Q1. - How does the caste system in India work?
This one is a timeless favourite. While there is some suspense left in the posing or not of the others, this one is as boringly predictable as they come. So much so, that I want to answer it even before I'm asked. The caste system has officially been illegal for over 50 years.
Q2. - How come I speak (tolerably good) English? Do I speak 'Indian'?
One may recall 'the fish on the bicycle' comparison in one of my first posts. Incidentally, the fact that the British had occupied India since the 16th Century might have something to do with it. My speaking English is one of the few pleasant side effects.
Q3. - (somewhat enviously) Is Gandhi as popular in India as he is outside of it?
What can I say? We had Gandhi. They had Hitler. How long does a political legend or villain last?
Q4. - What do I think about Bride burning (Sati)?
Sati was actually banned in 1829. 1829, for the love of God! Can't we talk about something a century more current?
Well if I must, the British did eventually pass the law banning Sati because that's what rulers get to do - make or break laws. But contrary to popular belief, they were not it's campaigners, for fear of bearing the wrath of the Indian Brahmins. Instead, they had actually chosen to tolerate this inhuman practise and look the other way for years on end. The initiative that finally lead to the law was driven by Rammhoan Roy (1772-1833), a Brahmin scholar.
Q5. - Why don't I wear the 'red spot'?
This one is actually a trap, I'm tempted to just go 'Oh, I forgot to!'. Knowing that answering this one with details like the significance of the 'red spot' or how I am Catholic in the first place and the 'red spot' being a hindu custom, would simply unleash a torrent of other questions. Like, 'Are there Christians in India?'.
Q6. - Did I have a very impoverished childhood?
In the defense of my hosts, India is new to the Germans. It is a country, unlike England and the US, that has had a low influx and thus very little experience with foreign cultures. The Indian sub-continent has practically only recently been discovered on the map, mainly because of the so-called 'Green-Card' that was introduced ten years ago to attract skilled IT professionals.
Now, I don't claim to be extensively knowledgeable about other cultures and countries either. I am, in fact, vastly ignorant. And am I as tactless about it? I sure hope not!
Lets quickly go through the some basic current facts about India. A population of 1.2 billion, the second most populous country and THE most populous democracy. There exist 22 officially recognised regional languages, several of which have their own script, of which I speak 2 (and a half maybe). I virtually cannot communicate in many parts of India. So do I speak 'Indian'? What's your guess?
Of the 9 religions that co-exist in India (4 of which originated there), Christians comprise of roughly 3%. That's 35 (odd) million. Probably comparable to the population of Christians in any European country. So what are the chances you can be Indian and Christian? Hope that one's answered.
My India comprised of a typical middle-class environment, normal and boring. Hardworking parents, striving to offer their kids all that they were deprived of. Immersing themselves to their neck in debt trying to do so. Moulding their kids futures was their sole and only purpose in life. Trying to ensure that the prerequisites were in place for their children to earn a good life and living. In that way, we may in fact be different. In how the Indian parent obsesses with the future and achievements of their children. So, did I have an impoverished childhood? No, I was definitely privileged.
The point is, while India may be all of the above, yet it is much much more. A 'typical Indian' does not exist, for that the country is too vast and the cultures and religions within it too varying and diverse. One might need to invest some effort and time to know and understand it, till such time why not desist pressing the whole of the sub-continent into a mould?
We will slowly be seen as more than the picture the media paints of us. The picture of the soiled, barely clothed child with the snotty nose. We are slowly gaining the confidence to deal as equals on the global platform, to dare to be taken seriously.
India's planning commission has recently revised it's statistics to add 100 million to the ranks of the impoverished (who can't spend $10 on basic goods every month). Raising the proportion to 37%. My brother, a bit of a choleric, fumed at the negative publicity, west bashing east. Only our failings get dragged out in the spot light, he said.
That doesn't make it less of a fact. There is some truth in stereotyping after all.