Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Musings on South India...

Come next month and it will be 10 years since I left India. Before that, I lived all my life in the South Indian city of Bangalore. Every once in a while I read news about the burgeoning economy of the Asian tigers and BRIC's and about parents here confused on whether their children should learn Chinese, Hindi or Russian as opposed to Spanish as a second language.
Internecine parlays between groups of people that constitute nations are common and such is the case with India also. In this vein, I could not resist posting this link from Outlook India magazine that looks to the growth of South Indians and how they are regarded by the rest of India as opposed to say 20 years back (both of which I remember only too well and am able to compare).

The typical North Indian regarded the typical South Indian as short, squat, black, effete—and vegetarian. But now, those once proud people are voting with their feet to move south. Now, the stereotype of the South Indian among Punjabis and Biharis is that he is intelligent, hardworking, entrepreneurial, and open-minded. And that he can very often be a she. And, most importantly, that if you study well and behave yourself, she or he can give you a job.

Raja Ravi Varma (1848 - 1906), 'The Orchestra', Oil on canvas, Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Mysore


One striking difference between north and south India relates to how they have viewed people from far away. The foreigner came to the north as a marauder and conqueror; to the south, as a traveler and trader. This is as truer of 'foreign' religions as it is of foreign individuals. There were Christians in Kerala several centuries before there were Christians in Europe. Unlike their northern counterparts, the Moplah Muslims of Malabar speak Malayalam, not Urdu—besides, no one can accuse them of identification with invaders or interlopers.

That the residents of the four southern states are, on the whole, less bigoted and more forward-looking is a product not of their genes but of their environment. Over hundreds of years, they have learnt to live with people speaking different tongues or professing a different faith. At the same time, they have also learnt to be less discriminatory among themselves.

Raja Ravi Varma (1848 - 1906), 'Portrait of a North Indian Lady', Oil on canvas, Sri Jayachamarajendra Art Gallery, Mysore

Women in the south are less likely to be manhandled in a bus or train; they are also more likely to practice law or medicine, or run a business. This too has something to do with history and geography. Women's work is more crucial to (and hence more greatly valued in) rice as compared to wheat cultivation. Among some communities in south India, property was inherited through the female line. And, with no Rajputs or Mughals around as role models, there was little pressure to put women in purdah.

On the whole, a well written piece (link to article here).


vinod said...

Interesting observations. Its been almost 8 years since I left India and have net visited even once, so I'm sure the changes will shock me if/when I do visit in the future.

Sunil said...

If you have not been there for eight years, I have a funny feeling that you might run into identity issues once you land up there...

Tree said...

I found this an interesting read, Sunil. I have never been to India but hope to go someday. I work with someone from India and we take the bus together and often talk about India (he's lived in America for 14 years but goes back often to visit).