Complex Souls

Indians are a complex lot.

This post could be controversial, but I have to share what I know to be true. That might even help someone !

Due to the baggage of history, social mores, customs, practices, language differences, et al, India and Indians tend to be complex entities to deal with. They look more or less the same, but could be vastly different in almost all aspects. But what is not to be ignored is the impact of history and customs on every Indian.

Even those modernists in the Indian society are somewhat impacted by customs, despite claims to the contrary. Many a time we see a modern woman dressed in a trendy manner and drinking/smoking, but in the innermost receptacles of that person there is that guilt feeling of having violated century-old traditions of the society in India. And, India is a place where hypocrites abound as well. So, if a person tries to be too conservative and tradition-oriented, sometimes that is done with a purpose, not with real intent.

So, all in all, it is an understatement to say that India is one single, simple society with a modern outlook. It is incorrect to assume that Indians do not look back, do not constantly keep looking at the rear-view mirror. They often do, and mostly do so unconsciously.

Parents and family influences play a big role in decision-making even today in Indian society. Unlike in the Western societies, where an adult makes his own decisions mostly 100% on his own, in India a number of people play a role in that decision making by an adult – society here is far more influential, than the individualistic approach in the West. Such a complex influence may be good or may turn out completely bad (more often the latter), but it is still inevitable.

This influence continues right through one’s life. Of course, there are clearly exceptions to the rule. For instance, youngsters marry outside their caste, or refuse to come back to India for running their family business. Such actions lead to responses from the society which are sometimes unacceptable and sometimes illegal. Ostracizing your own for such an action is unthinkable in the Western societies, but is quite common in India.

Religion is another issue with most Indians. Religious impact is heavy, with pressure to conform to religious requirements dominating family conversations often. If one does not conform, or takes the matter lightly, it is construed as something which is not in line with society’s thinking and expectations. If one persists with such an irreligious approach, he or she falls out of favour with his/her family, and may no longer be eligible for family inheritance or support. These kinds of things are quite commonplace in India.

As a result of all these aspects of Indian society, the output of the society is constrained by a thinking which is backward and not in tune with modern times and needs. This assertion gets challenged often, as Indians happen to be doing rather well outside India, and not badly either in India. But I am referring here to the mindset and the thinking process which get constrained by a filter imposed by the society, or the respective community. Barriers get erected and one takes a near-sighted vision of critical matters important for the further development of the society.

I have seen this time and again, and am willing to be challenged. There are modern families which have fully accepted the onslaught of modernity and new thinking, but these are limited to a handful few. I am not happy when someone points out to a very modern family and hints at immorality, I get shocked and it takes a while to realise the stupidity of the observation. But that is the kind of society in India, it tends to criticize its own apostles who wish to make the society more open and progressive and unshackle centuries-old customs and stupid practices.

For anyone dealing with complexity in society, India is the place to start !


Vijay Srinivasan
3rd Sep 2011


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