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September 17, 2010

I just received this email from a reader – one I know through the blog-o-sphere and through a mutual friend – one who has been complimentary in the past and is (or at least was) a loyal reader. So I am sharing it with you just in case you have the same concerns.

Hi A Reason to Write
Hope you are well. Just read another post by you.

I hope I am not the only one saying this but I feel your posts have changed a bit lately ever since you have come back to the the States. I miss the humor in your posts and I feel that there is a tongue in cheek attitude in your posts. I know you have mentioned in your previous posts somewhere that you are not trying to demean or belittle life in India. But why do I always feel that you are doing just that? I may be wrong and want to give it the benefit of the doubt. India is India and US is US..there is no comparison, period! You called India a third world country once. India is no more a third world country! In one of your posts, not too long ago, one of the things was people leaving their kids alone on the streets…are these things not happening in the US? India is still a very young country as compared to the US and the progress it has made in this short time is remarkable. I do not think it is  fair to compare these two countries. We should compare apples to apples!

I shared my views with a few like minded people who read your blog on my request. It made me sad to read what was being projected to people who are not familiar with life in India and its rich culture.

Please know that I am not upset. I am just sharing my thoughts with you. Pinky swear! 🙂

Where to begin. Yikes. First of all, thanks for sharing your thoughts and ending with humor – at least I know you aren’t ready to form a picket line in front of my blog – just yet. 😉
Then I would add, that my blog should never be judged just on simply one post. No blog should be. As you say, India has a rich culture and history and I tout that often in my posts.

Then I would like to suggest that maybe, just maybe, this post warrants a re-read.
I will readily admit to being sarcastic. I am and it’s extremely likely that I will continue to be.

And this post is just that.

But it is in no way a criticism of India.

I have always contended that there is no right and wrong – simply differences. Shopping and cooking and driving in India and the U.S. are hardly similar in any way. I benefited from having staff in India because it saved me a lot of time. And I am grateful that there are so many conveniences in the U.S. that equally make my life easier but we might have taken it too far when we sell shredded cheese and premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Do I use them? Sure – happily. Do I need them? I would argue no – not even for a second. I even said in my post that my American readers should continue reading just to be reminded of what we take for granted on a daily basis.

Basically what I will say is that this post is more about the excesses in America than any deficiencies I saw in India. I think it is ludicrous that we have 18 different ways to buy cheddar cheese – although I am grateful we do – it’s a tad bit excessive. I don’t ever argue that America is perfect – of course it isn’t. Neither is India broken. There are just things that do not make complete sense through my western eyes.  A continuous thread throughout all of my posts is all that I learned in India and how grateful I am for the experience for me and for my family. I did not love everything about India – but I loved most of it. We have been blessed beyond measure to see that the world is so different and that every place offers tremendous stories and experiences.

As far as India being a third world country. This is truly, truly a fascinating debate to me. Once before, someone adamantly argued that India is not a third world country. Certainly many people in India live well. There is no doubt about that. And there is a lot of opulence in India. However, the majority of India’s citizens don’t have real and guaranteed access to water, permanent shelter, education, and some level of health care. Throw in some pretty high infant mortality rates and you have got some development issues. But don’t just listen to my big fat opinion –

Wikipedia says this:
“The term ‘Third World’ arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned or not moving at all with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World) or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the Earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. The term continues to be used colloquially to describe the poorest countries in the world.”

Many people will say that India is a “developing” third world country. That’s probably more fair and I will start using that term from now on. And you make a good point. India’s government is still young – there is a lot of growing to do. But the elephant in the room is the waste and abuse that happens in the Indian government that often results in the unnecessary suffering of so many people. Again, is America perfect? Absolutely not. Of course not. We have our own wastes and abuses and not everyone is getting an equal share of the pot.

Part of what has been so hard for me in returning to America is leaving the images of India behind. I too often allow myself to forget that people are suffering – all over the world. How do I throw away bread crusts when children are starving (and yes, not just in India, in America too)? Now I put my crusts and stale bread out for the birds and squirrels. I know it won’t change a thing in the world but at least I am wasting less. That feels better.

I think Americans allow ourselves to be self-absorbed and protect ourselves from the reality of the sufferings of others – and, to be fair, I can point that same self-absorbed finger at Indians too. We all put on our jewelry and drive our gas hogs and live in our houses that are unnecessarily big and melt our shredded cheese and simply allow ourselves to ignore that, for the most part, even on a bad day, others have it much, much worse.

I struggle with how to become a more global citizen and how to have more of an impact in helping others – and that struggle is a direct result of my life in India. I can no longer pretend that life in Northern Virginia is the norm. It’s certainly great but it is not the experience of most of the world. I struggle with how to do something everyday to make someone else’s life better. I am failing miserably in that regard but I am trying.

And I am afraid this blog will continue to contain comparisons between life in India and life in America. It’s all I know and I am not willing to add another experience to my repertoire – at least not yet.

Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. I never want to offend anyone – but unfortunately, the minute you hit publish on the internet, you are very much in danger of doing just that. And remember that I am mostly talking to myself – the fact that anyone is coming along for the journey continues to amaze me. I am at least glad you felt comfortable in sharing your disagreement and disappointment with me and my words. That is one thing that India and America do have in common. Democracy is a beautiful thing.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. poupee97 permalink
    September 20, 2010 4:57 am

    I’ve been reading along for a long time now. I don’t think you demean or belittle India. I think you were touched by many experiences and difficulties here and you’re working through them even now. Your comparisons, when they happen, are apt. I don’t think you have anything to apologise for.

    • September 20, 2010 8:49 am

      Hi there – you have been following along for a long time – thank you! 😎

  2. Amol permalink
    September 18, 2010 3:51 pm

    saw some hectic activity abt one of your recent posts…what I see is its all related to usual…I thought…but then some comments attracted my attention…so I thought heres a reason to write..

    I saw wht loco has aptly pointed out …and I quote “I’ve followed you since the beginning as you know and I can say with authority that your views and opinions on India were always fair and balanced, suffused with your unique brand of wit, sarcasm and humor, primarily focused on the impact, both positive and negative, your adventure has had on you and your family-a personal journey (mind them) shared publicly, and anyone who can’t see that (for whatever reason) either simply can’t see or doesn’t really want to see”….(wanna hug this much sense in such a dull n dumb sounding monologue…)

    very intelligently put…this is for your own personal use…we have no business to visit a personal blog..least of all…comment abt some struggling amateur and his or her literary attempts over the net….

    We cant change the way world thinks about us Indians..we are hated..for whatever reasons…We hve had so many different foreign rulers..Afghans…British…Portugese…French…who hated us so much for our richness that they looted and ravaged us many times over because they were so fascinated by India and its heritage….they mailed the best of india to their own countries….Imagine your house being robbed of all ur precious belongings..and the effect this has on you….we rebuilt our world…Life goes on..and so it did for us Indians…tolerant Indians…whose silence is often misunderstood for weakness or meekness…

    The most ancient civilization…the most ancient religion…The Sages n Saints… Thinkers…scriptures and teachings literature..writings…innumerable wonders of science…so many inventions….I am overwhelmed and so will everyone be who tries even to scratch the surface…and b knowledgeable enough to conquer this world…but we don’t tout our superiority….these days its worn on our shirt sleeves for the world to appreciate…and hate…

    Land to Population Ratios…World Wars…. Renaissance…Industrial Growth..political philosophies…hve fueled the economic growth of most western nations…Profits….has been the mainstay of every economic activity…and it has ironically succeeded because too much importance has been placed on economic abundance…may god bless the people with abundance always…the point being the economic growth of all western countries has been due to outside influences like World War and other wars…and outside markets…that is exports…of equipment or services or whtevr….

    All comparisons are baseless..everyone is created equal…well…almost…except for the skin n hair color…. Period..except that the circumstances they grow in are different…seeds growing in fertile soil and seeds grown in rocky soil have different growth rates…thats the major difference between India and Other countries..

    comments made are heartfelt…which only reflect upon the perception and education…and upbringing….of the writer…

    So, Madam, your comments and posts and blog are good and apt in their own context and perception…but not palatable for people like me…who feel that I am being misquoted or misunderstood…hence the reply..somebody somewhere needs to get the facts straight…and understand why something is the way it is…black spots on the moon doesnt make the moon less attractive or less luved…thats my country..INDIA…love her the way she is..because I know what she went through….and right now i hve tears in my eyes…thanks to that idiot friend who introduced me to blogs..

    He is an expat Indian and loves these kinda posts..hes an imbecile…likes silly things sometimes…god bless him…

    • September 18, 2010 5:46 pm

      Amol – namaste and thanks for taking the time to write such an in-depth response – you mention that Indians are hated – I want to be clear that I do not hate anything about India or its people – there is a lot I don’t understand and there are somethings I don’t like but Hate? Not this chickadee. I don’t think you were referring to me – but I just want to be very clear on that. And you are right, abundance can often be confused with success/happiness. I often marveled at how happy the poorest in India seemed at times. Nothing but a shirt on their backs and smiles on their faces. No apparent anger, no frustration, no disappointment. It was an amazing thing. And I will admit that I am neither a historian nor a journalist, just someone digesting my experience. I would argue that India is impossible to adequately explain. Such extremes exist that words are not strong enough to capture them. And perceptions, being what they are, mean that everyone’s experience is different. So no matter how eloquently I might try to say something, someone will always disagree. Anywho – thanks again for coming by.

