Defining culture primarily involves understanding both the external and internal manifestations of culture (Papadomichelaki and Vance, 345, para 1). External elements including cuisine, dress patterns or idiomatic expressions specific to a particular community do not always aid in understanding a particular culture.
The term cultural authenticity assumes a far deeper meaning than the meaning assumed by museum curators judging the cultural authenticity of museum collections. Authentic cultural experience, according to Papadomichelaki and Vance, can be analyzed in terms of four levels of authentic cultural experiences perceived by people, namely indigenous residents, first generation immigrants, second generation immigrants and tourists’ perceptions of culture (347, para 6-7).
The authors note that indigenous residents of a community are completely familiar with both the external and internal aspects of their residing country’s culture. Providing minimal resistance to the residing culture, they become part and parcel of the community. First generation immigrants, on the other hand, carry with them their native culture to the residing land. Such people, whose roots are strongly based in native cultures, often seek to express their external artifacts through customs, food, traditions or even through constructing their own towns such as “Little India”, “China Town”, “Little Tokyo” and the like. The third authentic cultural category consisting of second generation immigrants incorporate more of resident country’s culture and less of their native culture. For that reason, they lack the broad spectral cultural variety of their first generation immigrant elders. The second generation immigrants, bombarded by dual cultures that are antithetical to each other most of the times, experience a complex cultural dilemma. Tourists’ perceptions of culture, on the other hand, are limited to the observable external artifacts of the visiting country (347, para 7-10). They gain understanding of the internal aspects of the visiting region’s culture only though background knowledge gained through secondary sources like books and travelogues.
A tourist visiting Munich during Germany’s Oktober-fest, for instance, gets to see most people drinking beer, decorating homes with cuckoo clocks or eating Bratwurst (346, para 3). All such observations result in only a limited knowledge of the German culture. The observer fails to see the crucial internal aspects that mold the external cultural expressions of Germany. Such observers easily give in to forming cultural stereotypes depicting a twisted view of culture. Thus, in order to gain a complete authentic cultural experience, one needs to thoroughly understand both the external as well as the less conspicuous internal manifestations of a region.
Recognizing cultural authenticity and later decoding cultural expectations of a particular cultural group mentioned above can cause minimal friction between co-existing cultures and would significantly enhance relations between people from different cultures.
Indian subcontinent, with a multitude of co-existing cultures, serves to set a perfect example for cultural amalgamation. The country with its rich culture both fascinates and alarms me with its diversity and variety. A tourist visiting the country would observe its most conspicuous cultural elements, including respect for elders, highly religious nature, or even their fondness for cinema. However, a much closer observation would reveal various other rich internal elements, such as their emphasis on vegetarianism, strong faith in personal righteousness, hard work or belief in life-after death and so on.
One major noticeable cultural aspect of India is its focus on vegetarianism. Perhaps though, a great majority of present-day Indians are pre-dominantly non-vegetarians, no other country in the world is so strongly associated with vegetarianism. Vegetarianism in India received much impetus from the ancient teachings of Gautama Buddha, who stressed the need to practice non-violence and vegetarianism to attain spiritual enlightenment. (Lal Vinay, Manas: India and its neighbours). As Vinay Lal, elucidates, “It is no exaggeration to say that for some Indians, their vegetarianism is itself their dharma (Manas: India and its neighbours).
In my opinion, this excessive stress on vegetarianism by most Indians makes it extremely difficult for most vegetarian Indians to adapt to the eating habits of people in foreign lands. This in a way acts as a psychological barrier between the Indians and other ethnic groups. I personally feel developing an open attitude for any kind of cuisine would go a long way in building healthy and strong per-to-person relationships.
