Monday, July 5, 2010

Fourth of July actually came complete with fireworks and beer, huzzah America. We bought a fair amount of fireworks – the kind that give off sparks like a geyser and a few that went way way way up and then boomed into sparkling tentacles. We even belted out the national anthem at one point, and I must admit it’s a lot easier to feel patriotic when you are in a different country in a white mass of 40 amazing college children, trying to represent what little tradition we can all dabble in. The rains came around 11:00 and we danced in the muddyness wetness of it all, completely surrounded by a thick gray foggy mist that wouldn’t allow sight beyond the gate at the edge of the hills. Thick rain pelted me as I stood with open arms standing against an opaque wall of bushy grayness.

And speaking of America… I had a conversation about America vs India today with a shopkeeper. As I was purchasing an umbrella to protect me from the monsoon falls, the shopkeeper asked me about the differences I found between America and India. I mentioned things like the importance of timeliness and efficiency in America, and how that is replaced here by the importance of relationships and interaction it seems. Our time is precious, in America, and we often find ourselves in time ‘crunches’ of sorts, because we constantly have a mental ticking clock scheduling our lives day by day. Here, I feel like people let their day carry them by its events, and the people they run into. Things do get done, but just on a different, more flexible and unpredictable schedule.
Especially in a place like Mussoorie - it's small. A shopkeeper can give you change out of his pocket. There are no large corps or systematic inventories and schedules that trickle into the daily grind of this commerce.
Upon returning the same question to the shopkeeper, I got an honest polite reply that euphemized, “Americans are selfish.” We would be okay with letting our neighbor die, he said, because we don’t know them and we don’t care about them. We wouldn’t go fetch medicine for our neighbor, pay for treatment for our neighbor – we would say, “That’s life,” and go back to busying ourselves with… ourselves. And we also don’t give a shit about our country. [That was the abbreviated version.]

It’s hard to compare two places without distinguishing one as good and one as bad. One way as good and one way as bad – it got me thinking that the various societies which exist and the various ways of life which exist. It is entirely impossible to say that one way is the right way and one way is wrong – our societies and cultures work the way that they do because of all the ingredients which make them up. It isn’t that Americans birth selfish babies and thus perpetuate an individualized ideal of living. And it isn’t that living collectively can be perfect in India either – but the troubles in both places cannot be ameliorated in one day, and every for every trouble there is good. For every curious conversation I have here over a cup of chai, I know that I am still stripped of the ability to be outside past dark without a male ‘escort’.

Also – what IS patriotism? Do I really not give a fuck about my country? That comment definitely got under my skin. I am grateful for what I am able to do and be and feel and eat and see in my country, but it’s probably true that THAT sort of patriotism doesn’t exist in the same fashion of Indian patriotism. I would never get an American flag tattooed on me. I would feel like a douche bag. Can I feel both proud and ashamed of the good and bad aspects of my country? Yes. Fuck.

But I’m not here to compare. I am not here to analyze our differences and make judgments. I am here to experience this place and learn from this place, and take whatever it offers me.

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