Indian Culture: From the Perspective of a Foreigner Thrown in the Deep End


There’s a humour and lightness that underlies Indian culture and its psyche. It took me a while to realise it, but this is what has kept me intoxicated with India since my first adventure here it 2006.

I won’t lie; this is my take on Indian culture, from the perspective of a foreigner thrown in the deep end. There is no way I can do justice to the many facets that amalgamate to create the unspeakable diversity that furnishes the subcontinent. So take this as just a taste (all be it meagre) of Indian culture in its various guises.

indian cultureThe Taj Mahal; an iconic symbol of India's architectural heritage


You’re probably asking yourself, ‘god, were does he start’? And quite frankly I don’t know either. So I’ll just start with the most revered and revealing of Indian pastimes; cricket. This is the great unifier; a leveller of class and divide, bridging creed, the haves and the have-nots. To say that India is obsessed with the sport is an understatement; here it is Sport.

Introduced by the British Raj, it embodies a historical tread from the colonial past to modern, independent India. And then there are rules and cricket has plenty of those, which might go some way to explaining India’s love for bureaucracy!

I did find it hard to reconcile the poverty/wealth divide. When living in New Delhi, my walk to work would take me past road-side slums housing construction labourers; entire families with their lives laid bare along the sidewalk while new Range Rovers crawled by with tinted windows. The World Bank estimates that 41.6% (456 million people) of the total Indian population live below the global poverty line of US$ 1.25 per day.

The caste system still has a hold, with Dalits bearing the brunt. Seen as the lowest of the low and treated as such, Dalits still hold a historical stigma that confines them to menial jobs, eking out a living on society’s fringe. While visiting Jodhpur, Rajasthan in 2007 I stayed at a guest house where the Sambhali Trust is based. Established to empower and give economic independence to women from the lowest castes it was a fantastic example of an organisation working to overcome traditionally enforced subordination.

To further understand the work of the Sambhali Trust please visit - www.sambhali-trust.org

Religion is inextricably entwined in Indian society, as anyone knows who has spent even a little time in India. From encountering wandering Sadhus (Hindu holy men), visiting some of India’s most revered landmarks such as Khajuraho and its temple architecture, witnessing a sea of pilgrims on their way to the Kumbh Mela (the largest religious congregation on earth), it becomes obvious that religion permeates all levels of Indian culture.

If you’re like me, I tend to travel by taste buds. So Indian cuisine becomes the soundtrack to my adventure; a smorgasbord of flavours, colour and fragrance. In south India I lived on fish curry, Rajasthan seduced me with dhal bati churma and Kashmir feed me up on Kashmiri meatballs (mutsch), Kashmiri tea (chai) and biscuits.

Take a taxi, bus or train anywhere and you’ll be bombarded with the infectious sounds of latest Bollywood soundtracks. One memorable trip around Rajasthan a friend and I hired a car and driver, which came complete with Dhoom 2 soundtrack. Let’s just say the tape player had an ‘accident’ on day 5 somewhere outside Jaipur.

Indian culture is absolutely amazing; the key is to let yourself become completely immersed. To the degree you’re able to do this it will reward you many times over. Enjoy it, it’s like nothing you’ve experienced.


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