What They Think About India

Being an Indian abroad might not be exotic but everyone knows about India unless someone was living under a rock. I have been fortunate in having the opportunity of understanding more about my country through the eyes of people from other countries during my travels. The good news is that most of the opinions of India, though at times in bits and pieces are pretty flattering. While India is grappling with the effects of globalization on its culture. Indian culture has long since been globalized. As India reaches out to the world, people elsewhere absorb and understand more of Indian culture.

Sometimes aspects of Indian culture are more popular than in India itself, it amazes me when an American girl has more understanding of yoga than I have. My understanding of yoga is unfortunately limited to shavasana (the pose where I can close my eyes and sleep). Bikram made yoga quite popular in the US but yoga has been known and practiced long before that in other countries. Every year people come to India specifically to learn yoga at month long retreats or ashrams. For some yoga is a way of life, like the lady I met in San Diego who had tea with me one morning at a beach side cafe. She followed a satvic way of life and had adopted an Indian name from her Guru. I also remember a conversation I had with a young girl in Conshohocken, Pennslyvania. We were walking together to the hotel we were staying at and she told me that she had selected Ayurveda as one of the subjects in her course and was writing a thesis about it.

Bollywood is a topic most people get excited about when I tell them my country of origin. Be it a Nigerian man confessing his love for Madhuri Dixit  while singing ‘Dhak dhak’ or an Indonesian boy extending his arms Bollywood style and exclaiming, “India,Shahrukh Khan!” What made it more interesting was that the Indonesian boy was at the time standing on a rock with me in the middle of the sea at Tanah Lot temple, Bali. In Switzerland an old Swiss man inquired if I was an Indian actress because of my not suitable for snow attire! All thanks to the countless Bollywood songs shot in Switzerland with the actor swathed in a jacket and the actress wearing not much other than a skirt or a dress. The love for Bollywood extends to Iran too. Once an Iranian friend told me that during the 80’s and 90’s, Indians were called ‘Vijay’ there because of the cult popularity of Amitabh Bachchan movies in Iran.

Indian sarees, bangles and bindi is another topic of conversation I have had with strangers in other countries. A man in Thailand came to the conclusion that my husband and I were not honeymooners from India as I wasn’t wearing red bangles that most newly married girls from Punjab and a few  northern states wear. I didn’t explain to him that I was from the south of India and  did not have that tradition. I also have had the bindi conversation a couple of times, once with an Australian lady who was herself wearing a bindi and once with a group of young boys in Washington D.C. I tried to explain the third eye concept of the bindi without really having much success because the concept is  a bit vague for me too.

I have had some very interesting conversations with people about Indian turmeric laced curries and food. Some liked Indian food, some not so much and some wondered how we could have curry everyday. Well most have the idea that curry is one dish and I still haven’t found a way to explain that Indians have different recipes and names of different dishes which are unanimously called curry by the West. But with more Indian restaurants and Indian food becoming popular, I believe there are many who can beat any Indian in a cook off ‘curry’ competition.

Religion is another aspect of India that fascinates many abroad, an American lady in L.A told me that she had a small Ganesha statue with a mouse behind his ear. Beef and cow worship is also a topic I have had many interesting discussions about.  A lot of people who come to India are taken aback by the cows we have on Indian roads. As an Indian I have become quite immunized by the sight of cows on Indian roads and markets. Sometimes acting as a road divider and sometimes sunbathing on a beach. In most American restaurants the waiter would make it a point to double check with me, if I ordered a cheese burger. I find this gesture sweet and respectful to Indian culture. I have many such conversations and anecdotes filed away and it has become the best part of all my travels.

This post is written for the More Indian Than You Think contest by Lufthansa


15 thoughts on “What They Think About India

  1. A very very interesting read. I’ve heard pretty much all of these opinions about India, but you compiled all of them at one place, very beautifully. Maybe, you can make a page (inside this blog), and keep adding all such experiences there. It would be an interesting read…about each of the individual experiences here. Esp, the Indonesian boy 😛 Must have been romantic and funny at the same time! 🙂


    1. That’s a good idea, maybe you can start me off and send some of your experiences. The Indonesian boy was hilarious, I am wet till the waist from wading through the sea and am standing on this rock. This guy asks me where I am from I say India and then this happens.


      1. 🙂 Superb! I don’t have any personal experiences to share, as I have never traveled alone as much. I was referring to the usual articles which tell you about the usual mis-conceptions about India that West has, the regulars. But, would definitely share if I happen to have one.


      2. Felt good reading this Anju!.I had often wondered what impression the rest of the world had about india in general. I’ve too experienced that people from the west were more passionate and knew better about certain aspects of our culture better than us especially yoga. and I think we should also take pride and effort in knowing them well enough


  2. Oh, great reading this 🙂 I’ve lived in Germany for 10 years and I used to say not so nice things about that country. Now I just shifted my focus to places I want to go and India i number 1 on my list. Thank you for sharing!


  3. Dear Anju, liked the article. We being Indians understand what are the facts that make this country so unique in front of foreigners. I had experienced this during my few trips to the US. But probably situation is changing very fast and the West is realising that there is more to India than just cows and snake charmers…thanks to IT and now the Prime Minister.


  4. A very good read. I have worked with lot of dutch people while I was in Amsterdam. They wanted me to buy them kurta pyjamas and sarees. Order typical Indian food for them to relish. Once they asked me to get these Indian spices too! They love the Indian culture and are ready to experience it whole hearted ly. Once a dutch friend asked me to accompany him in a DTC bus to the paranthe wali gali! I gawked at him in disbelief. But gave in later on due to the “athithi devo bhav” syndrome:D

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ok,…..I’m Chinese-CAnadian. I’ve never been to Asia –yet. You’re comment about observations about curry..well, to me it seems like curry is just curry in taste except I know that in Southeast Asia there’s red curry, green curry and yellow curry. I buy green curry paste and use a dab for home stir fries.

    That’s the level of ignorance about curry for me. But I’m certain those unfamiliar with European gourmet desserts may have not figured difference between puff pastry, filo/phyllo, etc.

    Or different types of white rice –in grain size, gluten content and taste.

    I guess I see India as one complex blob of country that is both stunningly progressive and also “backward” when there are arranged marriages, etc. Please don’t be offended, China did have arranged marriages prior to the 20th century.

    The way how I see it is…the East Indians share with Chinese nationals….fast paced entrepreneurship and business saavy.


    1. Ah… what can I say about curry. You should watch Gordan Ramsay’s Great Escape when he came to India and explored different cuisines across India, if you are interested in knowing more. This is a youtube clip of him at a local cooking competition in the north east of India https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dEPx4dIUQn0
      About arranged marriages, I think that arranged marriages are not a bane for society though it is difficult for people who are of other cultures to wrap their head around it. Dowry, child marriage, child labor and illiteracy are some evils that India grapples with not arranged marriage. I believe that both arranged and love marriages need the two people to work towards making the marriage work. P.S: I had an arranged marriage, my grandmother had a love marriage 🙂


  6. Yoga, spirituality, Ayurveda and Bollywood are ‘the’ things that really put India in a different bracket. My own experiences tell me that the world is more curious in the culture and traditions of India than we Indians, in general, do. Loved reading your experiences and anecdotes highlighting the real India abroad! Good Luck with the contest, Anju! 🙂


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