I was reading a piece on Dhirubhai Ambani recently. His flight to glory and prosperity is commendable and his attitude was (and is) as well. The Late Ambani Sr. was a keen observer of human society and an assiduous student of human psychology in practical life. I was particularly struck by one of his observations on ‘broadening one’s mind’.
‘“Suppose you and I go to the Taj to have drinks,” he [Dhirubhai Ambani] explained once. “One bloody drink costs sixty-five rupees. But all the same we have a few drinks and come out as if nothing has happened. If a person from my village comes to know that I have spent five hundred rupees on just a few drinks, he’ll be shocked. He’ll say this fellow has gone mad, saala company ka diwala nikaal deyga. What I am trying to say is that I have developed a broadness of mind which my friends in the village cannot think of having.”‘ – ‘Business Maharajas‘, Dr. Gita Piramal.
This observation makes sense. However, I think narrow-mindedness is not limited to villagers. Prejudice, narrow-mindedness and conformity are rife in society, particularly Indian society. I have always wondered why most people are so petty and close-minded about the smallest of issues. I think it is safe to say that most people today are guided blindly through life by the dogmas prevalent in society. A fervent desire nay, need to ‘fit in’, be ‘normal’ and do the ‘right’ thing makes people bow down and accept things as dictated by societal norms. This didactic system leading to sartorial compliance sickens me. Even in metropolitan and cosmopolitan cities, societal narrow-mindedness far exceeds personal freedom. The judgmental approach opted by most in modern day society not only limits personal freedom but, hinders societal progress as well!
Parents often encourage their children to go in for Science or Commerce related fields as opposed to the Arts. Why is that? You may say, professional degrees offer stability in one’s career. However, actors and singers also make good money. Your rebuttal may be that that sort of income is limited to the fortunate few. Most people in such industries have a hand-to-mouth lifestyle. I’d like to point out that it is only a few M.B.A.s and Ph.D.s who can actually afford jets and yachts. Most ‘professional degree‘ holders are struggling today with Rs. 3.12 lpa packages and 18 hour long work days. The probability of a person prospering hardly alters depending on the degree s/he holds.
Most families are so mind-numbingly conformed that they hardly look at the educational and career prospects awaiting their children. Either the kids are pushed into pursuing the family-run business or hounded to choose ‘stable’ professional career tracks. India churns out 3.5 lac engineers every year (data includes engineering diploma holders). Most are frustrated and refer to themselves as ‘farjee’ or ‘ghanta’ engineers and slave in low-to-mid level jobs. The ingenious few find a way to nurture their talents and at least pursue them at some level.
Those who are successful are almost always the ones who go after what they are passionate about, period. For instance, Ms. Kiran Majumdar-Shaw, founder and CEO of Biocon is neither an engineer from IIT-*Insert city-appropriate alphabet* nor does she hold an M.B.A. from Yale. She is, however, deeply passionate about brewing. This, plus the fact that her parents encouraged her to enter into a male dominated bastion without crumbling to social norms gave Majumdar-Shaw the conviction to pursue her dreams.
Which brings me to my second point: societal norm – based prejudice and bias.
Boys are encouraged to explore, experiment and are given the chance to make decisions early in life. This inculcates a sense of confidence in them and they learn to gauge the risks involved in a situations through trial and error. Also, a lot of pressure is put on boys to excel in academics.
For girls, the societal laws and bylaws leave little or no room to breathe in. They are constantly pushed to learn how to cook, clean and groom. Even if they are bright and studious, it is preferable that girls opt out of professional degree courses and pursue degrees such as ‘Home Science’, ‘Nutrition’, ‘Fashion Designing‘, etcetera. They are conditioned to be religious and servile. They are hardly given a chance to explore the world or make their own decisions sublty, making them co-dependent. Girls are mostly kept indoors after dark, they have strict codes regarding attire and are discouraged from having too many male friends. I don’t endorse becoming a ‘hoochie mama’ but, if equality means having the freedom to go drinking with male buddies in tiny clothes (as long as one behaves responsibly), so be it.
Looking deeper, I realize that narrow-mindedness of this kind shows how insecure and untrustworthy people have become. It’s as if they don’t trust their own good sense and their loved ones’ choices! I remember when I was an Undergrad student, a girl’s dad stormed into a pub, slapped her in front of everyone and dragged her out by the ear reprimanding her lifestyle, behavior and – here’s the crucial bit – her disregard for what others would thinks. May I point out that the girl I mention was dancing with classmates (all girls) and was respectably dressed. My point is that her dad actually humiliated her in front of a crowd, not because she was in bad company or was indulging in substance abuse but, because he wanted himself and his family to look good by projecting a socially apt lifestyle. He didn’t want anyone to point a finger at him or become the laughing stock of society. Here’s a helpful hint uncle: Expecting people to respect you by becoming subservient to society prototypes is the mark of a coward and a fool. People effortlessly raise a finger toward the coward for they know s/he will not react and well, a fool is always laughed at.
Keeping up with the Jones’ takes up half of people’s time and keeping a toe in line occupies the rest. This juggling act results in self-doubt, half-baked opinions and an unfulfilled life. Alas, no one sits and contemplates the source of their misery. People divert their depressed selves from their sad boxed-in lives with gizmos and feel-good contraptions. They start becoming mean and petty. They indulge in gossip and spreading rumors. They revel in the misery of others while priding their own ‘spotless’ image in society. People start comparing. They compare everything and everyone in every fucking way, first by societal norms and then by their own personal yardstick – which is obviously the model belief system that everyone ought to follow as they are model citizens, righteous and pious as they come.
