Praneshacharya's Dilemma CD set and MP3
of the most difficult things for any of us is to understand that if someone
looks like us, speaks like us, even dresses like us, he or she does not
necessarily think, and therefore behave, like us. It took me a long time
to come to grips with this most difficult of tasks: learning to understand
how another person thinks and why he or she thinks as they do. Because on
the surface everything looks familiar. But in fact the Indian marches to
a very different drummer.
The individualism that we are taught to regard as a natural good often appears as futile and even threatening to many Indians. That doesn't make Indians any less interesting as individuals. But it changes considerably why they do something, and their possible responses to the actions of others.
Similarly, Indians tend to view the Self not as a consistent whole but as a sort of loose confederation of different selves that are more or less autonomous from each other. So morality, behavior, and choices can be selected a la carte to fit a given situation, however inconsistent this may seem to the outside observer.
Finally, Indians often have great difficulty finding their "identities". This is a universal problem, of course, but in the Indian case a latent problem has become far more acute as societies and communities come under siege from the outside world. Many Indians feel caught between the duties of family and caste and their own desires as individuals, between natural impulse and centuries of culture, between their Indian identity and outside cultural messages.
I'm not suggesting for a minute that either Western or Indian values are somehow better or more relevant to the modern world. It's easy for a secular society in which rampant individualism is viewed as the one absolute right to mock the Brahmin pandit Praneshacharya whose anguish brings this program to its close; or the very idea of an arranged marriage.
But stop a minute and try to look at yourself honestly. Are you really as free in your movements and decisions as you like to imagine? Can you really do anything you want? What social, moral, intellectual, and cultural constraints (visible or subconscious) dictate your behavior? And do you really have just one identity? Don't you dress, comb your hair, make yourself up to take on another identity that corresponds to how you want others to regard you? And just who decided that the well-integrated personality couldn't have multiple identities? Is it anywhere written in stone that this is the best, the only way?