Culture, is not a cake, where you measure the ingredients, treat them in specific dynamic ways, apply the requisite heat for a longish time, and then expect to always get the same result. There is no beginning and end, but there is an existence and fine tuning of the culture. And most of all there is a give and take, that enriches.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is recently reported to have announced to her countrymen, that, her country's efforts at becoming a multicultural society , had failed. And she then attributed that to the refusal of the (primarily Turkish) immigrant workforce to learn German, and fit in with the German Christian way of life.
On the other hand , Bengaluru (Bangalore to you uncultured types :-) ), currently groaning under the onslaught of folks from across the country and the world, (thanks to being a great IT and industrial hub) , seems to taking on a cosmopolitan multicultural hue, and there are local son -Booker Prize winners , exhorting the natives, to clutch close their language and ethos and save it from the external culture attack .
Actually, if you think about it, Europe is a bit like India. A federation of areas, organized almost linguistically. French, German, Italian, Spanish.... Some economically very good. Some not so good. Others borderline. Europeans can travel freely through the set of countries, seamlessly passing through border check posts. Languages overlap at these places. Economies probably don't. The various countries have attitudes. On family. Religion. Importance of money. Attitude towards children. Rules. Government interference. Etc Etc. Northwards in Europe, things are a bit conservative. Southwards, things get a bit easy, sometimes chaotic. People often look a bit different. Things are more "kinder-freundlich" .
All a bit like India. (Of course we are totally kinder-freundlich....across the country). Linguistically organized states. Some poor-cousin states. Some trying to match Shanghai :-) . Yes, we can travel freely through these states. Unlike Europe, we boast of languages and dialects in double digits, often with confusing scripts and random root language sources. But there is one huge difference. We have a large amount of religions being followed here, and no state has a monopoly on a given religion. Not because someone made a rule about it, but because , throughout history, folks of various religions have settled across India, and made their lives there. We now (1950) have a constitution that upholds secularism, but we didn't need a rule to teach people that. Yes, sometimes, events and subsequent trauma has caused communities to shift geographically. Sometimes, economics and opportunities have caused these shifts.
And so I wonder, can culture be implemented by order a la Frau Merkel ? Can it be installed by brow beating folks a la the various Senas ? How much attention do we attach to sloganeering masses ? Specific religion centric rules ? Codes of dress ? Gender specific laws ? Vote garnering subsidies ?
Where does culture actually start ?
In the family ?
A family friend's daughter , a Hindu, and her Business School classmate , a Moslem, wanted to get married. The families lived in different metro cities. Both the children were very close to their respective extended families. But a grandparent was there in only one of the families. The girl's. The parents wanted only happiness for the kids. The boy's father and uncles, came to visit the girl's family. The meeting was very cordial.
But what stayed in the minds of all, was the fact, that in a small living room (as Mumbai houses tend to have), the boy's uncles refused to sit on chairs, and sat cross legged on the carpet, out of respect for the girl's grandmother in her late eighties, seated on the divan, who had come especially to meet them. That's culture.
Today, the relatives speak of the girl returning to her folks for her first delivery as per tradition, and her ma-in-law, a Moslem, coming on several visits subsequently to visit her at her maternal abode, play with the grandson, and finally taking her daughter-in-law home with great pomp and celebration.
Sometimes you make friends with folks totally out of the blue. We have such a friend in Goa, who we met in 1975. Belongs to one of Goa's well known staunch Catholic families, with a surname having lots of prepositions and Latin names and hyphens. With one of those wonderful rambling old houses, with a personalised chapel, wine cellars , massive old kitchens churning out lip smacking stuff. As was customary in her young days, , she had gone to Portugal, and was fluent in Portuguese. But as was also customary, she started working early, which took her around India meeting interesting and well known folks. She decided to get married to a Hindu gentleman from Bengal.
While there wasn't too much of a hue and cry from his side, she did tell me with a laugh later on, that after their initial shock and disappointment , when she explained to her parents, they were pleased that the person she was marrying was at least a Brahmin ! Turns out , that fine distinctions, a la caste system, still exist in Catholic Goan society. A Brahminical way of thinking. They were married for many years, both doted upon by the respective in laws, till the husband passed away. She remains an honored respected member of her husband's Bengali extended family at all the religious and cultural family functions.
That is culture . Not the nitpicking in the name of religion, language and color.
And finally, here is an international story Frau Merkel might learn from.
40 years ago, I did grad school in the US and my very first apartment roommate and I have been in touch through all these years. We knew each other's extended families, from the old days, and although we couldn't meet physically very often, we made up for that in our long newsy emails, and confidences .
Her parents lived well into their late nineties, greatly cared for by their daughters. Long hospitalizations, the impending trauma of a loss, how to deal with it, was something she would write to me, and we found out, that both our religions, actually upheld the same kind of teachings; family responsibilities, the honor in being the primary caretaker of a loved one, the thought that in our minds, the person doesn't go away (and never mind all those arguments about reincarnations etc). A few months after her father passed away, I underwent a very traumatic event of suddenly losing my mother over a few hours. It took a long time to come to terms with things. Of course the "inclusive" nature of family mourning in India helped, but one struggled with oneself, and in anger at what had happened. My friend and I were in touch, and we communicated a lot by email.
One fine day, I received an envelope by airmail. It was a card announcing a memorial Mass, in honor of my mother, being held by my friend and her children, at her church, presided over by her pastor. Of course, by the time the card reached me (12 days) , the event had already happened at the church 12,000 miles away. I was totally stunned. And immensely honored . Here was a mass being held, by a close friend, who understood what the loss was, and tried to handle it the way she thought best for me. By Prayer. Something she believed in.
My late mother was an enlightened Hindu religious lady, who was once a trustee (the first and till date the only woman trustee) of one of the most famous temples in Pune). She enjoyed attending and presiding over the beautiful pujas and celebrations, , but she also taught us to be respectful of other religions and their rituals. This was a family belief, passed down through generations, and she was very strict about this.
Somewhere Up There, I can see her nodding her head , eyes full, at what her daughter and her friend had been up to. She must have been present in spirit at that Mass.
I guess we will never learn . It isn't about power, rigid rules, disrespect and inhuman behaviour .
Culture is how we were brought up. And how we plan to bring up our children.
The boundary conditions may have changed, but the rules of decent behaviour remain the same....