Friday, October 23, 2009


East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet - Rudyard Kipling. From his poem......“The Ballad of East and West"

Having lived most of my life (about 49 years) in India, and part of it (about 7 years) in North America, I am always fascinated about the way things are done in this part of the world. They are done differently for sure, and I always try to find the reason "Why". The answer always eludes me but I keep trying. Here is one such attempt.

I take off from Bangalore at 02:10 am on 25th September and land in Toronto at 13:30 hours on 25th September itself, after a nearly 24 hour flight. How? Time zone, earth's rotation etc. Pretty logical and rational. However, what has always caught my fancy is that when the sun rises in India, it is setting here. When it is day in India, it is night here and the other way around. Why? Rationally the same answers again but why was it thus designed by the Designer?

My faith tells me that this world was designed by God, in play, to enjoy the sight of many, from one. It also tells me that this external world is all 'maaya' - illusion, brought to life by our five senses and ego, besides other factors. Everything exists within us, and the external world is just a trigger for us to reach inside, and evolve, I am told. Is this true? If that be so, then what could be the reason for this difference in the times of day in this same world - is this a trigger for us to understand that these two worlds are designed in the opposite moulds for us to experience both, and then grow or evolve within, learning from both.

Two things that always fascinate me about the East and the West, at the macro level, are human relations and man-made systems. Taking human relations first...

I believe, in India, society is supreme and the individual has to conform - this translates to the fact that the human relations and interactions are non-negotiable - there is a 'maryada' about each relationship, which cannot be crossed in the normal course. A parent's word is final, in most cases, and the offsprings generally donot go against it, in a majority of the cases. Manifestations of this are seen in every sphere - be it marriage, choice of career, or in the choice of friends, school, college, etc. It is believed that the parent knows what is best for the individual and society, and a parent always acts in the best interest of the offspring and the society.

In the West, the individual is supreme and the society evolves around the individual. Even at a very young age, the individual is allowed to exercise their choice - starting with the TV channel to watch; of course, within certain man-made rules. The first time I witnessed this was when I went to my brother's house in New Jersey in 1989. They were four members and there were four types of breakfast cereals. Each one took his own type and we had four different types on the same table. I was also required to make my choice - "any is good enough", was not considered good enough. I was dumbfounded - coming from India - breakfast at home, was what was cooked, or served, and one ate that - what was the choice. Yes, one day breakfast could be of my choice and next day it could be my brother's/ sister's choice and so on.

As the individual keeps growing this sphere of exercise of individual choice keeps expanding and human relations become totally negotiable between parent and child and between each human and the others around. It is fascinating to watch these interactions. Some of them would be considered absolutely blasphemous in the Eastern part of the world. I thus find most humans here are ready to discuss and negotiate, whereas in India, most humans argue, as we have not learnt the art of negotiation from early on.

What is right or wrong? Do you believe one is better than the other - the system followed in the East or in the West?

Coming to man-made systems....

In India, these are always negotiable - be it jumping the redlight at a busy intersection or not forming a queue, when it is most desirable or bribing someone to circumvent the system or not wanting to wait one's turn.

In the West, these systems are absolutely non-negotiable. You stop at the STOP sign, even at midnight, even though you are the only car on the roads; you form queues wherever there are more than one person waiting for the same service, etc. This has a large number of advantages for common people. Are there any disadvantages? Maybe. What do you think?

There are many more such facts that I have witnessed. I wonder - is this by design? We all have similar mental faculties, of course layered by cultures and way of doing things. Dr. Brian Weiss's book, based on his scientific practice, "Only love is real" tells me that I could have lived in the East in one birth and maybe born in the West in the next birth. Is this God's way of ensuring my continued evolution to perfection? Can the East and West ever become one? EVER? or would that negate God's design?


Renu said...

very enjoyable and thought provoking... A parent's word is final, in most cases, and the offsprings generally donot go against it, in a majority of the cases. ..but this is minority made systems must be non negotiable, but in other ways I find our systems better and good for a society..
to me discipline in any sphere of life is always good...and too much of self gratification be it choices of cereal or anything else is nevr must work in tandem with others be it in house or society..its conducive to the peace and mental satisfaction.

BK Chowla said...

East and west can never come together.We are made of a different raw material.We have family values,but we are dishonest.We are experts in beating the system.We are experts in breaking the system we complain against all the time.We are corrupt but we keep criticising the corrupt system.
In short,we are unique.
In terms of crises..The nation is united.

