I think the best way for me to put what I am trying to say would be to narrate it in the sequence in which I thought of things.
It started off with a conversation with Ashish Bhaiya when he returned to India after his two years or so at Finland. Somewhere while talking about his various experiences and looking at his photographs, I exclaimed, “What are the vegetable-sellers there like?” And then he made this remark, “There is no social status there! Once you are out of your work, no body would know whether you are a driver, a lab-assistant, a vegetable-seller, a researchers, a professor or a business manager. And neither would any one care.”
I later discussed it with Priya, in the context of her experience in Germany. And that’s when we got into discussing the origin of this difference between us and them. One of the hypothesis Priya gave was that this absence of care for social status comes from a general attitude of ‘not caring’ – not just about the social status, but about everything else too! The society is much more individualistic. And one wouldn’t bother to know what you are doing with your life – whether you never see your parents, whether you are a single mother, whether you have married and got divorced N number of times, whether you have dropped out of your college, whether you have chosen to study literature instead of engineering, and any thing else!
An example is the attitude of parents towards children. We, Indians, invariably are much more protective than people in most European societies or the Americans. At least, this is the impression I have gotten from those who have had some experience of these societies. The example that Priya cited of the German Prof., under who she worked, can be taken here. It seems one of his daughters has got cancer, she is about our age, is studying away from home and getting her treatment done on her own, possible with the help of her friends. They meet her once in a while, but nothing of the kind of care and worry which you would expect in an Indian home. She has to ‘get over it’ or ‘learn to live with it’ is something like how her mother looks at it.
Another example of parental attitude was given by out HR professor recently. Waiting for a train on some station in US, he saw a 8-10 year old kid skating on the platform and carrying out some dangerous steps (as it appeared to him!) like jumping with the skates on the bench and then jumping down etc. Two of his elder siblings and parents were there, talking amongst themselves, least bothered about this kid. At one point of time the kid lost balance and the only thing the father did then was to shout, “Be careful!”, to which the kid responded excitedly by saying something about a step which he had been able to perform then, but not earlier. He invited them to watch his performance; they surrounded him and encouraged him in his games. The reaction of the professor was, “I understand the difference. Despite understanding, despite being a psychologist, I shall not be able to let my child do it!”
The family examples are rather extreme ones, but similar differences can be imagined in other social relations and interactions as well.
Now, this is good and this is bad. Good because it gives you independence, freedom and an opportunity to be yourself. It lets the fighter and rebel in you come out. It lets you defy what exists and find something better. Bad when it crosses the thin line between giving freedom and taking away the support systems of life. In the form of a family, you are supposed to have one place which you can turn towards even after losing everything else. Fighting out is good, but when you are absolutely tired, the same social relationships give you time and place to take some rest!
Like most of the things in life, there are no blacks and whites here. And like most of the things, probably no one has been able to achieve that exact line, that separates black from white. One only strives… In this case the societies. And like everything else here too the participants, the societies are bound to oscillate between extremes, go in cycels.
Is it sad? Or is it what life is all about? Going in cycles? (No – no references to ‘Moksha’ is intended here!)