the valley
maybe its a strong belief
maybe its a will
deep inside us
a will to hold hand of someone by breaking religious rules
to give a challenge to the thunderous sound of bullets with your silence
To stand unarmed in the world going crazy arming themselves
To save my part of the beautiful world for coming generations
what is honor ! 

This poem from renowed poet Javed Akhtar comes at the climax of a movie called "Shaurya (Honor): It takes courage to make right...right" ()

Double standards and plastic smiles are two very obvious side-effects of this way of life (opportunism). I think i need not explain them as they are very obvious around us.

But the important fact is that despite all this, society hasn't collapsed and its still thriving with life maintaining itself in a surprising dynamic equilibrium. When everybody distrusts everybody, we expect society to crumble under its own pressure but this has not happened. why? Frankly i don't know for sure but "i would like" to ascribe the non-collapsing nature to the "few" (but very strong minority) of those who-do-not-put-their-pants-down in the face of adversity. They exist invisible mostly because they don't run to grab attention. But they exist and will continue to exist for some reasons which are beyond my intellectual capacity. Another reason might be that even within the group of distrust, there is a short term trust, which holds the group as a single intact structure (hence i used the word "dynamic equilibrium" previously). Short term trust works better in this kind of society and hence it becomes a national standard to way of life. So in this system, people are in general good to each other until the point you really need them. In general the life flows nicely, peacefully and harmony can be easily confused with the fake smiles and attachments people will show for each other. The real test of times differentiates them from the short minority i talked about. I could guess (from my very prejudiced viewpoint) only two of these reasons to understand why system hasn't collapsed (and will not) but maybe there are some more too.

But wait, am i talking about just Indian society or humans in general :P

I have given a different name to the concept of opportunism (as described above). I call it "The LAW OF CONVENIENCE" which states that humans desire and hence design the most convenient path for social activities. So if they "believe" that there is no use and harm to worship Brahma, they would "prefer" not to do it until some inconvenience comes up.

This law is very universal and applies to western world too. Recently there was a debate in Sweden around a companies idea which marketed unhappy relationships ( by proposing to provide links to people wishing to have an "affair" instead of divorce. Now this might seems off the scale but isn't this happening already, though in secret. This also signifies the same opportunism (but with different clothes, maybe the fancier ones). Also there was a very disturbing news (for me personally) when a man was discovered to be dead after 3 years ( and the place where he was living isn't very remote area. The notion of family and caring for each other is diminishing not because the social pressure has capped off, but because its now easier to abuse the freedom, rather than use it :)

So i guess the saying from india "धोती के अन्दर सब नंगे है " (everybody is equally nude inside their clothes) signifies the very fact that the topic under discussion is a global phenomenon :)

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