The Duality of India: An Ad That Made My Jaw Drop
Greetings, world. The monsoon season has settled upon us in Bangalore and the wind is whipping up.
We’ve settled in to our apartment and I managed to make my second Indian dish, masala green peppers with lentils and rice. I’m always excited about being in India, but this time around something is different. I am still trying to identify the stirring in my soul but I have some clues. This post was difficult to write because I’m processing deeply complex societal questions. My hope is to come up with more questions and keep seeking.
The other night while we were watching TV an ad came on that shocked me to my core. The ad showed a boy and a girl in bed together. They looked to be about nineteen or twenty years old. As the boy slept the girl snuck out, ran outside past a sign that said “boys hostel” and started putting her clothes on as she ran. The ad was for handbags, roomy ones big enough to hold your change of clothes.
Please understand that my shock was not due to a moral judgment of the content. The jaw dropping came from the fact that even two years ago I could never have imagined such an ad appearing on television in India. While the country is rapidly changing and the younger generation is always at the forefront of such change, India is still, on the whole, a conservative country. In major cities like Bangalore many young people now have boyfriends and girlfriends but according to my Indian colleagues, the parents often don’t know about those relationships and open dating is still not acceptable in many parts of the country.
This ad made me uneasy and I’m still unable to articulate exactly why, but here are my thoughts so far.
First of all I must make clear that I’m not one of those people who thinks that the only “authentic” India is that of yoga, ashrams, and temples. I admire the way that India is modernizing in its own way, not just mirroring the West. I marvel at the economic empowerment the country is creating and clearly India is a major player on the world stage. Relegating India to the past and not seeing the massive change would be a tragedy. India’s identity is its pluralism and the culture allows for a multitude of lifestyles and beliefs. Also, I recognize young twenty-somethings often push the envelope, exploring lifestyles that their elders would by no means approve. Just today I read an opinion piece in the Deccan Herald that accused India’s police and politicians of being totally out of touch with the country’s young people.
What concerns me is not the change in India, but the rate of change and the thought of what might be lost in the process. With change and development come consequences, positive and negative. This is always true. But when change comes rapidly we don’t always have the time or awareness to reflect on which parts of the past we want to keep and what we want to adapt. As love marriages in India increase, for example, so does the divorce rate. This may be in part due to the loss of the built-in support system that comes from the arranged marriage system. While the change in India’s youth remains largely confined to the big cities, you can be sure that those cultural changes will eventually spread. What will happen then? I do not believe the result will be bad or good, but I believe it deserves more conscious reflection.
So I did what I always do – talked to my Indian friends here. Here’s what they had to say. While the younger generation is partying, experimenting, wearing revealing clothing, and more, they are still holding on to more traditional Indian values. They respect their parents and many will end up in arranged marriages. What’s more, in typical Indian duality, devotion to spirituality is also on the rise among the young.
Seeing that ad on TV makes me wonder what the loss of certain ways of life in India will mean. I have no answer, only more questions.