Tata-Dhan Academy: PDM

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Programme in Development Management

On Being an Indian

By Sumit Vij

The cultural difference between people makes them behave differently, and analyzing this difference can sometimes be useful. The people sometimes like other’s behavior and sometimes it is a taboo for them and their society. My room partner really enjoys eating beef, and I readily accept his behavior; but when it comes to my other classmates, they are against eating of beef, as it is a taboo in Hindu religion. Cows in the Hindu religion are symbols of piety and they are treated as dieties. This difference, a result of culture, differs from country to country. V. Raghunathan, in his book Games Indian Play: Why we are the way we are has brought this difference in a different perspective—different in the sense of how an Indian behaves when it comes to their own personal interest and how much they co-operate in the name of philanthropy and humanity. It is a brilliant attempt to understand the Indianess of an Indian using the properties of game theory and behavioral economics to provide an insight into the difficult conundrum of why we are behaving in this way. The author clearly explains the attitude Indians have, giving appropriate examples of their rationality and characteristics like co-operation and collaboration. The other impressive component of the book is that the examples are taken from everyday Indian life and retold in a way to relate to the behavior of Indians.

What is interesting, however, about V. Raghunathan’s approach, is that he is an Indian, and as an Indian he criticizes Indianess and systematically justifies his criticisms with facts and examples. If you start writing about what it is to be an Indian, you can write a whole library and still be confused about how to define an Indian. This is true not only for an Indian, but for any community or country in the world. However, the author has brought the idea of why the Indians are lacking as compared to other developing countries. Japan was in the nastiest conditions after it was bombed by United States in 1945, but it rejuvenated its whole economic and social system in such a way that today it has become the world’s second strongest economic power. On the other hand, they have managed to keep their religious and social traditions. It is all done by the people of a country. The leaders, diplomats, and entrepreneurs, do it for a country and of course, each citizen of the nation is responsible for the development and augmentation of the country. This perspective of how much a citizen should be responsible towards his own country is been very clearly brought out by the book. We, as individuals, bring division in taking the responsibilities. For example, the slum dwellers are always waiting for subsidy from the government and would not take initiative for their own development, nor for the whole slum. They always want to be a laggard as an individual and as a team. The slum dwellers should themselves define their responsibilities and should not keep waiting for the government to provide all the facilities. If they decide to take initiative and implement their initiative they would benefit the whole slum, and that kind of realization and attitudinal difference presented by the author in his book.

Indians are considered one of the most intelligent people around the globe, and it is very ironic how they use their intelligence to break laws made by the countries visionaries and missionaries. I have attended many marriages in my family and I have seen how money is spent extravagantly for unnecessary pomp and show, but when it comes to philanthropy, no one spares a rupee. Although it is their personal decision to how to spend their money, when we talk about rationality, I think any savant person would not consider this as an act of rationality. If you have money, and you utilize it for your benefit and that of others, it would give you a sense of satisfaction. The author has illustrated these characteristics of an Indian by giving some examples. These uniqueness of an Indian is been talked about in the book.

Indians feel proud of their ancient civilization and they are very strict and adamant to follow their traditions and practices. However, it would seem that many Indians are not interested in protecting the symbols of civilization or their ancient architecture; instead, there are lovebirds interested in writing their names on the walls of famous architecture. A country does not become great by these acts and I am not criticizing my own country but I want to convey a message that together with our joint effort we can make this country great. In fact, in the book if you see from my perspective it is the way forward to improve ourselves and improve our country. The book has brought the insight of a common Indian and his/her impatient mistakes, which reflects clearly the mistakes of an Indian.

Today, at the dining hall in the mess, students were discussing about the outcomes of the hunger strike done by the PDM-VIII against the bad quality of the food and the corruption involved in the mess. Our director, with the consensus of the mess committee formulated some strict rules, which would prohibit corruption and ensure food quality. There were some rules which are to be followed by the students also. It is not that I am against my batch, but few of them were trying to find alternatives to break the rules. These students are also Indians, who are not in the habit of following the rules formulated. This is the case of few students, but there are one billion people who also have similar thinking process and they also find means and ways to break the laws for their personal stake. The author has clearly depicted this state of mind of an Indian and how do they find alternatives to benefit themselves. The author termed this phenomenon as “Being too intelligent for our own good”. As explained in the above example, few students also tried to find loopholes in the rules formulated and they demanded time for implementation of these rules. The author also very well scripts this process of criticizing the rules and finding the loopholes in them. Mr. Raghunathan termed this process as “Propensity to look for loopholes in the laws”. All these characteristics of an Indian is illustrated with the example named as “The Veerappan Dilema”.

