As we sat in our final meeting with top advertising agency Mudra Communications on January 4, they asked us one simple question, “How do you portray an ageless civilization that was the birthplace of 4 major religions and 300 ways to cook the potato?” Then they asked a more personal question – what would we take away with us from India when we returned to our daily lives in New York City.
Stephanie already summarized the top 5 truths (or Paanch) they said we should remember about India in her post below. I’ll add a little bit more detail since I find them to be fascinating, simple and extremely relevant based on our 14-day adventure in Delhi, Agra and Mumbai.
1.Bacchat – Frugality: The key to this is that it’s defined by Brahminical restraint and has nothing to do with affordability. Mudra’s employees said that haggling is the national pastime of India. They explained how nothing is wasted, and how a Tabasco bottle would then be used as a water bottle and then a plant holder before being tossed into the garbage.
2. Ji – Hierarchy: There are 4 religiously debated topics in India: actual religion, Bollywood, Cricket and Politics. The respect for hierarchy in Indian culture helps explain why the film industry holds so much power (though it’s only a 2B industry). It also helps us understand the dynastic democratic politics in India. The Nehru–Gandhi family has been dominant in India since independence in 1947, though that seems to undermine democracy. Jawaharlal Nehru was the first prime minister of India starting in 1947. He was followed by his daughter Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated and followed by her son Rajiv Gandhi, who also was assassinated. Now, Rajiv’s widow Sonia Gandhi – who happens to be a white, Italian-born, Christian – is the president of Congress. India may be an accepting country, but the power of the dynasty certainly plays a large role in how she has been able to maintain power. The Caste System has been outlawed in India and holds little power in big cities like Mumbai and Delhi, but it unfortunately continues to be strong in the countryside where a majority of the population lives.
3. Juggad—Inventiveness – A solution for every problem: Mudra employees explained that this concept started because of scarcity in the British colony. Now, the concept means that Indians find a solution to any problem. This ranges from business solutions to everyday issues like a father fitting his 5-person family on a motorbike or a rural family using a washing machine to churn buttermilk.
4. Masala – Co-existence: Masala simply means a mixture of spices, and most of us know this term because we’ve eaten Indian food. This is my favorite tenant about Indian culture because it allows for an open, thoughtful society. Mudra employees described “a remixed India, where citizens preserve the old culture and embrace good new ideas as ‘modern’ and dispel bad ones as ‘western.’ ” That elicited a chuckled from the Westerners in the audience. One great example is McDonalds. India is the only country where there is no Big Mac. Instead, there is a Maharaja Mac with Chicken. India’s McDonalds also pioneered the idea of having a vegetarian and non-vegetarian side of the kitchen.
5. Thali – Non-linear structure: One basic distinction between the US and India is the fact that US culture was founded on the principles of Christian ‘progress’, whereas Indian culture is deeply intertwined with Hindu principles of circularity and re-birth. India’s non-linear structure is clearly seen in cities that have grown organically and without a central planning grid, and the way that traffic is free flowing and yet still functional. Mudra said Indians have an “affinity for negotiated disorder.” They showed us an amazing ad put out by Nike about how an impromptu Cricket game could break out in the middle of a huge traffic jam.
On a personal note, I will take away a new love and appreciation for Indian culture and a continued passion for travel. This trip taught me that you really can’t understand another culture until you visit the country and speak with the people. We bloggers try to explain our experiences through words, but there’s nothing like seeing with your own ideas, tasting and smelling with your own senses and truly embracing another culture with your whole heart.