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Why are we the way we are? - A critique for Mr Raghunathan

“I am like that only” – this statement draws strength from the fact that it is difficult to change habits. It has been true for me but until recently. Many years ago, I got a divine knowledge that anything that exercises control over me should be, in fact under my control. I became particularly concerned about being the in control of my habits. It started from a simple consciousness to watch my habits. I started with punctuality. After giving some thought, I could understand that I tend to underestimate things or overestimate myself in the wake of any task. The result – I fail to finish tasks in time. I also gained consciousness about a pinch of rudeness in my voice or perhaps, in my attitude when I talk to the people. I could resolve this by treating everyone with respect. I also acknowledged some of my physiological shortcomings such as carelessness, laziness and sleepiness. I was, nevertheless, with some difficulty, able to overcome these concerns. It had been possible only because I had a strong belief enshrined within my conscience that “I can change the way I am”. In other words, I can learn, I can improve and I can show others “how to do it”!

I believe that most of my behaviors, attitude and beliefs are formed within and with the influence of my family. I could not follow my family blindly, although. I would like to mention specifically that mine is a religious family and religion and religious ceremonies are part of my family’s basic traits and everyday life. At one point of time, I declared myself as an atheist and a non-believer. I did receive some verbal and non-verbal resistance but they were in no way harsh or coercive. My non-believing lasted for more than two years until a very personal incident brought faith back into me. Here, the faith that I possess is not because my family follows the same, but because I do it this way. I have cultivated my faith and religion with time and experiences. I say with to be my faith and my religion because I believe that every one of us has a different religion. This holds true to some extent for culture too. Culture is broadly defined as “the sum total of life styles of people from a particular area during a long period of time”. To explain culture, we aggregate the lifestyles of the people living in a particular area. To explain the lifestyle and behaviors of the same people, is it justifiable to disaggregate their culture? I think it is not, because, the equations of integration and differentiation are not set straight in the case of behavior and culture. However, the local culture for any individual does influence the way the individual would behave in a particular set of conditions. But this influence is rather minimal and does not change the whole course of action. The actual work-done is determined by the response of the individual herself and each individual is unique. Thus, the uniqueness of people keeps nullifying the effect of culture in their everyday actions.

When I was a kid, I saw a person auctioning crabs in a weekly fair near my home. There were other routine vendors selling fishes and vegetables nearby. But my attention was drawn toward the crab seller. They were ordinary crabs, simply put into an open wooden basket. Awkward, I exclaimed! Fishes are kept in a vessel filled with water and covered from the top. Chickens are put under the netted chambers. Goats are tied with a rope. Then why is the crab seller so careless to keep the crabs in an open basket? Will not the crabs escape? I threw these questions to my father and he replied – “Never can they escape”. His explanation was plausible enough. The crab seller is very confident that not a single crab will be ever able to escape because he knows that every time one of them would try to climb the basket, the fellow crabs would pull him down. Later, I could notice this behavior in men too. Anyways, men are wiser than crabs. The article “Why are we the way we are?” by Mr. V. Raghunathan starts from the point where the story of crabs ends. If a question can be answered by a cross-question, I would like to put why are most of the people around do not stop blaming others for every fault under the sun instead of owning-up the part of their mistakes? Why even the people who pay for water in the market, do not make a little extra effort in their homes, to shut the taps properly when not in use? Why do some people almost all the time, take extra food than they can eat and end-up throwing it into the litter-bin? The answer of all such questions lies in the fact that people do not want to make a change in their behavior. This is mainly because most of them do not see anything wrong in their behavior. In the absence of the acknowledgment of the issue, the will to overcome the issue also remains void and the issue never is curtailed before incarnating as a mammoth.

