Sunday, December 19, 2010

And there you go - Here came the reverse cultural shock

First time, around ten years ago, when I went to a Durga Puja Festival organized by Bengali Associations in Frankfurt (Germany), I saw that the organizers; who were invariably 50-70 year old Indian expats were living in a euphoria. They were living in India which they left minimum 30 years ago. Unable to attain Durga Puja at home every year they decided to organize their own kind of Ghoroa (homely) festivity, where every one can participate in the preparation of the festival and all the professionalism can be kept little low. I was a student then, left India just one year ago, I found those people very unrealistic, I thought  of my parents as much liberal in thoughts than them, in spite that they spent their whole life in mofussul (small towns) of India and have not travelled outside India. I thought the senior Indian expats should understand that every country, culture and language should undergo changes to keep it going. Each generation should get a chance to dwell and put mark in their own cultures. I thought if Rabindragangeet and Najrulgeeti (two main streams of Bengali songs) are good then so are Jibonmukhi and Bangla bands (modern forms of Bengali songs), even my father would sometime humm the famous tunes of songs from Bengali bands,  but that group of expats did not accept that. For them, whatever was in India in their childhood were the best and all other things which happened to India after they left are bad, period. 

That day, I might have for the first time, subconsciously decided that I will go back, to my country, after some years. So then while living in Europe, in the following years when we went to the Durga Puja festival, we accepted and understood the emotional turmoils of the elderly expats. We talked with them a little and thanked them a lot for organizing such occasions were we could feel our roots, at least for a small while. After that we would search some people of our age and stage in expat life and would spend the day chatting with them, talking about Bollywood's latest release, Rituporno Ghosh's cinema, Sachin's batting, designer outfits and little bit about Germany's foreign policies and so on. And we always thought that actually we are keeping tap of what exactly is happening in India, in spite of living far away from it.

After ten years then, so when I decided to come back, I said to myself, that no I will not face any reverse cultural shock. I still can catch the beat of my India. I came back, dreaming of wearing those hand printed silk saris, gurjari salwar kameezes, accompanied with red/black/colorful bindis (that dot on the forehead of Indian women which makes her different from whole world) which I used to wear before leaving India, and which I could not wear in Europe most of the time because of cold weather and also to mingle with others in a foreign land. I knew exactly how I am going to fuse these traditional Indian styles with my new earned comfort feeling with jeans/westerns. During my short visits to India I knew that the dress sense of common Indian women are changing more towards western wears too, at least in urban India. So I would be able to blend myself perfectly both with east and west!

And there you go; how dare I to think that I still know the country which I left ten years before?

Of course it has changed, it has changed in ways that are not depicted in magazines or Bollywood movies, which we kept watching for last ten years. It has changed in those gullies where we did not sneak peaked when we came here for short visits. 

One change for good I am observing is that parents of today have (trying to) mostly come out of the rat race to make their children a doctors or an engineer, now there or many more options, so parents are little more relaxed, but another change is the brand consciousness developed along with increase in consumerism. It is new statement of India for me.

The concept of status, depends on the number of house maids you have, the school where you child is going and the brand and number of the car/s you possess was absolutely not there in the middle class society of India I used to live. Money was a necessity but it was a taboo to be discussed openly then, for sure among  the working middle class people of India, now the pay packages of kids and their spouses are a favorite topic of discussion in a group of people in their fifties or sixties. So in fact just like in Germany I was shocked to see how people of that age were still living in their old ideas, here seeing the same generations discussing so openly about money and materials is stunning me equally.

The idea of designing my outfits myself by going to a tailor who work at the corner of our street in a small shop is not their anymore, mostly everything is ready made, and branded garments have ranges for people who are  born or made  of certain sizes, and if you belong to the wrong side of those sizes, then it is a tough call . May be all Indian women are not going for  ready made attire but of course this is the growing trend, they are getting accustomed to it.

For first few days, most of the changes I was noticing was centered to women, first I being one and second women have attained a lot of space for them in India in last ten years. They are the buzz word for new India. They are the targets for shopping malls, movies, schools, day care centers, cosmetic and technology industries, hospitals. But then slowly on turning my focus to the Indian men I found them changing too, and that too for a good, you can see them smilingly taking the back seat in the two wheelers, you can see them pushing the perambulators in the parks, you can see them putting the washings on the wash lines, you can see them regularly going to drop and pick their kids. You can see them standing in front of the fitting rooms in the shopping mall waiting with extra dresses for their partners to try on. You can see them not trying to ask their female colleagues about their partners on first meeting. But please don't think all men have become so sober in India, but of course they are changing subtly, slowly, steadily. And again this is about men belonging to a very narrow range called middle class India.

So I am trying to surf through the waves of reverse cultural shocks, I am trying to tap my shocks away standing in a corner with the beats of recent Bollywood releases, while watching my Indian contemporaries doing rain dance under man made sprinklers, a fun theme grew here while I was away.

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