  3. Harkirat permalink
    September 18, 2010 9:07 am

    Though I have not been at your blog before, so it will be a tad incorrect to point anything about the past on what you wrote, but from the current entry where you pick up the e-mail from a reader of yours, i find you have taken things too much too heart. I would in your place, would have given a serious thought and had a discussion with the fan of yours to understand the psyche and tried to bring them around to your side, or if they had more valid points, honorably accepted point by point.
    I know we live in a world where when criticised we take things too personally, look at how other Americans living in America sided..dunno where your reader who sent you the mail comes from, but am sure it must be an Indian in the US or somewhere who actually knows India is India and the US is US, and so able to comment the way they did.
    Please do not take this personally, I am an Indian in India, and so my comment also comes from my heart, just as anybody elses does !!

    • September 18, 2010 5:37 pm

      Harkirat – welcome – and thank you – and don’t worry, I don’t take it too personally. I am not insulted when others don’t agree with me – it helps me see things differently. That’s a good thing. But I also want to be sure to say this blog is not a criticism of India – it is just my observations and my reflections. Thank you again for stopping by.

  4. September 18, 2010 6:52 am

    Well said, Reason2. I especially liked: ” I never want to offend anyone – but unfortunately, the minute you hit publish on the internet, you are very much in danger of doing just that. And remember that I am mostly talking to myself – the fact that anyone is coming along for the journey continues to amaze me.”
    It’s so true…someone is going to be offended no matter what you say, and endeavouring not to offend anyone is a waste of time and energy. I don’t mind offending people. I don’t like to and I feel a certain dissappointment when I do, but I try to just keep it in perspective and keep it moving.
    What’s irksome is the people just aching for offense, that don’t make the effort to read the post carefully or at least check out previous related posts. Sometimes I want to make it a requirement to comment (at least those who have grievances with a particular post) to read related posts, especially when I’ve linked to it in the post in question, and the related posts address their particular concerns directly and what not..
    Anyway, i’m sure commenters like that are rare for you. You posts just tend not to generate the kind of negativity that would make you the target of trolls. Even this reader counldn’t bring him/herself to really have a go at you. That’s because of the positive power and light you imbue your writing with. I envy that about you, i must admit. Though simarly powerful (if I must say so myself) I tend towards the darker which brings out another kind of energy in respondants form time to time…but we gotta work with what we got don’t we? And you, my dear, work it!
    I’ve followed you since the beginning as you know and I can say with authority that your views and opinions on India were always fair and balanced, suffused with your unique brand of wit, sarcasm and humor, primarily focused on the impact, both positive and negative, your adventure has had on you and your family-a personal journey (mind them) shared publicly, and anyone who can’t see that (for whatever reason) either simply can’t see or doesn’t really want to see.
    (And to those who can’t respect that…welll…you know what those people can do with themselves.)
    I love you and I love your work, keep it up, as I know you will…cuz you’ve got reason!
    Loco (-;

  5. Kay permalink
    September 17, 2010 10:57 pm

    I just happened to read your blog…

    Today’s Los Angeles Times has carried this article on their front page’1 in7 in US lives below poverty line,0,5805287.story
    As mentioned by you too , there is so much variety of food available- i wonder ,what is their affordability level?
    About 7-8 years ago I was doing a survey report to check the feasibility of a new franchise motel in a city of California,the figures as per 2000 census revealed that more than 70% people of that city were on Welfare Grants….. they must be eating Good food as they dress in designer wears and drive good cars.
    In India people work for their livelihood.
    As one of your reader has very aptly said US is US India is India why compare
    Of course we are blessed & fortunate to live in this country……….

    • September 18, 2010 6:20 am

      Hi Kay and welcome – because to not compare means to live India uneffected by it – and to not evaluate what is good and bad is to say nothing needs to change – in either place. I am not sure that is true. Thanks for coming by!

  6. Laura Horvath permalink
    September 17, 2010 8:23 pm

    I read your post today with a deep sense of recognition – it’s how I always feel when I return to the states from trips to West Africa. There is so much excess in how we live in the US and in NOVA in particular, and it’s easy to slip back into the bubble. I admire that you are retaining a dual vision – seeing what is good and convenient and yet ridiculously excessive here in light of what you have seen elsewhere in the world. I think sometimes people think that we think we are superior because we have so much stuff – but having more doesn’t make it better. Sierra Leone is a truly third world country (I don’t think many people would dispute this now, although I also thinkg of SL as a “developing” country with a young democracy) – and though they don’t have shredded cheese, reliable clean water or power, access to health care or “restaurant-inspired food for cats” (what is up with THAT, by the way?!), the people are among the most welcoming and generous people you’ll ever meet. They’re blessed with an understanding of what truly matters – relationships and gratitude for the smallest of gifts – in ways that we are not and from which we could learn a lot.

    I hope to never lose the ability to see how incredibly fortunate and blessed I am to live in this country while also understanding as a citizen of the world that I have much to learn by how the majority of people in the world live – and that is something that I hear over and over in your blog posts. Speak your truth – and don’t stop, ever. Your open eyes and heart educate the rest of us, and open ours as well.

    • September 18, 2010 6:15 am

      It’s so hard to explain isn’t it? And I too, hope I never let go of what I have seen and felt and learned. 😎

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