Blindly aping the West will make Indians go blind
Western science says you need ‘reading glasses’ as you grow old but Paul McCartney is 78 and can read without glasses
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In an ironic twist, a probably unscientific Indian yogi explained to the famous Beatle that long-sight and short-sight occur because of the weakening of the eye muscles, and can be corrected with some simple eye exercises. The way I understand it, the human eye is designed to keep constantly switching between looking at close objects, distant objects, sideways, upwards, and downwards. If you instead focus on say a book or a screen for hours at a time, you strain and weaken your eye muscles. Doing simple eye exercises can help millions avoid being condemned to a life sentence of wearing prescription glasses.
I myself discovered this fact the hard way when I was a kid. I was a voracious reader and had glasses prescribed for me when I was around ten. However, at every annual checkup, the ophthalmologist would say my eyesight had deteriorated further. He ended up correcting my vision repeatedly till it had reached -5.5 by the time I was 14.
At this point I rebelled, and refused to have my glasses modified, but instead found workarounds like sitting on the front bench at school, asking people to read distant boards for me, and doing eye exercises. My vision stabilized after that and I learned my lesson. Years later, when my peers began wearing reading glasses, I refused to hop on the bandwagon. Unlike most of them, I can still read the fine print of newspapers without using ‘reading’ glasses.
My daughter also needed glasses when she was around 11. Though the next check-up revealed her vision had deteriorated slightly, we didn’t change her prescription, and her eyesight stabilized. It was one and done.
Unfortunately, this problem of blindly aping the West is rampant in India. It was bad enough with stuff like the ‘glasses for everyone’ disaster but it’s now gearing up to a new level. Where Indians once chose to copy the best of the West, I find many Indians copying its worst.
Traditional Indian architecture was designed for the Indian climate. Houses were made of wood, earth, and stone with sloping roofs. The torrential monsoon rain bounces off those roofs without leaking into the interiors. The houses are naturally cool without the need for ecologically damaging ACs and electric fans. They use materials available locally. Just take a look at the ancient temples of India, especially in the south, to see what I mean.
But then we Indians had to go copy the concrete box style of western architecture. Today, it’s the default architecture for most Indian houses. I’m writing this post sitting in one such house built by my parents some thirty-odd years ago. It’s made entirely of concrete, including a flat roof that serves as a terrace. Though a house is supposed to protect you from the elements, it’s cooler outside the house than inside because the concrete walls are extremely efficient conductors of heat and bring the heat of India’s hot tropical sun to the inside of the house. Those walls also store the heat, thus maintaining the interiors at a higher temperature, night and day. It takes two or three days of non-stop rain for the walls to cool down.
Even having big windows for air circulation will only nominally reduce the effect of the heat being conducted through those walls. In any case, drawing the curtains open during the day is not an option as the neighboring concrete houses act like giant mirrors that radiate heat at you.
It’s impossible to live in such houses without electric fans or air conditioning, which is a huge environmental hit considering India’s massive population.
Dressing to Kill
Traditional Indian clothing was designed to be loose and made with natural materials like cotton that can ‘breathe.’ In my home state, the traditional attire for women is the saree. For men, it’s the mundu, which is a long white cloth you wrap around your waist. It’s like a skirt, open from below, which I suppose is a kind of air conditioning that is suitable for our humid climate.
I must confess that I am one of a generation of Indians who swore by their jeans, no matter how stiflingly hot and sweaty it got within a few minutes of putting it on. Most of us had been brainwashed by Western media to see Indian clothes as ‘uncool’ while those sweaty jeans were ‘cool.’
One weird fallout of this anti-Indian-attire attitude is the adoption of the ‘nighty ’as the dress of choice by Indian women in the south Indian state of Kerala where I live. There are no words to describe this fashion statement that’s neither East nor West.
Moving on, corporate India takes this slavish imitation of the West to ridiculous heights by insisting that senior employees wear the default corporate attire of the West, the suit and tie. In India’s humid weather conditions, that necktie is like a noose designed to choke you to death, assuming you somehow survived boiling to death inside that thick suit.
Anyway, it took the pandemic to open my eyes to the joys of living in loose, thin cotton clothes that don’t get soggy with sweat, and my jeans have been more or less permanently retired from action.
This is an odd one. We Indians tend to ignore our own culture. But if it’s re-packaged in the West and presented to us, we rave about it. Yoga is a good example of this. This highly evolved, ancient science of expanding one’s consciousness was ignored in India until it became popular in the West. We then happily embraced the western version of Yoga, which reduced this science to just physically contorting your body into unnatural positions.
