Saturday, April 16, 2005

The IDIOT's Guide to India and Indians - top 10 questions.

I've been in the United States for almost six years now. Ever since I"ve come here, I have been asked a lot of questions by Americans curious about India. Apparently, the East is a much bigger mystery to the West than vice-versa. Anyway, not to digress from the topic, I have decided to take the time to answer the top ten questions I have been asked since I got here to the US. Hopefully this will serve as a guide to others wanting to know more. Some of the questions might sound dumb but trust me .. I have been asked. Please forward this post to anyone who you think could use this knowledge:

#1) speak very good English. I didn't know Indians could speak English so well.
FYI ... we were under the British rule until a couple of years after the Second World War. They first introduced English education and we happen to have some very highly renowned English literature scholars, philosophers and poets. Just because YOU don't know anyone other than Mark Twain doesn't mean that English isn't prevalent in the East. English is very widely used in India. I think the fact that all call-center jobs got outsourced to India proves that the companies are exploiting our English speaking abilities.

#2) So are there cars in India?
No Sir..we all walk. In fact we don't have roads. Duh !! Yes there are cars in India ... actually since 1990 when India opened up it's markets to free trade, we have pretty much the same companies manufacturing cars that America has. Ford, GM, Honda, Toyota, Suzuki, Mitsubishi....everything. Trust me, we are at a point that we now need less cars.

#3) I've heard that there are elephants and cows on the streets everywhere.
Umm..yeah we issue them drivers licenses and they're allowed access to the right most lane. No in all depends where you are. In interior and non-metropolitan areas, yes it's likely that you will come across cows and maybe an elephant. In a metropolis like Bombay .. maybe a few cows but hardly an elephant. Cows are worshipped in India, they are treated as one's mother, although sometimes the actual animals go through abuse quite a bit.

#4) Do Indian women work?
Good question and I know where this stems from. You watch way too much Discovery channel. The current state of the Indian woman is very transitionary. There are leading Indian women in all fields such as Business, Technology, Sciences etc. They are in key positions and some of them are entrepreneurs that own their own companies. Yet, in India, it is very common to find women that are oppressed and forced to stay uneducated because "a woman's place is in the home so why educate her". That comes from some cultural evils that we have had for generations but I see that changing so much. Global socio-economic realities have forced Indian families to re-think the role of the lady. They are far more independent, educated and equal to men compared to say 25 years ago and 25 years later, they will still be growing strong.

#5) So what is an arranged marriage?
It's the same thing as your classifieds ads on a website such as "". The key difference is you're looking for someone to date and maybe things might progress. In an arranged marriage, the parents try to find a bride/groom for their you skip the dating scene. There are positives and negatives about this. First of all, the parents do the finding, background checking etc. So they thoroughly investigate the family of your potential spouse before you even get to meet him/her. Secondly, you're not hunting on some stupid website. Your parents (supposedly) know you as much or better than you know yourself. Sometimes they're the best you've got when it comes to understanding who would be a suitable life partner for you. The negative side is ... the risk. You're getting into a marriage on the faith that your parents made the right choice. Either way you evaluate it , it comes down to how successful is this system. The last time I checked, India's divorce rate was well below 3.5 % .. compared to US rate of about 37% or so?. By the way, love marriages (such as mine) are common too so we're into both.

#6) So do you get English television in India?
Actually, you might be surprised but we get the same unwanted crap on TV that you do. Over 125 channels via satellite dish of which only 3 might be worth watching. And we can thank YOU for that because those are the same dang channels. But remember one thing....NEVER EVER assume that an Indian will understand your humor if it's based on American culture and television. If you grew up watching M.A.S.H on TV and you cracked some "Radar" jokes, don't expect an Indian to get it. It's always polite to ask , "Did you ever watch M.A.S.H?", before you crack a joke and end up laughing all by yourself.

#7) What's an Indian wedding like?
One word....Colorful. Unlike Western weddings, we do not go to our weddings dressed in largely monochromatic colors. We try to use pretty much the entire spectrum...our weddings are in true 32 bit color ... i.e. 64 million colors. You will find bright reds, pinks, blues, greens ... anything imaginable. I might someday post my wedding picture here. I look ordinary but if you look at Noddy...what she was wearing (dress , jewelry etc) was enough to buy me a nice used car in this country. Indians love to splurge on weddings ... and for good reason. Unlike the Wester world, we aren't expecting another one coming up shortly in our lifetime. One wedding, one life partner, one road towards the sea holding hands in sunset.

