Cultural Shock – Priya Sham Bhat BA LLB 2013

I have been living in Haryana for the past two months, and the urge to leave cam550x-culture-shockpus comes from my feelings of restrictions here. But every time I step out, I can feel the difference between here and the place I call home.

Home is Bangalore, it is more than 2000 miles away from here, but it’s in the same country, so one would expect a lot of similarities. And maybe there are many similarities but the differences were too stark to even notice the similarities.

Coffee. North India really needs to learn how to make good coffee. Please stop using that horrifying coffee powder. Just buy a coffee filter and use the decoction. Trust me, on this one.

There is this general level of ignorance here.  “Hey, where are you from?” “Karnataka” “Do you guys speak Tamil is Karnataka?” “um, no we speak Kannada” “Achcha, Kannad!” “No. Kannada – with an “a” at the end” ”Arre, south Indian sabhi toh same hai!”

“Achcha, tho maine suna ki south mein, you have temple for Sri Devi because she’s fair, and in the south you guys really want to be fair” – This wasn’t even a racist joke. I didn’t even know how to react to this. In fact it makes me wonder if it’s actually true because the possibility of someone having an imagination as wild as to conjure a temple for Sri Devi because she’s fair seems very unlikely. To be fair, pun intended, that’s probably how we treat North Indians back in the south, but as far as I know, we make an effort to at least distinguish between the states.

Another thing I had to get used to, was the casualness with which Hindi is spoken.  It didn’t occur to me that Hindi comes a first instinct to most people. The last time I spoke Hindi was in 8th grade, as my I wrote my last Hindi paper, ever. So when they heard me speaking in Hindi not only did they find it hilarious, they also thought is unpatriotic because for some reason they’d all been living in this parallel universe where Hindi was India’s “National Language”.

It took me a while to differentiate between the various swears which all seem to translate to mean the same thing in English. This actually caused more problems than one can imagine. For instance, there is this song by Honey Singh that is quite catchy. It appealed to my roommate, who is also south Indian, and me very much. We went around singing rather loudly to different people, who at first gasped, then politely smiled and looked away. Finally, this one friend of ours tells us that song means something entirely different from what we thought it meant and that it’s actually really offensive and people will beat us up if we sing it to them. Suffice to say, I’ve stopped listening to Honey Singh for the fear of getting beaten up as I casually rap in Hindi.

Now that I think about it, I should probably avoid Bollywood songs all together considering how the industry has entered a rat race where the winning rat will produce the most vulgar ‘item number’ and put the Bhojpuri film industry to shame.

I know I sound like a rich brat when I say this, but I genuinely didn’t know people still used cycle rickshaws. I honestly believed that poverty in India was being exaggerated in Western movies. It’s not because I was sheltered as a child, it just so happens that there is overwhelming increase in poverty here compared to the south, though this is probably because of the relatively sparse population in South India.

The first weekend that I went out of campus, I found it odd that there were hardly any women on the streets. I attributed their absence to the heat and moved on with my life. The next weekend, I noticed their absence again, and then realized it couldn’t possibly be the heat because the men were still roaming around the streets. The third weekend, we were running a little late. The sun had already set by the time we left Delhi, and there were no women ANYWHERE. What. Where are they? They’re supposed to be 50% of the population.

I thought everyone was exaggerating when they said women are back in their homes by 7 PM in Delhi. But no, they’re not. I find it odd that there is this general need for women in this part of the country, to want male friends to come along with them if they’re going out for safety reasons or whatever. While understand the slight practicality of this, I hate that it’s being encouraged.

There are quite a few things I like about North India, but these seemingly small differences are playing a large role in my current life. I’ve never felt more restricted and dependant on other people than now – and to think I just turned 18!

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About cwlsc

The Centre for Women, Law and Social Change has been established to advance inter-disciplinary approaches to feminism in teaching, research and policy advocacy. Along with academic commitment to high-quality research in the field of gender and the Centre aims to actively contribute to wider legal thinking on issues related to social justice. The Centre aims to support the initiatives of all the Centres of the JGU and actively collaborate with international, national and grassroots organisations. It encourages various student initiatives in the field of gender and social justice, and seeks to encourage critical thinking on how gender operates in a dynamic with other structures of power in both historical and contemporary contexts. The Centre members teach courses on Feminist Jurisprudence; Gender Law and Governance and Family Law.
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