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India's positives China could learn-Part II

Updated: 2011-05-23 09:46

By Geeta Kochhar (chinadaily.com.cn)

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In my last piece, I wrote about China's positives that India could adapt. Here I would like to concentrate on the many things India has that the Chinese could learn. The main objective is to introduce the many facets of each country where some mutual learning can take place. Indians are known around the world for being culturally rich. The many festivals of India and the different ways of celebration in every part of India are all examples of this. However, the essence lies in preserving this very Indian culture while marching to build a modern society.

In India, one can easily find an individual dressed in their traditional costume, and the dresses vary with region. However, for women common dresses are sari, a 6- to 9-meter cloth tied in different styles along with a blouse on top and a skirt below on which the sari is tied; suit of pants with a long shirt with a 2½-meter long cloth called "dupatta" similar to weijin (围巾) but longer; and lengha-choli, a skirt with a short shirt along with a dupatta. Men generally wear Kurta-payjama, cotton pants and a long shirt; dhoti-kurta, a 2½- to 5-meter long cloth tied in different styles below along with a shirt. Although the younger generation is more inclined to wear Western clothes, the traditional dresses are now made in styles to suit the times. At every festival or special functions, women tend to wear more of the traditional wear with added fashion statements. In addition, henna, a traditional kind of tattoo made on hands and feet with herbal paste, has become trendy. This kind of special love of Indian tradition with modernity is what I miss in China. Even during Spring Festival, one could hardly find the Chinese dressed in traditional costumes, whereas foreigners love to buy the traditional Chinese dresses.

Indian food is rich and spicy. The roasted meats and curries are world famous. From a heavy breakfast to greasy dinners, Indians love fried, oily, and spicy foods. However, what is lesser known in China is the fact that Indians are very particular about the nutrient value of food consumed. In particular the growing middle class, while adapting to Western junk food, is very particular about eating a healthy and fiber-rich diet. Beginning from north Indian parathas, a whole wheat bread like bingzi (饼子) with various kinds of vegetable stuffing--common are potato, cauliflower, radish, paneer (like tofu made of milk-- to dal, or porridge, Indian food takes care of health benefits. Also, there are steamed buns made of rice and pulse mixture in the south called idli. Middle-class Indians are conscious of the benefits of traditional Indian food and are creating less oily and fried versions to suit the modern-day lifestyle. In addition, there is extensive use of lemon in various drinks and in salads. In China, however, one sees an inclination to fast food noodles (方便面) rather than the traditional Chinese healthy food.

Indian love of music and dance is common, but an interesting fact is that a child is trained in multi-cultural activities from a very young age. In India, a child goes to school to study, but alongside gains knowledge of various cultural activities. There are special classes where a child can choose to either learn singing/dancing or learn other arts. While in China, one finds there is a different group of kids who are trained to learn these extra skills. For example, a person skilled in acrobatics belongs to a special category of people and is not found at a regular school. I personally feel that this limits their choices.

One of the important facets of Indian living is community culture. Having joint families is still prevalent in India. Many feel the uneasiness of such a lifestyle in modern society. However, the positives are now felt even by the young people. Apart from the elders taking care of the newborn, they also do not sink into the feeling of loneliness. The traditional respect for elders and care for the young is still a common phenomenon in India. Probably due to religious beliefs of karma (a belief that what one does in this life will affect the next life) or due to the pressure of traditional society, patience and endurance are the buzzwords in India. What one does not commonly see in India is fierce fighting on small issues. In China, however, I feel that society is becoming very volatile due to a lack of tolerance. One is up in arms and ready to hit over any minor issue. With the expanding gap between the rich and the poor, the issue of "red eye disease" that is rampant in China, is not an issue of concern in India. I feel that the Indians believe more in harmonious living than the Chinese now understand. One can link it with the religious belief that allows people to accept their lower status in society or the high moral values that are instilled since childhood.

If the modern-day Chinese, especially the expanding middle-class, becomes aware of the positive facets of Indian life, probably a better understanding between the two civilizations can evolve.

Dr. Geeta Kochhar is a Visiting Fellow at Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. She is an Assistant Professor at the Center for Chinese & South-East Asian Studies, School of Language, Literature & Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, India. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the China Daily website.


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