The article under study talks about the culture and some deep-rooted practices among the Indians and an inability to reason for such culture and. practices Too many questions in the beginning are just enough to kindle curiosity in the minds of the reader. Though, the questions full of clichés can pose difficulty to some novice readers and especially to those who have little knowledge about the context. By the time the endless appearing pool of questions come to a halt, it has successfully oriented the minds of the reader in a desired direction of introspection. Since the questions relate to common daily instances, the reader can very well identify herself with them. In the second paragraph, the writer is able to paint a good picture of him jumping the queues. He demonstrates well the idea and two approaches of jumping the queues with a detailed example. The striking point here is that, jumping a queue, which is an activity, common to notice in everyday life, has been subtly put into an algorithm. Even with such a minute instance which most of the people tend to forget and ignore has been given thought and deliberated into a process. The writer steers clear of all his questions as the third paragraph begins. He introduces a fresh concept of an “average Indian”. The terminology thus coined shows a racist approach of the writer. India being such a diverse country, that even the Indians are kept guessing when they visit the non-familiar extremes of the country with statements like ‘Is this also India?’, it remains oblivious that how the writer is able to map the traits of ‘an average Indian’. Here, he succumbs to the same mistake of disaggregating the country and her culture into a billion of its population. This is plausible in the other way round, that is, integrating the culture of each individual to form a national culture. The writer also abruptly and unexpectedly disowns all efforts to answer the questions raised earlier by him. Sadly, this disownment comes under the paragraph “are there answers?”. Unusually though, the writer is fascinated by a book which he later disagrees with. The books as presented in the article has been seemingly be used to draw express conclusions without a rationale base about the behavior patterns of the people in the East and those in the West. To remark, I would say, that the answer of such a question which relates to our behavior cannot be found in a book authored by others, rather can be found in the book each of us has in store, close to our hearts. Internal questions have better internal answers.

The writer rightly projects the causes and effects for some of the undesirable behavior of the people in India. This is an area where many of the readers will feel comfortable to drop their preconceived notions about the questions raised earlier and their answers, and make out the differences between the causes and effects of such behaviors. For example, population is considered to be the cause of the several problems prevailing in India but it is also seen as an effect of illiteracy. Illiteracy itself is seen as a cause of another set of issues and also considered to be a result of mass poverty. The article once again indicates that due to insufficient acknowledgment of the issue the will to change also remains dormant. It opens up new boxes of questions that if we should acknowledge the issues first or we should generate the will to change? A positive change cannot start unless we drop the idea of “I am what I am. We are what we are”. A lot of reasoning can sometimes fail to talk sense. The well structured and logically reasoned attempt to establish a relation of such behaviors of ‘an average Indian’ with the genetics and our ancestors amuses me like a joke.

The writer seems to be enveloped by a well-debated topic of the comparison between the neighboring countries of India and China. How fair such a comparison can be, has been talked over a lot and there are equal number of people on both sides of the argument. See this example, highlighting the differences between the environments between the two neighbors that Minxin Pei mentions in his book about China:

“The lack of democratic reforms in China has led to pervasive corruption and a breakdown in political accountability. What has emerged is a decentralized predatory state in which local party bosses have effectively privatized the state’s authority. Collusive corruption is widespread and governance is deteriorating. Instead of evolving toward a full market economy, China is trapped in partial economic and political reforms.” (Pei, M. 2008).

And we have in India, a Right to Information, which guarantees every Indian citizen a right to seek information about the proceedings of the Government. This example helps to understand how the Government is open in India and partially-closed in China for public queries. Moreover, China is heading away from market economy while India is moving closer to it. By virtue of these examples and a general understanding towards the political and social cultural mismatch between the two countries, they remain non-comparable.

In a final attempt to provide a “fog-free view” of India and her culture, the writer draws further questions and makes an attempt to define “Indianness”. But he fails to come with some sort of real definition and instead frames new set of questions. The 12 points that he puts up may be applicable to some particular group of people but the basis of generalization is not projected. This makes his argument weak and ultimately, the generalization does not take place. In the later section, the article limits its readers’ base by setting-up “prerequisites” to read the book. These prerequisites too, seem to have been unanimously drawn and without justifications. Finally, the reader of the article will be left guessing what point did the writer want to make? The article is overall well written and entertaining but puts a lot of load onto the readers. The article begins with questions and ends with perplexities. Some people might actually take this as a compliant book. The book could have been more meaningful if the opinions were backed by justifiable reasoning. It cannot be the best way to understand India and her culture or to explore why are we the way we are? But it can be a good entertainment and fairly satisfactory list of recommendations to be made for people who practice the ills which have been talked about in the article.


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