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3 Jan 2011

India From Outside

As one of thousands of people who leave their homes and travel to other countries to gain experience, knowledge and an improved lifestyle, I crossed the seas and arrived at this island. As is human nature to adapt to current surroundings, so did I. I went a step ahead and ensured I remain busy so I don't remember what I'm missing from where I arrived. I had so much fun being "a Roman in Rome" that it became my life. Occasionally, a moment like this came up.

10 mins into watching Karthik Calling Karthik. Hadn't realized I missed all this so much. I wanna go home! 

A friend responded to me on FB and said she felt the same way every time she watched a Bollywood movie. Last night, I stayed up till 1.30 watching a movie that I'd not only watched but knew was not all that great. 

It reminded me of another friend from US who is a big fan of Govinda, now a has-been celebrity in India. I had scoffed at her taste back in the earlier days saying that is what happened when you were away from home. 

Today, I can relate to it. I still won't chase Govinda but I can sit through a crappy Hindi movie and get nostalgic. 

It makes me wonder if this is why Karan Johar's movies are such big blockbusters abroad. Not all of them are good but he touches a nerve that non-residents can feel. Something they can relate to. It's like buying readymade "Nan bread" at Woolworths or Coles. Like thinking it is the closest thing I can get to eating naan at home, so I'll buy it and if it takes alright, I'll like it. Reality is that it is nothing like a real naan made in India. A mock-up of the original, if you will. 

Same applies to the localities of that place. KJo's movies have a sprinkling of India and culture but the locations are those outsiders can identify with. Then the drama and the "tradition" that might not really be India but what is believed outside of India. A smattering of all that and you have a hit Bollywood movie that might not work in India but will bring in moolah from outside. 

India from within India is so different from India from outside. A lot of people ask me about Indian culture and if this is how we do something. I try to explain to them that Indian culture is not one culture but many. South Indians are so different from North Indians. We speak over 25 languages and have almost as many cultures. If you dig deeper, there is the caste system and sub-caste system, where tradition varies within one culture. 

I have not met one expat who told me (s)he loved ragi mudde or rasam. Or even heard of it. India, for them, is "nan bread", "dahl", tandoori chicken, butter chicken, biryani, etc. All tailored to suit their exotic palates too. I wonder if we could tailor a mudde or rasam that way. Maybe not. Maybe that is why we can get that stuff only in India. 

Most of what is seen outside is the North Indian culture. More so Punjab, Mumbai and Delhi than any other. It's Indian culture alright but it's not the mirror to all of India. Just a peep through the window. Try explaining that to somehow who is baffled that every Indian can speak atleast 2 - 3 different languages. 

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