Is the blending of cultures such a bad thing? Will we eventually become one homogenous block of humans who, whether in London, Mumbai, Brazil or China, will lead disgustingly uninteresting and similar lives? Mere shadows of one another?
Well, for starters we already do. Giving in to peer pressure, be it to people who belong to the same community or to different communities, is the same thing but on different scales. In fact, there is a subtle play of dominance – subjugation when someone insists and you capitulate (which you do, eagerly) to their demand that you look and sound exactly like them before they accept you. Youngsters are especially vulnerable. That, I suspect, is one of the main objections of people who insist on not giving up part of their cultural identity for something that might be more convenient or, horror of horrors, more enjoyable. Fact is, peer pressure aside and purely because we are human, we pick up things from other humans. It is a natural instinct. It stems from the desire for self preservation, safety and a sense of belonging. It makes us fashion ourselves along the lines of other humans we admire, enjoy or feel safe with, or, would like to call our inner circle. That is the other objection – how can someone like something from the other culture so much that they are willing to give up part of ours?
When we migrated to NZ, my family and I were following a dream. We wanted to be amongst people of various cultures, especially cultures that we didn’t see much of, in our own neighbourhood. We read about them, were fascinated by them and in some ways, identified with them. An objective outsider (or an insider from that other culture) would rightly say, we had romanticised notions of the different culture. When we did settle here we realised it was a mixed bag. Not everything (nor everyone) was as wonderful as we’d imagined. There was much that we thoroughly admired and wanted to absorb from the new culture. But there were things Indian that we realised we preferred.
Here’s some of our initial reactions – that the local kids weren’t able to shine as much as our Indian kids at studies; but they were really good at sports and music (which one couldn’t really earn a living off, could one? Heh, heh); that we enjoyed our culture of home cooked food versus fast food; stay-at-home mums who welcomed kids back home from school, helped them with their studies and generally provide stable home lives. But guess what?
Our perceptions began to change. We slowly began to understand that our kids were brilliant because of rote learning; that experimenting, researching and looking at knowledge from different angles, questioning the written word and drawing our own logical conclusions was brilliant too; that fresh air, the outdoors and enough play time was essential for our kids and not just mountains of homework; that besides being lawyers and doctors there were many fields they could follow; that one could actually link one’s extra-curricular activities and interests to one’s earnings.
Next, our ideas about stay-at-home mums started changing slightly. I suspect it started changing in India too. Sheer economics, a desire not to waste qualifications, to be out and about amongst peers, made us stay-at-home mums seek careers. Were we giving up our culture by going off to work? Perhaps to a degree – but it wasn’t because of pressure from the west. It had not only become a necessity, it was quite desirable too. Mums started working while their kids were away at school. Here in NZ we’d secretly felt sorry for kids who were sent to baby-sitters by their career oriented mothers. Now we were considering the same. What we began to understand and appreciate was that women here had managed to combine both, their profession and family life, with a tougher set of options than their counterparts in India. In India, we had the best babysitters in the world – grandparents, to nurture and supervise, as also cheap, paid help to do the hard housework. Over here the extreme anxiety of having to leave kids with relatively unknown people had produced a win-win outcome too – professional baby-sitters. They underwent training, learnt how to deal with emergencies, their houses were inspected for cleanliness and safety and, there was a strict ratio of the number of children to the number of trained sitters looking after them. And if we found someone who, over the months proved to be kindly and affectionate with our children, our anxiety gave way to relief. Another tradition sacrificed? To my mind, just two different but equally good choices made available – one from our traditions and one from theirs.
We appreciated the fact that we could earn a decent wage working part time. So some of us chose to be back in time to welcome kids home from school. Whether we did so or stayed longer at work, when we got home, there was no paid help to do our cleaning, washing, cooking, repairing, building, painting and gardening. We – both partners – did most of it ourselves. Or, if we got paid help, they charged a good rate by the hour.
Continued as Part II