#8) What is Indian food like?
It's very diverse and this is very difficult for most Westerners to understand. Indian food depends on where you're talking about in India. The menu is vastly different depending on whether you're in East/West/North or South. Each region has it's own dishes that are completely different than the other. Most Indian restaurants will serve you North Indian dishes since they are quite common. Food as a whole is very tasteful, takes a long time to prepare and has lots of spices. Now, when I say "has lots of spices", I don't mean "food is hot"....spices add flavor and not necessarily the zing that comes from hot chili pepper. Indian food takes a long time to prepare. We don't do microwave dinners although there are some dishes that can be prepared within 10 minutes. If you ever try out Indian food...tell your server that you want it at it's mildest possible level. If you think you can digest that, then move on to medium and hot and so on. But make sure you don't leave this earth without trying out Indian food. If you live in an area where there's only one or two Indian restaurants, try not eating there. Go to a big city with lots of restaurants and pick a nice Indian restaurant. Let me know how you like it.

#9) So what is your language in India?
What applies to food, applies here too...only 10 times more. We have over 40 widely spoken regional languages. So in other words, a person from Western India does not speak the same regional language as a person from South. In fact, the South itself has about 10 languages. Our official national language is Hindi and if you go to a metropolian city where people of different regions have to communicate to each other, you will find them using either Hindi or (surprise surprise) English to communicate. This is because the odds of a South Indian person talking to a North Indian person in his regional language are very low.

#10) So how long do you plan on staying in this country? Permanently?
Most Indians come here because of the opportunities and the infrastructure. We already have the brains, we just need a channel to harness that power and make something out of it. A lot of Indians go back home because we Indians get home-sick pretty often. We are very strongly attached to our families and they're half a world away (literally) ... so quite a few go back. Quite a few stay on as well. So it really depends on personal ambitions, things back home and our lives here.

There are hundreds of other questions ranging from politics to religion to culture. But I don't want to address them here. Top 10 should suffice. Enjoy!!


Blogger Archana said...


1)The first question I' hve been asked. English speaking population here is higher than the sky. For instance, when I was at a cafe today, the waitor refused to speak to me in Kannada though he is a Kannadiga. Speaking English here is status symbol right now where you've got speak to your own people in a foreign language!

2)Cars in India?? Uff...whoever introduced the loan system?!! Every house has 2 or 3 cars now!

3) Elephants on streets?? Does India have less number of wildlife parks that we started accommodating elephants on streets?? Cows....yes. But elephants? NO...NOT...NOT AT ALL!!

4)The quality of women here is higher than anywhere else...and by that I mean growth and maturity of an Indian woman's mind. This is because she is exposed to everything from an early age. Women who are successful are successful than most men though most have to be educated.

5)Risk...what marriage isnt a risk?? Every marriage is a risk until you learn to live with your partner. And I agree that these websites for dating is a stupid idea!

6)The western culture is on a high because of English television in India. Everything from Frasier to Saturday night live!

7)I totally agree with you...all the colours in the world are present in an Indian wedding!

8)Food....Ummm....appears to be not nutritious but it actually is. The taste is heaven!

9)More than 40 languages and each language has its own dialects. Such is the diversity here...but we all still live together!

10)Opinions differ for different people. And yes, its personal.

Sorry...its too long. But kya karoon? Ruk hi nahin paayi!!! ;D

12:53 PM  
Blogger Archana said...

But heyyy!!!!!! Why did you give it the title "The '''IDIOT's''' Guide to India and Indians - top 10 questions"???

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good ones!!
I've also been asked about whether the english movies have sub-titles. The question was natural, but since it was a question asked during my early days in the US, my reaction wasn't very diplomatic, and my response isnt printable here!
Another one is about cultural shocks when I came to the US - I always say that I didnt have too many because I watched too many english movies and sitcoms, and that covers every life situation! Yes, I got all the jokes, even guessed all the sitcoms acted out in charades that my American friends didnt get.
Of course, going with friends to a college night dance and watching the grinding on the floor was an 'interesting' experience!

~ Synapse

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that you really thought about the top 10 and did a good job in commenting on them. I think I am going to print this off and give it to some of the ignorant Americans to educate them about me and my country.

10:57 PM  
Blogger Puppetainer said...

I suppose that the good news is that we (the idiots) are interested. Most 'mericans don't even care. Those are the people that scare me.

And really, I probably would ask less than half of those questions, so perhaps I'm not much of an idiot after all.

And how could you leave out the puppetry questions?

7:30 AM  
Blogger BloggingSheHobbit said...

I quite enjoyed that post. There is such a diverse population at the university I attend, but yet I still only thought of them simply as people. We sometimes learn about theirs (& your) home countries, but nothing quite so personal. I enjoy the more personal viewpoints.

1:59 PM  
Blogger GoriGirl said...

Iam not Indian, but being married to one I get the same questions...

The latest talk amongst my friends is the Indian call centres..
I sometimes think theu forget my husband is Indian

7:54 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home