Things are looking up for Yoga though with internet-savvy gurus like Sadhguru opening the eyes of the world to the true meaning of yoga. These days, even the Indian government is promoting yoga. Better late, than never.
Coconut oil used to be the traditional cooking oil in south India. But somewhere in the last century, vested interests in India’s food industry began advertising sunflower oil as safer for the heart because it has less saturated fats than coconut oil. So Indians abandoned coconut oil and switched to imported cooking oils and in the process almost killed India’s coconut oil industry. It took decades before advanced research proved naturally occurring fats don’t damage your heart. Instead processed foods containing large quantities of refined sugars and high fructose corn syrup are what cause heart troubles. These new findings helped coconut oil make a comeback, but it was a bit too late for many Indians who had already developed heart disease.
Another worrying trend I see in urban India is the gravitation towards processed foods. The huge popularity of Western fast food joints and Maggi noodles is a good example. This is despite India’s food regulator banning Maggi in 2015, for excessive lead and for mislabelling its flavor enhancer, MSG. Maggi returned to Indian supermarket shelves after a court removed the ban. So while the West is beginning to recognize the dangers of processed foods and moving away from them, some Indians seem to be moving towards them. Fortunately, many Indians are also becoming health-conscious and this may cancel out the trend towards processed foods.
Indians who were kids in the last century didn’t know the meaning of boredom. They were always on the go, out at the break of day, and buzzing around all day, and pleasantly tired by bedtime so they fall asleep the minute their heads touch the pillow. They picked up the best from the West and ignored the worst. These are the kids who learned to play cricket from the Brits, and eventually wound up winning the World Cup in 1983, and again in 2011.
However, if you look at today’s pre-teens, you will see an almost permanent expression of boredom on their faces. They have drunk deep from the well of information overflowing from the West and the world holds no more mysteries for them as they believe have seen it all on their tiny screens. With absolutely nothing to look forward to in life, they stay glued to their screens and sink deeper and deeper into their joyless existence, finding it hard to sleep, and even harder to get out of bed in the morning.
Me, myself, and mine
Most Indians used to have strong ties with their extended families and so tended to be more community-centered than self-centered. This provided them with a strong psychological base on which to build their lives. However, I see many Indians, now going the Western way of being totally self-centered nuclear families. In the process, they lose their sense of community, become mentally more fragile, and are often unaware of this change in themselves.
In a small victory for the old ways, I ran into a friend a while ago, who asked me to hand over any old phones I have at home. It seems a lot of the kids from poorer families are finding it hard to attend the pandemic-driven online classes because they don’t have a smartphone to connect to the community wifi. So my friend organized a drive to collect phones for these poor kids. I did have an old Android (Redmi 4) which I handed over to him. It isn’t 4G compatible, but the kids just need a Wi-Fi network device. My point is my friend was doing something for the community instead of for himself, and that’s something that’s not so common anymore.
Mental health issues have proliferated in the West in the last half-century, and the trend has slowly caught on in India. It’s now almost fashionable among the young generation of Indians to have some sort of mental ailment. It’s not that it didn’t exist in India or was looked down upon. One of my uncles was a complete fruitcake, a cousin committed suicide, and I recall a student in my University who got stoned out of his head, kicked down the door of the local temple demanding to see God, got kicked around for his pains, before being sent off for a short stint in the local loony bin. These things existed but we didn’t make a big deal of it, because we knew that thinking too much of such things could make it come to life.
Whereas these days, mental health is being used as an excuse to justify anything and everything. Like people are late for a meeting, and it’s not their fault as they suffer from ‘procrastination.’ People abuse you, and it’s because they have ‘anger management’ issues. People do something completely irrational and justify it as a ‘coping mechanism.’ People indulge in self-destructive behavior and attribute it to ‘depression.’ And you had better not question any of this as you run the risk of being seen as politically incorrect and criminally insensitive. What this means is you can no longer deal one-to-one with these folks. There is always a third invisible person in any interaction with them. Like if someone is late, it’s not his fault and you need to take up the matter with Mr Procrastinator. With this approach to life, no one is accountable for anything and life comes to a standstill.
Much ado about nothing
Having got that long rant out of the way, I would like to add it’s pointless to worry about the propensity of Indians to copy western ways. People will do what they want to do. But as the coconut oil story proves, once they get burnt they will learn to avoid the fire.