For instance, when I was in Grad school, I clearly remember this one incident when we had ordered pizza for dinner after our exams and I had ordered my favorite, Pepperoni pizza. In India pork, beef, venison – basically any meat other than chicken or lamb is frowned upon. As I ordered, the server authoritatively said, “It’s Pork, Ma’am” challenging me to order it once I knew what type of ‘predicament’ I was getting into – he apparently thought I didn’t know much about meat. Of course, Indore is a small town and a High School educated young chap can be forgiven for his lack of judgment at times (especially ‘coz I set him right with my famous narrow-eyed glare – patent pending – after that). Since I went to a respectable Grad School and my friends pride themselves on being forward and modern, no one jumped on me accusing me of being a ragamuffin or anything of that sort. But, one girl excitedly gesticulated, nudged and exclaimed to the others as I placed my order, “Look! Look! Yeh pig ka meat hai!” I saw the glee on her face as the others grimaced; As though she (and the others) was the embodiment of prudence and culture whereas I was some sort of barbaric monstrosity who ate flesh off swine and calf alike. In my defense, I consider meat as well, meat. I eat whatever I find appealing gastronomically. I don’t expect others to find my tastes palatable. Neither do I coax them to ape me or adhere to my beliefs. But, the incident made me realize how little a difference a ‘top’ Grad School education had made on such socially conformed people!
I’d like to point out the symbolism inherent in the aforementioned incident. People in the West eat meat of all kinds all the time. I’m not suggesting Indians emulate Westerners. I’m merely stating the fact that the bias that exists towards a non-issue such as meat in India stems from no logical reasoning. People don’t eat beef here as the cow is considered sacred. Pork is considered ‘dirty’ by Moslems, hence it is frowned upon as well. By the way, Moslems eat beef and it is acceptable. You ask anyone why and pat comes the answer, “Yeh mussalmaan log aise hi hotey hain. Gande log hain yeh.” (Moslems are like that, they’re dirty people.) But, if a Hindu eats pork – which is actually not sacred or condemned in Hinduism, idiots not unlike this former batch-mate of mine are quick to label her/him uncultured. Why? Is there something more potent than religious or social sacrilege attached to this simple act of consuming pork or beef? If no, is it clinically proven that pork or beef makes one deranged, impotent or is it cancerous that it is ‘shunned meat’?
As far as religious compliance goes, there’s a lot to say. However, keeping with the theme of the post, I’d only like to state that religion and culture are two entirely different practices. They may appear to intersect at points but, they do not. In fact, the only reason the seem to do so is because religion is portrayed through culture. A simple analogy would be religion:culture::food:spoon. (If you didn’t get that, I suggest you go screw yourself.)
My point is that how many people bother to separate the two? Very few. Most are just spoon-fed (See what I did there?!) values and social convention. India, as a society, discourages people to probe – figuratively and literally, question and challenge orthodox beliefs. These manifest, brew and become tendencies. Religion, cultural practices and belief and Indians’ pride of tradition and legacy have pushed Indian society into a quagmire infested with prejudice, shortsightedness and intolerance. These mindless beliefs are contorted by the cunning to fleece the common man as well! Vote-bank politics is a classic example to illustrate this ugly truth prevalent in India.
Another more close-to-home example would be the ‘modern babes’ and ‘cool dudes’ spilling over every sidewalk in metros. You can hardly walk two feet without bumping into ‘Ed Hardy’ clad assholes playing ‘Angry Birds’ on their ‘iPhone – version 4.943’. These young guns look uber chic and sophisticated. Up until they open their mouths. I don’t mean they spout ‘Rapidex English’. (In all fairness, some of these mall-hoppers could benefit from such resources.) I imply that their outlook has not changed much. They may have started donning fancy labels but, that is where the transformation ends. When it comes to having a modern outlook, these people are still attempting to swim over from Quadrant IV (Refer: Co-ordinate Geometry). In fact, the only only reason most of ‘Gen X’ looks and behaves a certain way is in response to media induced pseudo-westernization. And because everyone around them dresses and speaks the same way. Since the neighbors have an LCD-TV, Mr. ABC must have one. Since 70% of the teenage girls in the neighborhood wear thirty-five different types of cosmetic products, so must you. Because society is trying to get a face-lift, overweight aunties are too.
Sheep. That is what people have become. To such people, I say: Fuck you, assholes for you know nothing on your own and have nothing of your own, you merely judge others on the basis of what society has fed you. You neither know what you think because, here’s the thing – you don’t think. You merely follow.
Rant aside, the more pressing issue here is how this sort of conformity makes one devoid of new ideas. Innovation is lost in the wake of generalization of thought and a guide-lined thought process is mere intonation of societal belief. I think what is really happening due to social conditioning is that restrictions are resulting in cookie-cutter ideas that are neither challenging nor revolutionary. They are merely repackaged socially approved doctrines. Spontaneity is being lost with every social canon which, by the way, is outdated today. Of what use is the knowledge we have acquired? Confucius said, “Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.” Similarly, education without application and following sans questioning the path is a futile and harmful exercise!
Moreover, restrictions due to ‘societal fundamentalism’, as I like to call it (Yes, I’m coining my own term again), result in stagnation or protest. Our parents have already taken the route of stagnation and it has not yielded well. Now, the youth is brimming with aspiration and is starting to rebel. It is time society reworked its rules and updated them to suit today’s youth’s needs. And I don’t mean superficial transformations where girls are allowed to wear short tees because Mrs. Mehra, Mrs. Taneja and Mrs. Fuckity-Fuck allow their daughters to do so. I mean real, institutional framework related metamorphosis which is built along the lines of equality and individual freedom of choice. Because, at the end of the freakin’ day, I deserve to breathe. And, so do you.