Why is tradition almost always confused with culture? I often hear people talking about “Indian culture” and I wonder if that really means anything at all. Indian culture? Can a concept as vast as culture be nationalised? Culture is innate. Each individual has their own unique culture. There is nothing indianness about wanting to respect your parents. If you open your eyes there are enough westerners who treat their elders with respect and many indians who don’t. Therefore it depends more on the individual than the nationality.
My guess is that what people refer to as indian culture, is almost always oneor more of our traditional values which we carry forward from ancient times.A lot of these traditions were made in times very different from ours and have become out of date in today’s age. Some are still holding strong.
Conflict arises when people who are misguided into believing that following a traditional practice will affirm patriotism towards a nation insist on hanging on to the medieval concepts.
To illustrate with an example, I would like to take up the concept of an Indian Marriage. In today’s world, our stories are not much different from other global love stories. Boy meets girl.Girl meets boy. They fall in love and get married with their parent’s approval and involvement. Simple? Not.
Complexities arise when we try to add “indianness” to the marriage.
1.The girl’s parents have to formally go to the boy’s parents pretending to ask for the boy’s hand.
2.The girl’s parents would have to bear all expenses of the marriage.
Then: In older times, marrying a girl off was considered a reponsibility and and a girl’s father had to look for suitable matches. Naturally, since he is the one who has to take care of the “responsibility”, he goes to the prospective groom’s home with an invitation and he bears all expenses.
Now: Two people fall in love. They want to get married with their parent’s blessings. Where is the need for going through all this charade? Think about it: Is this indianness or mindless-ness?
Secondly, I have a huge problem with the notion of ” beti: paraya dhan”. A girl is married into another family. She has to leave one family and go belong to the other. Another ancien tradition that we refuse to let go off. Every modern shaadi has a long tearful “Vidayee” where tears are induced into each individual keeping this thought process as the base. While I can understand how this held a considerable amount of truth in the past, what I cannot understand is why we refuse to move on.
Then: A girl lived with her parents till she was of a marriagable age. It was then that a suitable match was found, who lived with his parents in their house. So our girl had to leave one set of parents and go live with the other. Then she was married into other family. She belonged to her new set of parents. Makes sense.
Now: A girl gets modern education. In many cases she moves out of her parent’s house to get higher education or to work in a different city. Now she is getting married with someone she wants to , who is not living with his parents. Nothing much changes except the fact that she can officially live with the person she wanted to be with. The bonus is that she is getting to know a new set of family. She has two set of parents now and mind you, so does the guy. They both have two families and they belong to all of them. Where is the need for propagating the ancient belief that the girl leaves her own folks and loses her individuality to another family? Is it indianness to turn the whole festive mood that dominates a marriage ceremony into a morose crying marathon just because we can’t let go off medieval belief systems?
A modern girl who leaves the wedding stage laughing is as much indian as the one who leaves drowned in tears. The difference is not the nationality but their individual innate cultures. The laughing girl is happy because she thinks she has added new people into her world, the crying one thinks she is leaving the people most important to her, behind.
Being an indian is a lot more than hanging on to old traditions.Knowing them and learning as to why they were in place at a certain point of time will make us wiser. Appreciating our rich history and the set of values will add to our insight.
But not knowing when to let go off them will hold us back.Confusing them with “Indian culture” would degrade our individualities and push us into oblivion.