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Shades Of Grey

Shades Of Grey

December 15, 2010

When describing India, some questions are best left unanswered.

When you live in a foreign country, especially a country with a better standard of living than your own, questions are bound to crop up. Innocent questions no doubt, but ones which make replying Yes or No seem equally bad.

"So female infanticide still happens in India, huh?"

"Ummm..yes, but...only in the really remote villages."

I say Yes, and their eyes glaze over. So I come from the country where baby girls are drowned. That is really the end of the story, isn't it? Except it’s not.

The answer is either Yes or No. It should be either Black or White. But my answer is in Grey. I want to tell them about how special India really is. I want to tell them about all the instances where Indian women are given a place of honour. About Raksha Bandhan, when brothers tie a special band around their sister’s wrists promising eternal protection. About the Taj Mahal, which was built as a monument of love by a king for his queen.

"Slum Dog millionaire - some movie that. So do these slums actually exist?”

My hesitation is answer enough.

"It's OK, there's no need to be ashamed”, their expressions tell me.

Yes, we do have slums and that heart-wrenching kind of poverty. But where you only see grime and misery, I see happy faces of slum-dwellers who squat beside the tracks and wave at you as you watch them from the open windows of your train compartments. I see kindness and brotherhood forged out of hunger and hardships where two children share a single 'roti’ to keep themselves alive. All they need is a single square meal, the grass below and the sky above and they are happy. Where you see poor living conditions, I see satisfaction and contentment with the simple pleasures of life.

I want to shine the torch on the positive aspects of India. The hidden, uncommercialised ones. Not the spicy curry or even spicier Bollywood movies. I want to tell them about the soothing calm of temple hymns at dawn, the colours of paddy fields against a setting sun, and the smell of wet earth after the first rain of the monsoons.

No, we do not have Starbucks. Ok, we do have Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days. But to taste the real India, all you need is a cup of Filter Kaapi, served in a tiny steel tumbler with a line of froth on top. It might not come with a fancy cardboard holder to keep you from burning your ahnd. Or toffee nut or caramel flavours. But it comes with enough warmth and flavour to invigorate your senses.

And no, snakes, Maharajas and elephants DO NOT walk the streets anymore.

"Yes, we have traffic lights, thank you very much. And yes they work. Well, most of the time."

And again among these questions, I find myself caught in a web of ‘Yes’s and ‘But’s. Trying hard to convince, and somehow making it worse in the process.

India is as unruly as it is peaceful. It is as dirty as it is beautiful. It is as imperfect as it is perfect. It is as much home as any place can be. And let there be no question about that. Because the answer to that is neither black, nor white nor grey. It comes in beautiful shades of Saffron, White and Green with a Navy Blue Chakra in the middle.


  • Rajpriya
    15.07.12 10:19 PM
    India “It is as imperfect as it is perfect”.

    It’s so true. Nice article! India is beautiful in many aspects.

    There is so much truth in what I learned. There are 256 shades of Grey between Black and White. Highlight being White and the shadow being Black is true of every picture. Just imagine there were no shades of Grey between Black and White and then there isn’t a picture.

    In going around foreign countries with better standards of living one misses the contrast of a good picture or the Grey shades necessary for the perfect picture and what you see becomes so monotonous the reason why we like to be coming back over and over again to India.

    “It comes in beautiful shades of Saffron, White and Green with a Navy Blue Chakra in the middle”.

    Reminds me of the 16.7 million colors, the combination of Red, Green and Blue or the rainbow colors blending into each other exactly like in India. The two ends Ultra Violet and Infra Red are invisible to the naked eye and India should not seen with X-ray eyes.

    Once again Nice article!
  • Khadija
    15.07.12 07:29 PM
    Wuh oh, female infanticide is a huge urban problem.
  • Maria
    07.01.11 06:33 AM
    LOL! that would be the ultimate answer wouldn't it? They would be shocked to question further! haha! Going to try that at the next 'inquisitive' question round :D
  • AussieDesi
    06.01.11 05:34 PM
    "And no, snakes, Maharajas and elephants DO NOT walk the streets anymore." But people will still ask about the cows!

    How about not answering "Yes" or "No" but giving them the nuanced answer? For example: "Does female infanticide occur in India?"
    "Only in the villages"

    Unfortunately, I have found people are sometimes asking questions only to confirm their own prejudices. "Does the caste system still exist in India?"
    "Yes, but caste politics and socio-economic development have moved on from ...." As you experienced, they have already tuned out.

    Its a bold move I know, but for these people I often feel the white lie was invented: "Are there many poor people in India?"
    "No, most beggars are actors practising for roles in Slumdog Millionaire 2"
  • Ask Question
    Ask Question
    28.12.10 10:19 PM
    "Slum Dog millionaire" make the world to explore on india
    The good news is that India is rising.
  • Jai Hind
    Jai Hind
    24.12.10 03:59 PM
    Jai Hind!

    Let's get a comment line going and see how many Jai Hinds we can get in a row!
  • Maria
    24.12.10 04:52 AM
    Jai hind!
  • Sourav Roy
    Sourav Roy
    23.12.10 10:49 PM
    "It is as imperfect as it is perfect." So true!

    The good news is that India is rising. There are people working for it. There are people shedding their blood, sweat and tears for it.

    Jai Hind!
  • Hayaah
    16.12.10 12:57 PM
    *shuddering at the typos*

    must correct...

    *is proof of...

    *who keep going back...
  • Hayaah
    16.12.10 12:54 PM
    I think, the fact that I love the last paragraph, but feel quite differently about how you stand on the other stuff said, proof of how the black and white is just not possible :D And we almost always TOTALLY agree, right? And we both be Indians with the gulf in our veins as we were raised. And we both be Indians who keeping going back... etc. etc. I think its just best said, that the numbers that exist with Indian tags, speak for the number of perspectives that exist of those tags.

    So much more can be said, but Ive a tummy ache that's making me angsty, so perhaps Ill come back to this, with a post, or a comment, or something :D


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