In the final paper I wrote for International Advertising last semester, I struggled to fully explain how the paradoxes that exist within a culture help define the culture itself.
Of course I understood what a cultural paradox was, and could give several examples thereof. For instance, the United States is considered an independent society, rather than a collective one. However, individually, we also place a large emphasis on the participation in, association with or membership to various groups, clubs, and organizations. So, Americans are independent, but we still associate and in some ways, define ourselves through the various groups to which we belong. See the a paradox?
What I couldn’t put my finger on was how these paradoxes actually helped to define the culture itself. In Mother Pious Lady, Santosh Desai discusses many of the cultural paradoxes that exist within the Indian culture, being here now, it is easy to see how these paradoxes not only exist, but truly define India.
A frequent observation of these paradoxes lies in the overall cleanliness of the Indian people. Indians are known for taking pride in their appearance and are meticulously well-groomed. Nearly every man you see on the street is wearing freshly washed clothes, has his hair neatly cut and combed and is clean-shaven, save his mustache if it is his preference. The women also take great care in their appearance, wearing fresh, brightly colored saris or other traditional Indian clothing with coordinating jewelry. Their hair is pulled back in a neat, well-oiled braid or bun and their make-up, if wearing any, is expertly applied. The children reflect this same care in grooming. Even of those too poor to wear shoes, most all have clean faces, neatly braided hair and clean clothes. The contrast to this impeccable reflection of cleanliness and grooming is that the very same, precisely groomed people will dump their trash right outside their doors and in fact as a whole, the standards of cleanliness and sanitation fall far below those of the Western world. Part of this can be attributed to the slow economic and social development of the country, but even with the developments that have occurred in the past two decades, these habits persist.
This paradoxical state is well-entrenched and has been present long before the liberalization of India. I find myself astounded that the culture responsible for the invention of the Kama Sutra, and in whose wedding ceremonies, the bride and groom make promises of fulfilling sexuality to one another, also maintains that women should not show their shoulders and knees in public. This can be attributed to beliefs held by the various religions present in each state, but again, with economic and social development, the change in these norms is very slow.
Though many of these practices seem counterintuitive to an observing visitor, I have to admit, they add to the charm and character of the country. I’m quickly beginning to see that India is like no where else in the world and what’s more is that within the various cities and states, the differences abound, so that in fact there is no “one” India, and yet, nothing can compare to all that is India.