Balvinder Singh said...

I feel the conditioning of ones mind starts right from childhood itself. The freedom of choosing ones breakfast or the Tv chanel conditions one's brain to exercise that freedom throughout his or her life. But that freedom can lead both ways. One will become more self disciplined and confident having less inhibitions or one will become a brat shooting students in the schools.

But Frankly speaking don't you feel that east and west are just imaginary lines drawn by us on the globe.

Even within our country also one will find that people exhibit better behaviour in the premises of foriegn Banks than the Indian ones.

Same Indian or Asian when goes abroad puts up a better behavuour on the roads and public places etc.

So a lot to do with environments i suppose.

Nice thought provoking piece of writing JP.

J P Joshi said...

Renu: "A parent's word is final, in most cases, and the offsprings generally donot go against it, in a majority of the cases. ..but this is minority now..." Yes, things are changing in India too but it still comprises the minority, unlike here in North America.

Agree with you that man-made systems, for common good, should be non-negotiable, BUT then it is upto all of us to make them so, one person at a time; and each one of us has to individually start somewhere, even though EYERYONE around is not following the systems.

Yes, discipline is vital for the betterment of any society and more so for ours - discipline outside the home, to be specific.

J P Joshi said...

BK Chowla: Couldn't agree with you more..."We have family values,but we are dishonest."...."We are corrupt but we keep criticising the corrupt system. In short, we are unique."

I too feel that East and West will never come together because probably that is what is God's design, if one believes that nothing can happen in this world without God's will.

J P Joshi said...

Balvinder: Agree with you that East and West are imaginary lines..these to me are basically two philosphies by which people lead their lives....and when you look at the macro picture...the Western philosphy is generally lived by the white people, irrespective of geographical location.. and the Eastern is lived by most Asians.

However, in the modern India, modernity and Westernisation have come to be cannot claim to be modern, without owing allegiance to the western model. This is not always the best, I believe. The western philosophy has a number of good points...imbibing those, without loosing the best of the Eastern values... so as to reach perfection...a very tall order indeed... I believe it is God's design for an indivdual's continued spiritual evolution...

You are right about how we are, and how we behave... I too have seen that. It has something to do with our mindset. Most of our impatient people believe that nothing Indian is good enough, or worth making good enough, ....who else will make it good enough?

I believe we Indians need to focus more on our own history and geography to understand why we are the way we are... I have too many questions too, for which I am constantly looking for answers. I just finished a book, "Being Indian" by Pawan Verma - very interesting points made in that - will post the excerpts sometime soon.

Joseph Pulikotil said...

Hi JPJ:)


This is indeed a fantastic post and it is very clear that you have given considerable time and thought and deep study for this amazing write up. While I accept your wonderful thinking, I only add my thoughts as I kept reading your beautiful post.

When I read your quote to begin with, I immediately thought of Jim Corbet who wrote in his book MAN EATERS OF KUMAON--"TIMES ARE CHANGING"

Times are indeed changing and along with time attitudes to our age old wisdom and customs. As education becomes more wide spread people are slowly imitating the western culture. It is slowly creeping into our minds that any thing that is not western is not modern. As India is opening up its restrictive policies in trade and commerce a plethora of foreign companies are setting up business in India and bringing with them their culture and practices. It is well known that young educated girls well employed will not hesitate to go to bar and drink a bottle of beer along with her boy friends or colleagues. Divorce rates are increasing day by day. Many youngster are crazy about getting a foreign degree. Many youth find it difficult to speak in their mother tongue. I can go on an on. I will not be able to judge this trend and I will not be able to say whether it is good or bad. But a change is taking place for sure.

India have given birth to many religions and also encouraged religions from other countries to flourish. So some may believe in rebirth but there are others who don't believe this. So there is already a clash of religious thoughts and beliefs.

I am of the belief India will change because change is the only permanent thing in life. I only hope India will take the best of both worlds and become a super power to reckon with in the comity of nations.

My regards and best wishes:)

J P Joshi said...

Joseph: Thank you for your valued and incisive comment.

Agree with you on what you have written, "I am of the belief India will change because change is the only permanent thing in life. I only hope India will take the best of both worlds and become a super power to reckon with in the comity of nations".