One of the more commonly questions asked of me by women who travel in India is “Why do people tell lies here?” From little white lies to big fat porkies, from misinformation to outright bullshit, lying does not rate on the list of sins for the average Indian. In fact lying is not considered lying at all but embellishment.
Consider it sweetener or spice; it’s an attempt to disguise the sawdust taste of the bald truth. Indians seek the ultimate Truth and small daily truths are often just too unpleasant to deal with so they sensibly ignore them until they go away (such as Governments) make up a different versions of reality (Yes, yes no problem Madam) or ‘lie’. Saints and sages, rishis and kings have meditated in high Himalayan caves, sat immobile in snowdrifts, stood on one leg for hundreds of years and undergone all sorts of tapasa in order to be granted even one peek into the truth of reality. Now these are pretty heavy duty spiritual guys with access to all the right mantra and still it took them years, lifetimes to reach the truth. Here truth we seek is mystical, fantastical, poetic and mutable. Truth is debatable while we are still in a state of enquiry; we debate the truth endlessly throwing holy wisdom quotes at each other with the aim being to reach a higher level of enquiry rather than the absolute truth. Then there is the cultural imperative of lying. It’s not nice to refuse a request anywhere in Asia or India, no one likes to say NO outright, especially to a guest. So if you ask a straight question expecting a straight answer, if the straight answer is negative they will not say so. Instead you get a slight pause in the conversational exchange as they politely sidestep the black hole of reality. You know they are side stepping because their eyes will dart off to the lying side of the brain and out will come the answer they think you want to hear.
In a land where even fast food happens slowly, lying is also considered a bit of Time Pass, mild entertainment that engages the senses while you wait endlessly. It’s a reason I love India, this amazing ability the people have of being able to step straight into any story and ham it up to the full. No story teller worth his or her audience lets truth get in the way of a good story; it’s just a building block to what happens next.
Sometimes lies just slip out as a way of continuing a conversation with someone met on the road. It happened to me one day that I was impelled to lie to a small boy from Gujarat who was on holiday with his grandma and thrilled to be talking to a foreigner. I was thrilled that he knew where New Zealand was and so to up the anti of excitement at our newly minted connection I LIED and told him that the captain of the New Zealand cricket team was my cousin brother! I looked at his shining face, eager brown eyes and Colgate smile and saw the kid back in his dusty village school round telling and retelling this story until it grew to the size and shape of his dream version of reality. I have to say I got a buzz from it too! Now I repeat it every now and then in different places in India and get a very warm response. I lie not for lying’s sake but to deepen the thrill of connection which is why I travel in the first place.
It’s frustrating at times and maddening at worst to be stood in front of a bare faced liar but please don’t take it personally, we are only telling you stories.