When people eulogise the West for scientific advancements, the computer and the internet, I don’t turn around and say “But we gave the world the zero!”
When Rajnath Singh denounces the use of English, I don’t take to the streets in my saffron robes in support.
I don’t blame all of society’s ills from corruption to violence against women to inflation on the insidious Western culture.
But I still don’t understand the transplanting of every Western custom, especially when some of these are not natural fits.
In the West, people refer to each other by their first names. Neighbours, friends’ parents, in-laws. So it’s natural for them to address each other similarly even at work.
Here, everyone who is older gets a familial suffix. People make generous use of Uncles and Aunties. Friends’ parents, parents’ friends, neighbours, shopkeepers, domestic help all get one of the two. Friends’ siblings, younger neighbours, older children of parents’ friends, the children of domestic help have a ‘didi’ or ‘bhaiya’ attached. And even this is the more generic nomenclature in Delhi. In Bengal for instance, mother’s friends would be mama/ mashi, dad’s friends would be pishi/ kaku. Neighbours slightly older to your dad would be Jethu, Jethima; neighbours slightly younger would be kaku/ kakima.
Yet, when we go to work, we are expected to forget all that and address people considerably older by their first names. Why can’t I call someone senior Sir/ Ma’am, why is that so offensive? Such a form of address is not a mark of servility in India, just a mark of respect. Why is professionalism confused so much with Westernisation? Why do people forget context?
Take McDonalds. Every time you go in, a staff member smiles at you, enquires after your well-being (in English) and then proceeds to take your order. I am not arguing against hospitality or good manners. In its initial days, I am sure McDonald got a more niche clientele, but since then things have got more inclusive. The patron more often is not English-speaking (though he/she may be English-understanding and English-reading). The servers too are hardly ever comfortable with the language, beyond the two-three niceties they are expected to mouth. Is this, not then, a cultural imposition?
But while I recognise the importance of context in the above instances, I am sometimes less willing to consider it in others. Feminism, for example. It seems wrong when people talk about how important women are in society, with respect to their position as mother, wife or daughter. Yet, in India, everyone (men and women) are defined according to their relationships with others...So do I suddenly agree with that school of thought?