Pride goes before a fall. People love humble men, the gods always do good to them. And the world is the moral science studies version of utopia where the cheat is always punished and the honest boy given top marks.
I know a lot of young people that are in that important cusp of life where they have to make career choices, and horror of horrors, get enrolled into choice colleges. So much of my conversation in the past couple of months have been about interviews, CV writing and the paraphernalia that go with it.
And through those conversations, I realized how Indians have an inherent manner of discrediting themselves, or, at least downplaying their achievements (yours truly not exempt from the allegation). It stems from very old traditions and cultural practices that teach how it is not for men to tell others what their achievements are, it is for others to notice. Clearly, they hadn't yet dealt with private firms and bad bosses.
The premise of those teachings, like all things old and Indian, are very correct, based on the notion that if you do good work, people are bound to take note. But like all things old and Indian, no one has bothered to adapt them to fit into today's life, leaving a generation that either suffers from internal conflict and lose out on jobs because they can't sell themselves right, or go the absolute other way and turn into wind bags that could cause the equivalent of atomic explosions.
Pride, for most Indians, comes mixed with negativity, often confused with snootiness, disdain or worse, rudeness.
Pride, if looked upon as a quality in itself, is not necessarily any of those, and when exercised in the right way has the magical way of boosting people's moral and even uplifting careers. I am a wordly girl, and I'm not going to go all esoteric on you. Boosting. Career. You read it right.
The Oxford English describes pride as "a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of one’s close associates, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired." Also a pack of lions, but that is not what this post is about.
I hear the phrase "xyz makes America a great country" thrown into so many daily conversations in real life or on TV, see so many houses proudly host the national flag in their yards, so many bikini clad women wear the stars and stripes happily on the beach it is difficult not be effected by the enthusiasm. I'm not saying hot Indian women should start parading the beach in the Indian tricolor, there is a cultural roadblock to it that does not need to be altered at all.
But in my years of living in various Indian cities and towns, I have not seen one private residence that has a regular fixture for the national flag. Now that I think about it, I can't even recall any big mounting or presence of the tricolor in even the new, jazzy, international airport at New Delhi. That airport also does not have a bookstore, though it has a Chanel store I think. It naturally devastated me and upset my travel plans a bit, mostly because I can't afford to buy Chanel off the cuff, but then to be fair, when did the world promise me no devastation or upsets?
In retrospect, for every genuine "I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage" I've heard, the sarcasm and belittling has exceeded it by ten fold, with the intellenstia having sought refuge to the all encompassing "what can we do? This decline can't be helped." Of course it can't, because no one, including you, is doing anything about it. And when I say you, I mean you, unless you are doing something about it. Which I very much doubt.
We love to live in a bubble of inverted understanding where not reading or knowing about the Mahabharata or Gita is decidedly cool, though one can read the Iliad or Odyssey. Or wait, not read at all. Who needs books when you can buy clothes, right?
We will not learn about politics or economics from Chanakya, but we will pay a lot of money for subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal or The Economist, we will not practice or experiment with sex like they did in the days of Vyasdev or Kalidas, but we will watch Sunny Leone and Kim Kardashian on T.V.
And lotus eaters that we are, not knowing the gayatri mantra or the national pledge is totally ok with us, though we can recognise strains of the "The star spangled banner" from 50 feet away. The star what, did you ask? Oh well.
Also, I am not ready to tow your line if you say "but I am proud, I just don't show it."
Here's why. Once upon a time, a diffident young girl had asked the monk who frequented her house why it was necessary to worship god at all if He was everywhere anyway. The monk asked her if she had a boyfriend or had a crush. The wise man then said, like all relationships we build with other men, the relationship we build with god is also a two way traffic. It needs nurturing, and it needs some external manifestation to let the other party know you are interested. "If you just keep the fact that you like this guy to yourself, will you ever have a relationship? How will he ever know, and how will he ever get a chance to reciprocate? We all need to express ourselves, more for our sakes than for others."
I've never forgotten that reply, and though I won't claim to have followed it to the T always, I know from personal experience that I've been better off when I have. God, country, boyfriend, teacher, friend, spouse: all relationships and bonds need attention and some outward show of affection at some point. Unless you are Bruce Almighty and can communicate directly with the powers that be. But look how that turned out!
Moral fibre, that will-o-the wispy stuff that differentiates real men from the multitude, often goes hand in hand with a sense of knowing and being comfortable with oneself, which in turn comes from a sense of pride in one's achievements. Or so one hopes. If you are a latent wife beater/rapist/cheat/murderer, none of this applies to you. (I am hoping no active any of those mentioned is reading this post).
One does not really need to compare countries and continents to see the difference.
I felt it the most when I was graduating. I can proudly say the college I attended is still counted (like it has been for the past 100 years I think) among the 10 best colleges in India. Note: there is justification that goes along with pride. In India, where millions graduate each year, it is not an easy job finding a place in the college of your choice. Or finding a place at all, for that matter, unless you can buy your way in, of course.
I've been to three different educational institutions, but till this day, when someone asks me "where did you study", I say I graduated from this college. One reason for that is that graduation is the most relevant while judging a person's education in India; anything you did before that is too insignificant and anything beyond too erudite.
But I suspect the real reson is that that was the one instutute which drilled into me a sense of pride of being associated with it. I can see that pattern repeated in countless other students from other similar esteemed schools and colleges. There is often resulting cockiness; the by-product that makes it a dangerous proposition, but the confidence does the kids a world of good. It is a deciding factor in many a group discussion and interview where these "smart" kids talk their way to the coveted colleges or jobs, while others flounder.
I now see the same pattern repeated later in life, where "docile Asians" have complained about being pushed over by "more aggressive Americans". Asians (I can and do vouch for Indians at least) can and often are as aggresive and volatile as Americans if need be . But Indians are yet to shake off their colonial hangover entirely-- everyone from Gandhi to Mark Tully will side with me on this-- so we lose half the battle in our minds because we are yet to feel decidedly confident about who we are and what we can achieve. Nevermind countless examples to prove the fact. And till we do that, we will never be truly proud of who we are. Not the MBA'd executive, not the H1B visa holder, nor the server at Cafe Mondegar who will categorically give you the cold shoulder till his white guests have been tended to.
Those of who are, face no trouble in navigating colleagues and others in any part of the world at any time.
I'm no big fan of her works, but Jane Austen, that self styled feminist that made so many of us drool over a certain Darcy, has a very lucid explanation of what consists pride and what does not. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves; vanity, to what we would have others think of us," she says through the otherwise uninspiring character of Mary.
Be proud, not vain. Or if you are, be sure not to use this blog as an excuse.