Defining India

People in Europe can usually not imagine what India is like. Whatever is shown in the media is usually negative (or it wouldn’t be considered newsworthy). Most people believe that India is just a big shithole with no facilities, infrastructure, food, and just a whole lot of starving people. On the other hand they are very aware of call centres and IT firms mushrooming all over the place, in their mind it becomes very hard to reconcile one stereotypical image with the other.

I cannot consider myself to be an expert on India. It would be impossible. But for everyone in my surroundings I do get to play expert sometimes; whenever somebody is curious or hears something in the news, they want my view on it. But it’s not so easy to explain.

To confuse further: Yes India is a shithole. There are still people starving. Lots of them live on the street in filthy conditions and die of diseases that have been eradicated in the west for years/decades/centuries. Brides are still tortured for dowry, widows are still burned to death during their husband’s cremation. Also, there are lots of people who are richer than normal middle class Westeners can imagine. There are lots of people working in call centres, wearing jeans and t shirts, listening to English music and watching Hollywood movies. Only to come home to their husband/wife who was chosen by their parents. There are nicely asphalted high ways with big cars zipping around on them, overtaking 40 year old trucks decorated with colourful floral motives. There are villages without electricity, running water, TV, cellphone coverage. And there are cities with people living on the street, pulling rickshaws for a living while communicating with their friends and family through SMS messaging. There are politicians living in mansions driving a different Merc every day of the week. And middle class families proudly showing off their new Suzuki Alto to the neighbours.

You cannot define India by a single stereotype or idea. You cannot even define it with a full length article. What people do not understand is that there is no one true India. The differences between different cities, states or even neighbourhoods are huge. Even in the same location, the difference between the life of a poor family and wealthy family is unheard of in most western countries.

I can honestly and truthfully say: India is a shithole, a third world country, a place filled with poor people living on the edge of existence. But I do love it; in spite of the bitter expectation in my heart, that there will always be poverty and misery and terrorism and corruption. But there will also always be great beauty and wealth. And I’d love to go back there one day.

Frankly speaking: you should go there for a while. Try to adjust and understand. Maybe it will broaden your horizon a little bit.



  1. Nita Said:

    Good attempt to understand India. However, it’s important to see the relativity of all these things. I mean widows being burnt on the pyre, that’s as rare in India as a cult in America which does weird things. Sure, it was common centuries ago in one region of India (people forget India is as diverse as Europe) but for the last 50 years it’s hardly there except in a small tiny pocket of India. In any case this custom was not common in the rest of India.

  2. odzer Said:

    It is funny that I had the exact same discussion with someone today. The image that India brings to mind is really not something that makes you feel good about the place. At the same time living here does make you fit in more easily perhaps than if you lived anywhere else because life here is one huge adjustment after the other.

  3. hedonist666 Said:

    Nita, thanks for commenting. Yes I fully agree that such practices are extremely rare. It is just one of those things that people are more likely to hear in the news abroad; simply because it is unusual, but more so because it is shocking.
    I meant to illustrate the diversity of cultures in what usually people classify as a single unity (because they don’t know any better).

    And if it makes you feel any better, I would never want to live in the US; maybe due to unfounded prejudice but that’s just my opinion. I will happily come back to India though. 🙂

  4. Vikram Said:

    Just send them to the wikipedia pages on India and all the states … they are really good.

  5. Quirky Indian Said:

    Interesting attempt. Fairly successful, too, if I may say so, and not least because of the honesty. Sure, the sati bit was an exaggeration, but most of the other things rang true.

    Broadens your horizon? You bet it does.


    Quirky Indian

  6. hedonist666 Said:

    Thanks for your comment, Quirky Indian! Just had a look through your blog as well.. I think you’ve got yourself one more regular reader 😉

    Oh and yes of course I was exaggerating. In writing it is hard to convey emotion and deeper meaning to words. Reading this post makes me sound more serious and quasi intellectual than I actually am. I take the world with a pinch of salt and enjoy a bit of melodrama every once in a while!

  7. […] } { Tags: Controversial, India, Politics, Thoughts } In a previous post I made an attempt of defining India. Showing the diversity, the stark differences between every one and every place inside that huge […]

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