It could also be understood in a way that there is no patience among the people and each one is fighting against each other to get a better position in life. It is not difficult to imagine that a beggar on the street might consider other beggars as his biggest challenge to his earning or that a minister considers another minister of his own party to be his or her biggest opponent.

Another criticism is that there are people who really enjoy being at the site of the incident but do not want to involve themselves in those problematic situation. For example, once I was along with my driver at the Dhaula Kuan flyover in Delhi and there was an auto rickshaw moving very next to my car. There was a truck moving in front of my car. Suddenly the truck changed its lane and it had a mishap with the auto rickshaw. The auto rickshaw toppled while the truck driver ran away from the site with the fear of being caught by the police. There was a girl in the auto rickshaw who was seriously injured and was bleeding from her hands. My driver and me immediately took her in our car and asked the rickshaw driver to come along with us. He had few bruises on her hand and at abdomen portion. We took her to AIIMS (All India Institute of Medical Sciences), which is just one Km from the flyover. When we reached there, we need to approach police officer because it was the case of an accident. I used the girl’s wallet to know about her identity and inform her parents. I got to know that she is studying at JNU and is a PhD student.

The police officer told me I should not get involved in the case, as it will require me to go to court several times because the driver was a hit and run driver and I was an eyewitness for the accident. I had to decide whether I would be willing to be involved before they admitted her or they would need to wait until her parents reached the hospital. I told him I was ready to be an eyewitness; the situation of the girl was serious as she had lost a lot of blood in the accident. Once her parents reached the hospital they thanked me and told me that I did not need to come to the court or police station as they were not going to file any case or FIR (First Information Report). People in India do not want to involve themselves in court or police matters as they know they will face problems of corruption and bribery in order to win the case at the court. Laws and courts in a country are made to protect the people, but people are afraid of them and they want keep away from these things. The moral of this story is that the system is also responsible for making people behave in a particular way and to break this monotonous behavior people need to come forward. I do not know who would have taken care of that girl if I had left the site of the accident. This is a big question to all the Indians and the author has asked similar question to all the Indians by giving the real time example of a murder of a Manipuri girl in Mumbai. The author has coined this behavior as “Being privately smart and publicly dumb”.

One important dimension that this book has been able to cover is that the author has not written this book with particular section of Indian society. This book represents the complete Indian society and every individual who has his part of Indianism in him/her can learn and bring improvement in him. This book is written in a way that the individual would definitely be strained to think over his behavior and would be troubled with the kind of questions raised in the book. Although the book has very valid examples, we need to keep in mind that this is not a research-based book, but it uses scientific proven theories to understand the behavior of an Indian. However, one interesting fact we could see in the book is that many sociologists can use it as a reference book to understand the social psychology for an Indian.

The other way round to see this thing is that people can do any act of shame to keep themselves in a profitable situation. India is considered as the hub of poverty in Asia and people here, whenever they get a chance to get a pie out of a piece of iron scrap, they enjoy doing that. This kind of attitude has developed not in a year or two, but it was under process from many centuries. Slavery, corruption from ministers, and other similar shameful acts has resulted in this kind of attitude. The author has been talking about various issues of irrationality Indians have but still somewhere misses to explain the reasons for this behavior. It is very easy to criticize the behavior of a society, but nobody focuses on the reasons and consequences of their behavior. The author does not focus on why people are behaving in such a way, and no relevant examples are given with that reference. The author should come up with various solutions, as this would be easier for him since he is an Indian and understands why Indians behave in a particular way, different from other civilized communities. Another important aspect missed by the author is that there are many achievements of Indians, which could be included as an example for the people who can be turned to achievers. Rather than being very pessimistic, author could have included personalities like APJ Abdul Kalam who is an icon for the whole society. This would have taken care of the solution part of the criticism made by the author on Indians. I think author can come up with various solutions so that the readers can be learner rather than that they build up a one sided view on the how Indians behave.

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One Response

  1. hinahanda says:

    fabulous article…….vry practical n one can relate to himself……specially when talking about how extrvagently we spent on weddings n dnt spent a penny for any philantrophic purpose……

    a true n fair attempt towards the analysis of irrational behaviour of indians…. :)

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