Thoughts after my trip to India

I just came back from a month-long trip to India. Having lived my entire adult life in the U.S., I decided to make observations about daily life there and blog about it when I came back. And so I did — I started writing about the weather in Chennai, how it impacts lifestyle, the pollution and the population. I wrote about the food, the tropical fruits, the filter coffee and how people show hospitality and generosity through food. I decided to include my thoughts on all the ceremonies and superstitions, and about the fantastic railway system! I wanted to write about the judgmental society, the neighbors and lack of space and privacy and boy — how much work do the women do there!!

But I decided to not blog any of that as I became more interested about my own life in San Francisco after my trip to India. It is very easy for me visiting from a developed world, to point fingers at the chaos, and the growing pains of development. I wouldn’t want any part of it. I wouldn’t want to be in a world where women are subject to a subtle as well as overt systemic oppression. I wouldn’t want to be part of a world that believes in god-men who are in fact frauds and impostors. I wouldn’t want anything to do with the unclean, unsafe streets. There are posters on street signs and dirt everywhere. Who would want to bribe someone to get even the simplest task done out of the government? Why would anyone live in a world where politicians are the biggest source of corruption and you can’t trust the police? You have to be dependent on people so much yet can’t trust them? How does that work? Isn’t it horrible to treat laborers and poorer people the way they are treated? Yet if you are nice to them, there is a chance they might take advantage of you. Oh and the nosy neighbors and everyone else in the society telling you when it is the right time to have kids or get married or buy a house! Why would anyone in their right minds want to be a part of that? And that hierarchical work culture?

All these questions popped up in my head when I was there at various points of time. My indignation increased to a level of frustration about people there: why do people go along with all this? Why doesn’t anyone speak up without having to be a rebel or an outcast? It’s all extreme one way or the other.

But it also got me thinking! I live in San Francisco — one of the most liberal places with the least judgment possible! I can be whatever I want and exercise my freedom of speech! Mind you, United States has its own issues and is struggling to deal with them. But one thing IS true: we can freely speak our minds, write about our thoughts and express ourselves. Yet, living in this part of the world where it’s a constitutional right to speak our minds — how often do I speak up? How often do I take time to think about these issues and express myself? Do I try to enact a change? How often do I stand up to sexism, racism, discrimination based on income or looks here, in this developed world? How often do I clean up the streets here? When am I appreciative of the government? Am I doing anything differently?

I have basically enjoyed the luxury of cocooning myself in a bubble of my choice — with like-minded people and restricting routines. I live in my comfort zone and rarely expose myself to a different world even to be open to other perspectives. My internet world is pretty much the same. Facebook looks at my trends and filters out any information that I might not like. I get only the information I want to receive.

The developed world provides us the luxury of avoiding such systemic issues and creating a world for ourselves where we don’t have to deal with any of that. This luxury is available everywhere but I think it is more easily accessible in the United States. It’s only when we get exposed to different circumstances do we clash with the harsh reality that there are people living in other such bubbles.

I experienced such a moment in India, particularly when I attended a book reading of T.Janakiraman’s books. Completely oblivious to tamil literature and his works, I sat there without any expectations. There was a book that really got to me: Amma vandhaal — a version of Scarlet letter happening in a brahmin household set in the 1960s but also exploring feminism with powerful women characters. This perhaps was the strongest awakening in my trip.

How did I come to believe that my culture wasn’t capable of producing any argument around morality and ethical standards? Why did I think that it was closed to reason or thought and constantly dealt with absolutes and judgments? Why did I think it was impossible for anyone to have questioned the standards set by the society or venture in the gray areas of morality in the 1960's? Why did I perceive the notion of anyone defying their gender roles given to them by society as inconceivable? I felt like I needed to refresh my observations and my opinions before giving up, before stereotyping, before judging.

We are all guilty of ignorance one way or another. I have lived my entire adult life in the U.S., and have enjoyed equality in my bubble. When I visited India, I exposed myself to a few people who were ignorant of sexism. Not many people we deal with want to be a sexist. They just didn’t know like I didn’t know.

I don’t have any ideas or inspirations about solving any issues coming out of this experience but for one realization: we need to be mindful that we are all guilty of some form of ignorance.

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