By M.V.Ramakrishnan

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Indians' World View : So Broad Subconsciously, So Narrow Self-consciously!

A few days ago I had recalled a Shankar's Weekly article of mine dated Jan. 1973, which had ended with an imaginary South Indian wedding invitation (March 28 -- Kicked Upstairs : Field Marshal Manekshaw....).  When I was rustling through my old files looking for that article, I came across an Evening News article dated June 1977, in which I had quoted a real-life South Indian wedding invitation.  

I would like to share this piece of writing also with you, because it concerns a significant psychological aspect of the average Indian's outlook towards foreign lands and foreigners, especially the Western world and Westerners.  This has been a theme I've explored endlessly during the past half-century, and I shall be fishing for many more essays, articles and reviews containing my consistent reflections in this regard.  



(in same order as in text)

 Udipi restaurant  --  Udipi is a small town in Karnataka State, famous for certain traditional South Indian light refreshments (such as idli, dosa, vada, upma, etc.) which are beginning to be well-known in many parts of the world now, thanks to the ever-expanding Indian diaspora at the global level.  'Udipi restaurant' is a genetic expression to indicate any joint in any place where these dishes are cooked and served.

Saree  --  An approximately 5.5 metre-long (or longer) and 1.2 metre-wide piece of fabric (made of silk, cotton, polyester or blends thereof), draped gracefully around the body from shoulders to feet, which is the traditional dress of Indian women, who naturally consider it to be the most beautiful dress in the whole world (as I do).    


Evening News, New Delhi
25 June 1977

Indian vision

I received a surprising and intriguing invitation from a friend of mine recently:- 

"Mrs. and Mr. S.V. Subramanian request the pleasure of your company with family and friends on the occasion of the marriage of their daughter Bhagirathi with Balakrishnan on Monday, July 4, 1977 at the Hindu Temple, Flushing, New York-11355."

There was no reason why I should have been surprised, because I had already read in the newspapers about the construction of the Hindu Temple in New York.  But newspaper reports are impersonal, and wedding invitations are personal things which make a far more definite impact on you.

As for the intriguing quality of the invitation, we Indians are invariably thrilled whenever we see anything Indian flourishing abroad -- whether it's an Udipi restaurant, a saree or handicrafts shop, an Indian temple, or Indian music.  We have our sights so firmly fixed outside our country that we never pause to think that there are many foreign things right in our midst here! 

Indeed, we never realize that churches and mosques must once have been alien things in this land of ours called India.  We even take our synagogues for granted.  They are all so much part of our lives that it never occurs to us that they have a foreign origin!

And we read, write and speak English --  with our alien styles and accents, no doubt --  as if it were our native language.  When we fill up forms asking us what foreign languages we know, we usually forget to mention English!

Would any Frenchman or Russian find it intriguing that French, Russian and other European-language classes are held regularly in many Indian cities?  But let some white-skinned foreigner just speak two sentences in Hindi or Tamil, and we would make a big fuss about it!

Imagine a European or American citizen being unduly excited by the fact that there are symphony orchestras in Bombay and New Delhi, or that there's a brisk sale of jazz and pop records in Indian shops!  But let an Indian musician go on a concert tour in Europe or America, and we would confer a demi-god status on the person!

Do we Indians have a broad vision?  Our subconscious assimilation of foreign things on our soil seems to show that we do have it.  But our self-conscious obsession with Indian things abroad seems to show that we lack it absolutely!


PostScript,  2013
Teach Yourself Indlish -- Lesson 1

The remarkable similarity in the wording of the imaginary and real-life wedding invitation cards wasn't just a coincidence, because both of them had the same source  --  the standard English version of the conventional bilingual invitation form prevailing in middle-class South Indian society during the past several decades.  Please note that in Indian languages we don't have separate words for 'wedding' and 'marriage';  and so a 'marriage invitation' is a perfectly valid concept and popular expression in Indlish!

By the way, 'Udipi restaurant' (defined in the Glossary above) is a term used by me.  The popular generic expression is 'Udipi hotel', because we don't have a separate word for 'restaurant' in Indian languages.   So we do sometimes talk about the Udipi hotels we've visited in London or Paris, New York or San Francisco! 

What did you say?  You'd like to learn Indlish?  Fine, let's start here and now!  

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