Thursday, December 07, 2006

Local customs of my country: India

I can think of a multitude of customs, with myriad regional manifestations, and many regional customs about which I do not even know! Nevertheless, here are some which can be included as generalisations.

- When greeting someone in India one joins the palms of the hands together, bows the head slightly and says 'Namaste' or 'Namaskar'. In the state of Rajasthan, one also bends down from the knee a little bit, - especially while greeting elders, and says 'Khamaghani' - 'Khamma' - greetings; 'Ghani' - many.

Indian food is made by using an incredible array of spices and flavours (and no, when I say 'spices', I don't mean just chillies!). Food clearly has regional dimensions, with the slightly sweet flavour in Gujarat to the incredibly hot (yup, chillies this time!) food of Andhra Pradesh, to the very distinct flavours of the 'southern' food items made of rice flour and with liberal use of coconut, e.g. like 'dosa' and 'idly', and the soft marinated dishes of Jammu and Kashmir. We eat a multitude of vegetables and lentils, with rice and a type of bread known as 'roti' or 'chapati', made primarily of wheat flour. The food also has a generous usage of 'oil' or 'ghee' which is clarified butter i.e. butter from which milk solids have been removed by gentle and long-term heating. Some states are known for their delectable 'non-vegetarian' food, especially parts of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. While, fish and other sea-food are the staples in the north-east and some coastal southern states. Indians primarily eat three main meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner. Usually all three meals consist of some 'warm' or freshly-prepared food. Dinner, is usually the heaviest meal (though now many people avoid eating heavy food at night).

-Another ritual is that of 'chai' or tea - prepared the Indian style! Usually this consists of boiling brown tea with some sugar, adding a few mint leaves, very often growing in a pot in the house, and in the winter also adding a little bit of ginger, cloves and black pepper, - and then adding milk and boiling the concoction a bit more. Aaaah, very soothing and addictive, especially in the winter. It is a custom to offer water and then chai to any guests visiting ones house. Also, between lunch and dinner, one has chai or tea, in the early evening, usually with biscuits or some other tasty savouries.

-During the hot summer months, it is customary to store water in earthen pots known as 'matka' or 'matki'.
These keep the water very cool, without the use of fridges. Though fridges are common in all households one does see a 'matka' in the kitchen for use! The usage of these pots is very common in villages and the water is usually cool even when the mercury is boiling!

-It is considered impolite in India, to sit in such a way so that the soles of the feet point at someone. Also, using a finger to point at someone is considered impolite.

-Generally, elders are shown a lot of respect in India, and one suffixes the sentences with 'ji' as a formal sign of respect. Elders and teachers are not called by their first names, except by adding 'ji' or prefixing with Ms./Madam/Mr. etc.

-One language use which people from outside India might find strange is the use of the word 'Aunty' or 'Uncle' for elders. If one is passing down a road and stops an elderly man, say to ask directions, it is common to ask 'Uncle, where is .... place?' Another usage is of 'bhai' or 'bhaiya' which literally means 'brother' but is also used to address men, whose names one would usually not know e.g. bus drivers or rickshaw/auto-rickshaw drivers, shopkeepers, etc. My friends from outside India, found it funny that every few minutes I would ask a shopkeeper 'Bhaiya can you show us so-and-so colour and so-and-so material, etc.! So many brothers! they used to remark!

- Another common slang use by youngsters is 'yaar' which can roughly translate to mean 'buddy', 'pal' and it is very common to use it when calling one's friends, e.g. come on yaar lets go to see a movie.

-Usually one removes slippers, shoes and other footwear, when entering a kitchen. Even though this is not so common in own urban households, when visiting someone's house, it is polite to ask whether footwear should be removed, especially when one sees shoes lined outside the house threshold or while entering the kitchen. Removing footwear and covering the head is also commonly used and a sign of respect, while entering most religious prayer places.

-I can't but add that the game of 'cricket' is much more than a custom. A large number of Indians are cricket crazy and one usually sees youngsters playing in not just sports grounds but fields, parks, and in smaller streets! (Sadly the other sports are neglected and don't get their due).

-A considerable number of people in India are also crazy for the Indian movies churned out by Bombay/Mumbai film industry, commonly called 'Bollywood'. Similarly, ‘Tollywood’ is used to brand the vibrant movie industry of the southern Tamil film industry. Most (both Bollywood and Tollywood) movies are romantic stories with lots of dances and songs and incredible (and unbelievable!) fight sequences!

-Let me dispel some assumed generalisations - no, not all roads/streets have cows walking/sitting on them! and no, not all Indians are IT professionals or doctors or engineers! Also, not all Indians are hard bargainers!

Whew..I think where Indian customs are concerned, I have not even scratched the tip of the iceberg, but this is enough for one posting methinks!

Best, D.


Blogger Jock said...

Great debut!

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great debut indeed! That was a lot of customs covered in one post. Interesting, especially about greeting one another, and terms of respect. Good to know!

3:22 PM  
Blogger Rebelde said...

I really liked this post, it made me imagine how it'd be to be there and that's what I look for when I read one-at-all. I'm looking forward for more posts about India

6:10 PM  
Blogger Deep Sea said...

@Jock, Greta, Rebelde: thanks for your comments! Looking forward to reading more posts from other countries, as well as writing more!

7:24 PM  
Blogger Shing said...

that's a lot! I also like indian food (among others) because it's so distinct! I mean, we filipinos have our own kind of cuisines too, but really, i think indian food is one of the most distinct kinds there are.

9:19 AM  
Blogger Shing said...

oh, and we also have that earthenware jar used to store water...altho most urman households no longer use it, my grandma used to have it at our ancestral home...we call it a "banga" and yes, water there was always freshly cool, unlike the refridgerator type of coldness. :D

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Irene said...

Bollywood movies are the love of many Malaysians. Hehehe... I'm not really into them but I do watch them sometimes. The movies are very long compare to other movies like those form Hong King or Hollywood.

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Irene said...

Sorry, I mean from Hong Kong not Hong King :P

9:20 AM  
Blogger Deep Sea said...

@Shing, I have yet to try Philipino food, but look forward to it!
@Irene, yes, I totally agree, most Bollywood movies are waaay too long. Thankfully there is a parallel non-commercial stream (so called 'art' cinema) of cinema as well, catering to the non-song/dance non-3-3.5 hour attention span people. Often this keeps our hopes alive!

8:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you seen the new India search engine they added all the cool features of popular products like MySpace, YouTube, Ebay, Craigslist, etc. all for free to use and specifically for India. Anyone else try this yet? First to Blend Search, Social Network, Video Sharing and Auctions Into One Seamless Product for Indian Internet Users.

2:57 PM  
Blogger Super Emo Kid said...

omg you are awesom!
im doing an assignment on indian culture, so hard to find greetings =P

3:05 PM  
Blogger Outstanding Whizzes said...

Wanna travel to your country and spend some days in Ladakh. India is one of my dream destination. Thanks for your post. Very interesting. will write more about my country custom soon in my class blog :D

3:25 AM  

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