The religious bent of mind in most Indians is another significant element of India’s culture. “In India, religion is a way of life and must be respected in order to maintain successful business relationships.” (Gorrill Jodie R., “An Indian Culture Overview”). Though Gorrill’s comments were regarding business relationships, his observation on Indians’ religious attitude is very apt. Religion is to all Indians a way of life, which must be respected in order develop long-standing relations. Religion is intertwined totally into an average common Indian’s psyche so much so that even a five year old child living in India would stay away from stealing toys for the simple fear of going to hell if he does a sinful act. I feel, in India, most parents encourage religious ways in their children by reinforcing religious acts of children through word of praise and discouraging non-religious acts through punishment, and social boycotts. For this very reason, a common tourist visiting the country would notice the strong flavors of religion in most Indians’ appearances, behavior, and personal expressions. This cultural element of Indians, gives the country its unique identity in the countries across the world. Practicing a religious temper from early days, in my opinion, goes a long way in facing the difficulties of life with strength and servitude.
It is a common fact that from early childhood, onwards, most Indians are taught to start their day with a prayer to gods. Meditating before starting a meal is also a popular tradition found in Indians. Fasting on special occasions is very typical of an Indian household. In my view, fasting has a major beneficiary effect on obese people. To me, it is another way of directing one’s thoughts away from food and would, thus, prevent overeating. This simple and easy technique would cure obesity.
In Indian culture, a lot of respect is shown to guests who are treated with great attention and reverence. Great care is taken to see that the guests are fed to their hearts fill and are never left hungry. This aspect of culture too would aid in improving personal relations.
However, one conspicuous negative aspect of Indian life that alarms me the most is the people’s excess love for cinema.
India accounts for 73% of movie admissions in the Asia-Pacific region… The industry is mainly supported by the vast cinema-going Indian public. The Central Board of Film Certification of India cites on its website that every three months an audience as large as India’s billion-strong population visits cinema halls (Cinema of India, 2008).
As to my observation, an average Indian spends the prime hours of his day, watching movies, movie-related episodes in various Television channels or even reading articles on their favourite movie stars in popular movie magazines.
Most strikingly, the staple popular genre on television is the Indian film, with its characteristic music and dance. As well, some of the most popular panel and game shows are based on film music. This has meant that the proliferation of channels has also been a stimulus for the Indian film industry – not just ‘Bollywood’, the Mumbai-based Hindi industry, now so well-known in the West, but also those in some regional languages, especially Tamil. To that extent, film retains its historical pre-eminence as the powerhouse of mass- mediated popular culture, both in India, and for Indians abroad
(Sinclair John, 2005).
I feel no other country in the world entertains so many fan clubs for movie stars. Particularly, down south, the adoration for favorite movie stars goes beyond limits. The actors are worshipped so much that a few temples were even built for certain stars like Khushboo (Bollywoodgate, 2005 – 2008), Simran, Kamal Haasan, Tamil film industry’s leading actors, who get worshipped daily with the same religious fervor and faith reserved for Hindu gods. This one aspect of Indian culture is, to me, the most harmful non-productive activity that is highly detrimental to the nation’s growth.
Finally, among all aspects, I feel respecting elders by touching their feet on bended knees to seek their blessings is a priceless component of the nation’s culture. Such an act instills instant love and affection in both the elders and the younger members of the family leading to a very healthy and happy setting for the children to grow.
In conclusion, it can be said that India with all its multitude of people and cultures shows to the world the practicality of living in cultural co-existence with one another. It mirrors the fact that in such an environment, cultural conflicts could be easily resolved leading to a better and healthy society.
Bollywoodgate. Bollywood Movies Indian Actresses Khushboo. 2005 – 2008. 15 may 2008 ;http://www.bollywoodgate.com/indian-actresses/khushboo.html;
Cinema of India. Wikipedia. May 2008. 15 may 2008
Gorrill Jodie R. “An Indian Culture Overview”. 2007. 12 may 2008. ;http://www.communicaid.com/cross-cultural-training/culture-for-business-and- management/doing-business-in/Indian_business_culture.php;
Lal Vinay. Manas: India and its neighbours: “Vegetarianism in India”. 2007. 12 may 2008.
Papadomichelaki and Vance. Chapter 7. “Shedding Light on Culture”.
Sinclair John. March 18th, 2005. “The Indianization of Indian Television”. 15 may 2008