FRONT PAGE / POSTS
The linear paradox
by Aiyana Gunjan| New Delhi, India
Friday, 30 September 2011
tags: asia, culture, global vectors, making sense
Gone are the days when traveling abroad would mean being overwhelmed by the glitz and glamour of consumerism. India has caught up with the West in the 21st century. This time when I travelled to the USA, what struck me most was the Culture of The Line!
I observed how automatically people fell into a line in the West. There was no push, no shove. Just a quiet, polite, patient standing in a queue. The concept of ‘personal space’ of leaving a foot of gap between the first two people in the line seemed so alien. In India, half a dozen of people would have fitted in that ‘space’! I was taken up by the order, the discipline and the silence in the movement of the line in every walk of life in the West. Just like a ‘well-oiled machinery’ of the human race!
Come to India and the chaos hits you. Of course, there is a line but there is no concept of line in the Indian psyche. Like sardines, we stick close behind each other in a mile-long line. With much push and shove, we jostle to get our way in the line. Anything it takes to get ahead in the queue. There is much action, noise and chitter-chatter around the line.
Some trying to break ‘Into’ the line, others trying to get order into that line. Some striking a conversation with the stranger behind to pass the time. What a stroke of luck it is to find a ‘friend’ in the line, who quietly squeezes you into the line!
This difference in the behavior of standing in a queue made me reflect on the two cultures.
A line is symbolic of the discipline of systematic, linear order. Paradoxically, Indians seem to display no linear order in public, and yet they are culturally conditioned to a ‘linearly sequenced’ pattern of life.
“Vishnu is God that organises the world. Society comes with rules and regulations, roles and responsibilities, milestone that give life direction and standards that create hierarchy.” – Dr. Devdutt Pattnaik
For Hindus, life is a sacred journey in which each milestone, marking major biological and emotional stages, is consecrated through sacred ceremony. Rooted in the samskaras [16 rites of passage that punctuate the symbolic line of life in Hinduism], Hindu Indians are conditioned to live by the prescribed code of conduct and customs within the complex social matrix. Each relationship in the extended family structure is given a unique name, with defined roles and responsibility. There is order, discipline and respect inherent in the Indian culture. And we all are bound by it, no matter how modern we get.
My question is why is there such a lack of order and discipline in the public space? Why are we in such a tearing hurry to ‘get ahead’, when as a nation we do not have the competitive streak to win? A paradox! It forces me to think deeper on the psyche of the Indian line culture….
Is it the number game? A population of 1.2 billion is credited to India.
Yes, people, people and people. Everywhere you go, you see a sea of people….that’s India for you! We have intrinsically been a ‘society of scarcity’ as opposed to the ‘society of abundance’ of the West. Out on the streets, we are competing with millions for the same resource. We are struggling with the constant fear of getting left behind in the daily rat race of living.
The ‘society of scarcity’ keeps us on our toes, with the mind ticking all the time. There is nothing predictable when people rub with people in the sea of emotions. The Indian mind is forced to think of creative, innovative ways around the constraints. How do we get there before others take it? How do we stretch our rupee? Nothing comes easy. The ingenious Indian mind is known for its ‘jugaad’ – i.e. “what ever it takes, I will find my way around…I will find ‘my’ solution around this situation.”
In a country where no two days are alike, where the systems may not toe the line, you will quite often hear people say: “Yeh desh Ram bharose chalta hai” (this country runs by God’s Grace.) And we carry on in faith…
There may not be the ‘conveyor belt efficiency’ of linear order in India, there may seem no method but there is a method in the madness that is real, palpable, organic, spontaneous and creative.
© 2011 Aiyana Gunjan