A child brought up in India enjoys the privilege of being part of a social structure that is wide and highly interactive. Beyond family and school, a child in India is tutored and guided by people from different walks of life; enjoying the opportunity to forge emotional connections at various levels.
Personally, I remember a number of people outside my family who have been part of my childhood. From the tailor who used to stitch my uniform, to the rickshaw wallah who used to take me to school in my early years; I remember each of them who have enriched my life with so many memories.
One such person I fondly recollect was the barber in a local saloon who I used to frequent every two months. I remember him being quite specific about my hairstyle and much to my dismay, he always insisted on cutting it short. I simply had no way to convince him those years as to how I wanted my hair to look like. It was frustrating at times but there was unfortunately no other option those days.
For a western mind, all this would sound absurd, maybe even dangerous. How can strangers be allowed to decide for one’s children? The suspicion is understandable in the age of decaying moral values. But there is another side to the coin; the good side of being part of a wider family with strangers contributing their bit in building one’s character.
Six years ago, when I was stepping into the corporate world, I got an opportunity like countless other Indian graduates to travel abroad. It was a momentous occasion for someone like me who has never boarded a flight in his life. But this opportunity came with its apprehensions. I was not sure as to how I would adjust myself to this new environment I was going into. But nevertheless, the excitement of setting foot on foreign soil was sky high at that instant. It was a moment of accomplishment, as if it was the ultimate goal in life. As I recollect those memories today, I end up smiling at the innocence and the shallowness of the thought I engendered at that time.
When I did eventually land up abroad, I settled in slowly. The first few months were the toughest but I somehow managed to make it. The biggest challenge that I came to face was the nature of people in this new country. I realized that people back in India smiled more than what was usual in here. There were also very little signs of empathy all around. Not that people wanted to be apathetic, but it seemed as if they were preoccupied with something more important. Maybe it was on account of the mad rush for success that makes people lose sight of the basics.
Of course, I did not exude the same degree of objectivity at that time. I was intrigued to see this wide gap in perception between my homeland and this new found place that is supposed to be advanced. I saw friends around me trying to adapt (or imitate) to this new society, both emotionally and culturally. I too tried my best to be part of this neo-Indian brigade. But somewhere deep within, the values in me were too strong to be obliterated. The Indian in me refused to surrender to the hedonistic culture of the developed world. But why didn’t I cave in to the peer pressure? What was that in me that made me stand my ground despite the enormous societal pressure coercing me to change?
During one of my trips back to India, I visited the same saloon I used to frequent as a child. To my surprise, I saw the same barber going about his duty religiously. Being an introvert, I never felt comfortable to socialize with people I lost contact with and on that day in the saloon, I decided not to engage with the barber beyond what was required.
As I sat down for the hair cut, the barber enquired “Where are you these days?”
I was pleasantly surprised and went on to talk for nearly 10 minutes to narrate all that had happened since school. I also told him that back in Singapore, things were different. The barber rarely interjected my narration but stopped me once and asked,
“Are barbers in Singapore as good as we are?” I said they are definitely not bad.
When we finally decided to start the job of cutting my hair, I asked the barber to trim it slightly and maintain the length. The barber smiled and said “You cannot have hair this long. It doesn’t appear nice”
I could not say anything back and sat down to let him do what he had always done. I realized that nothing much has changed and that for him, I was the same old little kid who needed to be disciplined when it comes to hair.
In the Indian milieu, a child is expected to respect elders, irrespective of what they do. A barber in a saloon to a security guard in school, need to be respected irrespective of their position in society. Such a scenario could not be imagined in the developed world where success more or less determines one’s stature in society. And the idea of respect is far from what it means in India.
Maybe it is this part of the India that made me immune to the peer pressure I was subjected to. And any child who grows up in such a culture of respect can rarely get carried away by the empty allures of the developed world.