India, the gamble!


Here’s a small story:

There was a teacher outside a glass room. There was a learner inside the room. The teacher could see him from outside and had to ask a question with four possible answers. If the learner chose a wrong answer the teacher had to punish him with electric shock. For every wrong answer there was a 15-volt increment. Every time the teacher wanted to halt the test, the supervisor would say this in order:

   * Please continue.
   * The experiment requires that you continue.
   * It is absolutely essential that you continue.
   * You have no other choice, you must go on.

Everyone has the right to choose where they want to live. No one is bound to a country just because they were born there. There seem to be lot of jingoists out there criticizing this NYT post. In fairness, the article seems incomplete especially after reading this post & some comments and I can understand why people consider it as an attack against Indian conditions or living in India. After all, they are only trying to defend their own lives in India and justify their every day struggle.

The only thing that bothered me and possibly many others is when he talks about how he hated what he was “becoming”. I think he may have gotten it wrong. That in fact he may have been the same person all along and all India did was merely bring it out, however unimpressive and uncomfortable it was.

In the story above 26 out of 40 teachers went ahead with the test up to 450-volt shocks even though they were uncomfortable all along. 26 out of 40. That’s a whopping sixty five percent! 450 Volts. That’s 30 incorrect answers!

All those people went ahead with the test even though they were not comfortable with it. If you’re unfamiliar with that story, that’s the Milgram experiment revealing fascinating possibilities about human behavior.

That’s exactly what India does to people. We are the teachers. Everyone else is the learner. The society is the supervisor. We can choose to punish someone with an electric shock for something as simple as a wrong answer in a test or defy the supervisor, pause, think and take a stand not to.

In some ways Sumedh Mungee can be accused of being a true Indian at heart. Like majority of us Indians with a herd mentality and sub-par reasoning abilities. After all, there is a reason why there are so many corrupt politicians that win by offering a few hundred rupees bribes and rice for a vote: the common Indian cannot think beyond his immediate needs. All he sees is that his family could use an extra grand and some rice to fill their empty stomachs. He doesn’t see how the politician could sign it off as his side of the obligation being fulfilled once he gets elected. He doesn’t see anything wrong with it. He doesn’t want to. He doesn’t know how to.

High emotions, chemicals, hormones! Name it whatever you want. But they seem to be part of almost all newly-returned-Indian’s composition. Tourists probably don’t feel that way, may be they arrive with a blank slate, no other expectation than exploring and learning about the culture. Perhaps all Indians returning to their homeland after years of being away need to have that mentality, mostly to make it easier on themselves.

Almost three years ago, I came back to India very reluctantly, mostly because I didn’t have much of a choice. I am not going to say that it is the best thing that happened to me. But it has definitely made me stronger and wiser. The constant staring every time I stepped out of the house, the lack of control over my time, the inability to sustain with a sane mind without taking help, the lack of a supportive family system to fall back on, the inexperience with handling a toddler.

But mostly the loneliness that creeps out of the self-pity that there is no one that gives you company or even understands you in this hell of a city for wanting to have some of the basic necessities you’ve been used to. Which you later realize are extravagant luxuries for most people in India. That makes you depressed and guilty that you wanted that thing in the first place. “How can you waste so much food when there are people dying of hunger?”. “How can you waste so much water and even think of going to theme parks when there are thousands of people that walk miles and miles for a few gallons of water?”. The barrage of questions and pondering! The enormous fog inside your head! But then you breath, try to wipe that fog away and see past the self-torture.

Nothing has changed. I still get the same kind of staring as I walk down the street, restlessness over relinquishing control, insanity that follows with taking help, lack of support system and dealing with the devil.

What can you do about the constant staring other than giving the finger or some times walking up to the person and asking him “How can I help you? You seem to be staring at me for a long time. Do you need directions to the eye doctor? Or the mental hospital?”.

I sometimes consciously relinquish control as part of exercising my brain or whatever else is filled in its place. I do that by occasionally having my cook decide the menu for the day or letting my toddler do what he wants without instructing. I compensate by driving in the busy Chennai streets. By having complete control of at least one thing – staying behind the wheels for instance, driving through familiar less crowded streets even if that means a few minutes of extra traveling, being in charge of my family’s safety while getting from A to B. All while not having to look after my toddler.

I find that it helps to think of India as a pineapple. Perhaps India as a big list of a favorite restaurant menu. It is impossible to order and eat everything all at once even though we love it all and can’t pick one. India has so many problems it would be almost narcissistic to think one person could solve it all. The best thing for us to do would be to live our own lives and strive to be the best we can be.

Restraining from taking our kids to a water theme park is not going to magically bring water to all the remote villages nor will staying hungry feed the starving kids. But being aware of it and teaching our kids might help. Distributing wealth is so outdated, we need to focus on creating. Not just wealth, but strong founded values, ethics, compassion, creativity and the results of a good day’s work.

If I raise my son to be all that and teach him how to pass it on I’ll consider my life a great success.

Life is a long stay at Vegas – Fun, frolic, drinking, merry-making, long nights and lots and lots of gamble. I realize everyone may not be as lucky as I am. Sometimes both spouses go through the same emotions while trying to cope with a change. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a supportive spouse that tells you when you do something wrong. That truly compensates for your flaws and appreciates for your strengths. I’m glad I have that and as long as I have that, I feel strong enough to survive not just in India, but anywhere in the world.

It’s nice that Sumedh Mungee and his wife were along the same lines and stayed together through the ordeal. I wish they can stay happy in whatever place they choose to live. When they do decide to visit or even come back, hopefully there will be good, caring friends that can welcome them back into what seemed like a haunted house which in fact is one big happy circus!

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4 thoughts on “India, the gamble!

  1. Hello,

    I happened to go through your blog a couple of days back and was impressed. Let me get straight to the point. We have a forum at http://www.chennaichatter.com exclusively for Chennai-ites where we discuss various issues pertaining to Chennai and the nation. I think it would be great if you join us and take part in the debates. It would add a whole new class to the discussions.

    Have a great day!
    Thomson.

  2. “That in fact he may have been the same person all along and all India did was merely bring it out, however unimpressive and uncomfortable it was.”

    he’s will to acknowledge that it isn’t okay or acceptable. that’s commendable.

  3. Hi, sorry for being out of touch with you for a long time. Life sometimes can be a terrible distraction :) Have added you on to my new reader (Google reader’s dying or dead), and hope to be better informed of your life !
    I am glad that you are back and are coping well. As someone who returned a few years before you did, I can understand your emotions and thoughts. 10 years later, now and then, we still have this “we should go live elsewhere in the world” argument at home, but those have stayed arguments so far.

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