Be realistic about Indian tradition in America
“Are We Ready To Sacrifice Indian Identity?” wonders a reader in the February 2009 issue. This question is asked by millions of people who land in the U.S. with the intention to have a better economic future for themselves and their posterity. Now our fascination with keeping the Indian tradition has to meet reality.
When we meet Americans who have lived in India for a long time, we are surprised by their change in culture, social outlook, food, etc. Likewise, our children are associated with the American way of life far more than the traditional Indian ways. Gradually they are shifting to the American way of life.
Our elders and religious leaders warn and remind us to follow their old tradition in every aspect, but they fail to understand the speed of change in the society where our children are living. When I visit traditional Indian churches, I feel the old group enjoying the worship. The younger generation, on the other hand, would like to worship in a different way, and many young people are leaving their parents' churches for more contemporary American churches.
We can't hold on to our culture and traditions for long, as long as we live in a totally different culture.
A. S. Mathew
Indians tend to be followers, not leaders
In a letter, “Blessed to Be Living in America” (February 2009), the writer says that the work culture here is different from India and rewarding—that anyone who works hard can enjoy the American dream.
I believe that in India or anywhere on earth, if you work hard you can enjoy. That's a universal truth. There are so many examples in India from Narayan Murthy to the younger generation who have been successful and brought recognition to the country by starting their own companies and employing thousands. I think it’s wrong to say that in India one cannot be successful and earn their dream.
She also says people of Indian origin are financially well off. Of course they are, because of their education, talent and hard-working nature. Many of them are doctors or engineers. People who migrate here from India are usually highly qualified. I think people who are highly qualified will do better even in India.
Somehow this notion of not liking or complaining about our native country is not acceptable to me. If one has come here because they feel they can live a better life, drive good cars and enjoy, that's fine. Often we complain that India is not good, although the country has given us such a great culture: family values, mutual respect, education, festivals, music, dance...India is majestic and colorful.
I have great admiration for America as a country, as it has come to this great position in just 200 years. At the same time I love India for its magnificent cultural past. The problem with many Indians is we are used to being followers and we don't want to be leaders; thus we don't appreciate what we have but we will follow what we don't have.
Make a resolution to reduce debt
“Imagine Having Zero Debt in Your Life” (Moneywise, February 2009) brought back memories of my late respected father, Shri D.C. Gupta. As I was leaving home for my first job 49 years ago, he said, “Madan, you are a grown up young man. I do not believe in spoon feeding you, but remember never to take a loan in your life, if you can.” I followed his advice and have remained happy ever since.
In general, we take loans in an emergency, but it should be our topmost priority to settle debts. While purchasing my first flat in India, I did take loans from my brothers without interest, and repaid them in 3 years. Of course, I had to cut down all unnecessary expenses like traveling, vacations, new clothes for self and family, reducing my personal expenses and home expenses during that period.
Today most financial problems are from misuse of credit cards and too much debt. I understand the importance of loans for a house, car and business, but I have felt in the US that many people buy properties they should not have gone for. They should “cut their coat according to the cloth.” There is no need to buy a Mercedes or Lexus on credit when we can buy a secondhand Toyota or 3-year-old Honda. Why buy a 5 or 6 bedroom home with basement when we can happily stay in a 3 bedroom house? Let us not increase our stress or suffering by our own foolish lifestyle. In India also the new generation has started suffering from too much debt and stress. Young men have started dying of hypertension and heart attacks, thanks to overspending, nonvegetarian food and junk food, lifestyle, etc.
Make saving a habit and have at least 6 months home expenses to face a sudden job loss from the economy or any emergencies. For old age, a retirement plan is a must; longevity is another big factor. Like Rajesh Jyotishi, let me exhort you to be debt free or at least resolve to reduce your debt.
India: who's cheating whom?
Everyone who travels to India will tell you to be careful because the locals are cheaters. Was there any point in India when I felt that they were all beggars? Yes, I did. There were also moments when I was tempted to cheat.
I felt cheated by classmates in Hyderabad whom I built friendships with and then they asked to borrow money or for 'grants' for their families or projects. I felt cheated by my school in Hyderabad after I paid full foreigner tuition and the staff and faculty continued to ask me to sponsor school related activities. I felt cheated by the family that cooked me meals while doing an internship in Ahmedabad. I had paid them in advance for meals that I did not receive and did not get my money back. What I was grappling with was the feeling that money came before love and the trusting connection of a friend. It made me wonder if true friendship was possible between Indians and Americans.
I tried to gain a deeper perspective. Are there other cultural tendencies or justifications that I was not recognizing? Coming from a fairly prosperous nation I have a different perspective on whose money is whose and what I am entitled to. There was another side to cheating, and that's when many Indians were wary of me and other Americans because they were sure that our intentions were superficial and we were planning on making profits off them. That happened in the past. When people looked at me I thought I saw dollar bill signs in their eyes, but there was something deeper where they saw my mind calculating international business opportunities. So, they were logically trying to play the same game. It took me a long time to build a relationship with the women that I created a jewelry business with. We had many challenging discussions about profits and I constantly had to remind myself that my purpose was service and community development and not personal gain. Instead of harboring the negative conflict between cheat or be cheated we should all learn to operate better in our new world economy.
The worst movie about India?
Recently, I watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire. My heart sank as I walked out of the theater. “Rubbish!” I yelled in my heart. This is the worst Indian movie or movie about India I have ever watched.
The problem with the movie is not the problems presented in the movie: poverty, prostitution, killing, torture and other social ills. All societies have dark sides. Each nation has its own problems. It is the prejudice, the bias, the heartless and sick-minded portrayal that made me cry out “Rubbish!” We cannot find a single good person in the whole movie! Even the young brothers in the movie are bad people who steal, deceive, kill and behave recklessly. The only good person in the whole movie is the American tourist who gives the boy a hundred-dollar bill. There are several opportunities for good human nature to be presented. For example, when the boy descended from the train roof to steal a pancake, the passengers could have been compassionate and given away the food. Sadly, they pulled the boy down to fall off the roof! Or when the movie is about to end, I thought the young man would use his new fortune to help homeless children or to do some charitable things—but the movie ends not so.
I feel this movie is despicable, not only in delivering a message that Indian people are bad, but also a message that there is no hope and no solution for India. No inspiration, either. At first I thought the movie was about someone from the social economic bottom who worked hard and overcame adversities and who could be a role model. I was wrong. The only pass for the Indian people hinted by the movie is looking for generous Western tourists who are willing to shell out hundred dollar bills and hoping for winning a TV contest. I am sure this movie satisfies the Westerners who look down upon other people and want to keep their arrogance and feeling of superiority. This two-hour long movie does, for sure, deeply implant in those viewers’ minds the negative image of India. It will be hardly erased by next two decades of Indian people’s effort in making progress and attaining achievements.
The real slumdogs, spiritually, are the ones who wrote the story and produced the movie. This movie was produced by Rottenwood.
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