Gratitude expressed differently in India
Published: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 10, 2013 18:02
As I alighted from the DART bus at SMU and thanked the driver for the ride and wished her a good day, I thought back on how many times I had wished good day to any bus driver back in India and thanked him or her for a ride. It wasn’t a shock for me to realize that I had not done that even once.
And I neither was alone nor being aberrant. Like me, I am sure a vast majority of Indians would have realized this as amongst the first things they have had to adapt to on arriving in the U.S.: to be expressive about their gratitude in a direct and open way that is somehow conspicuously absent in many parts of the Indian society.
Does this mean that Indians are not as polite or grateful? I definitely do not think so. Though this thought leads me to realize that every community on earth may have their own way of being polite and expressing their gratitude. In the West, of course, spelling out a “thank you” in the spur of the moment is the most polite and correct way. But in India, you would end up hurting the feelings of your loved ones or family if you thanked them in return of favors or what they do for you out of care and love.
We Indians definitely do reserve and mince our thank you words quite more than what may be right. This can be partly due to our intrinsic fatalism and the quiet stoicism that characterizes Indian culture, like the way many authors such as A. L. Basham and Amartya Sen point out. But it could partly also be because of a colonial hangover that accentuated the already complex casteist hierarchies. Years of colonial rule where, at its early times, we even had exclusively European restaurants that proclaimed outside its doors “No Indians and dogs allowed” certainly did not reinforce a climate of thankfulness. Especially among the Indians and their British Masters where, somebody was “higher” or “lower” than someone else in social stature. If the indices for this hierarchy traditionally were simply casts and creeds, the colonists broke it down to economic and political levels.
But, as I mentioned, this idea of spelling out thank you is simply relative, just the way manners are. After all, manners and politeness are a function of society and context. Many Indians can be notoriously stoical: but, nonetheless, honest in their feelings of gratitude or appreciation. Here is the U.S., thanking the shop clerk for handing over your receipt or the bus driver for dropping you off at your station is just natural. But in India, some of these very actions would be considered “extra polite.”
But yet, I feel that sometimes, just wording out a thank you in whatever language, can just be the simplest and most efficacious way. It is direct, and instantly could make someone’s day. It is indeed the duty of the bus driver to drive you around, but it isn’t a bad idea to occasionally say he did a good job.
Whenever I do that here, I stress out my thankfulness a little extra to somehow vicariously make up for the expressions I may have missed out in the past in India. I sometimes even think back on a particularly very kind bus conductor I encountered back in India once who issued me a ticket. She must have been very bold and vulnerable to be working in an environment like that. Unfortunately, I can’t remember if I had thanked her.
Sunil is a graduate student in Lyle School of Engineering.