What I've Learned of the Culture So Far...
I have been doing my best to learn about the Indian culture. It's changing as all human cultures do: slowly but probably faster than many find comfortable.
While working along with my fellow employees here, I've chatted about the caste system, the Hindu religion and marriage traditions. They are probably answering my questions as honestly and openly as they can. But am I asking the right questions? Do they assume certain things, such as my knowledge or ignorance in certain areas that naturally prevents them from fully answering?
They might not mention an important aspect of life here because "everyone knows that!" (I don't) Or they might be reluctant to try to explain some other interesting insight because "he'll never understand it" (Try me!) See how communication can be difficult?
I'm saying all the above to warn you about what I'll say below. Maybe I've got some things wrong but its not for lack of trying. I've only been here a short while. Here are a few of my first impressions.
Almost everyone here is Hindu. One of my co-workers is a Christian. Perhaps others are as well but I don't know them well enough to ask. I'm curious about the fact that no one seems curious about my religion. No one has asked me anything or provided the smallest crack of an open door to start a discussion. They freely answer my questions but that's it. It's all one way. Odd. Is it because there's a fear of Christianity here? No one at work seems to talk politics or religion. It's that way back home most of the time these days. Touchy subject.
Hinduism is fully engrained in the culture. It's what makes the world go 'round here. The belief system is what makes Indians polite and kind and helpful and peace-loving. In my opinion it is also what has kept them, the majority of them, from joining the 21st century. They are still a quite highly stratified society that is having a difficult time with social mobility. I believe the root cause of that is the beliefs of Hinduism. The root cause within Hinduism that keeps people from being socially mobile is the caste system. The caste system if fading they tell me, but it's still there. It's hard to let go of ancient ways.
The Caste System
The Christian co-worker I met told me that no one at Brooks knows what the other person's caste is. That's pretty cool. That was a bold statement that is somewhat belied by the fact that many of the workers proudly wear caste marks on their foreheads. The co-worker also said that only Brahmans wear caste marks. Is this true? It's something I didn't know.
Deva, the taxi driver I've had for two weekends, is trying to get a government job. When you apply for a government job, you tell what your caste is on the application. When you apply for a private industry job you don't. The government here has what amounts to "affirmative action". They are trying to level out the playing field with quotas and preferential treatment of the hitherto oppressed lower castes with better jobs. We'll see how that works out.
The divorce rate is way lower here than in the U.S. but it's on the rise. The concept of a Honeymoon is being adopted. Arranged marriages are still in vogue. The engineering lead, in charge of the project I'm working on, announced his forthcoming marriage last week. I'll just miss his wedding. I was kindly given an invitation! :-) He will be married Sunday, 13-Nov-05 to a lady picked by his family. I understand he was introduced to her just a matter of a few months ago. I believe the average courtship time for an arranged marriage is 6 months.
Arranged marriages appear to work well here. The families support each other and it is as much a marriage of the families as the couple. That's a good thing. Most people I talked to seem to agree with the concept 100%.
Random Thoughts and Observations
I like Indian people. They're pleasant, friendly and have a good team spirit.
Overall, I think they are a handsome people.
Although the streets are dirty and you drive through areas with some rather unpleasant odors, I noticed that nearly everyone was well dressed, even the very poor. Nearly everyone was clean and neat. I saw the same thing in the Philippines, the people take pride in their personal appearance.
Driving through the city, it looks like everyone is either shopping or selling. In the poorer sections of town, shops are about 8 feet wide and wall-to-wall as far as the eye can see. (I wonder where they live?!) People are nearly arms-length from each other everywhere.
There may be rules of the road but just like in Massachusetts, they are completely ignored. In India, the traffic tolerances are a hair's-breadth. Pedestrians, taxis, autorickshaws, motorcycles, trucks, buses, SUVs, ox-drawn carts, dogs and children on bicycles all crowd together in the streets and weave past each other just inches apart. If you got that close to someone in the U.S. it would make them angry. Here, they don't even glance at each other, they do it with ho-hum, everyday nonchalance. It makes me cringe... especially the children on bikes.
Every vehicle with a horn uses it every 10-15 seconds. It creates quite an interesting sound. Most vehicles have a sign on the back that unnecessarily states: "sound horn".
I saw a Buddhist monk, bare chest, shaved head with a top-knot of hair, riding a motorcycle with one hand and talking on a cell phone with the other. I'd say that was symbolic of "India Today".
The law says only two people on a motorcycle. They're actually 100cc or less motor-scooters... but I saw a family of 5 riding one and it's very typical to see a couple riding with a small child in front of the husband who's driving and the wife holding a baby.
The autorickshaw's are everywhere and seem to be "driving" the street economy. They have two-cycle engines and I was told there's an effort to replace them with less-polluting 4 cycle engines.
Air pollution is bad but not as bad as Manila was in the 1990's. Every few blocks you get a whiff of something best left to your imagination. Suffice it to say the waste water treatment system needs work.
The people don't look like they're going hungry although very few people are overweight. The animals however all look underfed. Except the holy cows, they look good. The working cows and dogs all show their ribs.