My family was excited. My cousin was to wed a beautiful French damsel. The youngster had left the country to pursue his masters in the United States, and seek greener pastures in corporate America. It was here that love blossomed between the two and after a whirlwind courtship they decided to get married.
India to many Westerners is the land of the Taj, where maharajas once ruled and where today you can get some really cute elephant souvenirs.
The family in India were happy that their son had finally decided to "settle down", and were thrilled at the prospect of interacting with a family that was not only foreign to them but also spoke a language that was fairly new. For some strange reason, the French side wasn't too happy with the alliance. To them, India was nothing but a land of snake charmers, a poor country where few people were educated. But let's face it, this is a common enough stereotype in the West. India to them is the land of the Taj, where maharajas once ruled and where today you can get some really cute elephant souvenirs. There's nothing more to it. Or is there? Let me clear up some common myths.
Myth 1: India is a country of snake charmers
"Snake charming" is the practice of pretending to hypnotize a snake, and seemingly making it dance to the tunes of a wind instrument called pungi or bansuri. At one time, this was a popular street act, practiced not only in India, but also Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia. But today, snake charming is well on its way out in India. The practice has been prohibited under the Wildlife Act. Only a few people continue this business, usually in tourist destinations such as Rajasthan.
Myth 2: Indians aren't educated
Come on now, how do you explain the professional colleges that come up in the dozens every year? The fact is that a large percentage of our population today seeks education. Every year, the country churns out in thousands, doctors, engineers, management professionals etc... Doesn't this go to show that we do place an emphasis on education? Of course, there is a lot of room for improvement, particularly in rural India, but it is incorrect to say that India is a nation of illiterates.
By no means is India perfect but neither is it stuck in the middle ages.
Myth 3: India is unsafe
We could do a whole lot better on several parameters, especially in terms of safety for women. However, if you look at the broader picture and exercise safety precautions, you are likely to have a perfectly uneventful stay.
Myth 4: If you have seen the Taj, you have seen India. And aren't all souvenirs in India elephants?
Yes, we are proud of the Taj. But we are also proud of our pristine mountains, rivers, plains, beaches, temples and palaces. We also have a rich diversity of arts and handicrafts in different parts of the country. While souvenir elephants are a mainstay of the tourist traps, there are a multitude of gorgeous crafts, textiles and artworks to choose from.
Myth 5: All Indians are in customer support
Yes, lots of Indians (not all!) are in customer-care. Indeed, it would be rather surprising if one didn't speak to an Indian customer care executive over the phone when living in the US, Canada or even for that matter Europe. For these countries, it is just a job that has been outsourced. For many in India, it is an opportunity. Look at it this way: whether you call it customer care, technical/software support or call centre work, we have surely left a mark. However, Indians are making a mark in various other fields as well, ranging from medicine to software to academia.
By no means is India perfect but neither is it stuck in the middle ages. While we continue to be beset by challenges such as poverty, overpopulation and discriminatory societal practices, we are also well on the path to progress and development. There are two sides of the coin, after all, and how you look at depends on which side you place upwards!
PS: The great "Indo-French" wedding was a success with its cross-cultural ceremonies. The couple exchanged vows and the families exchanged presents. We ensured the French took back with them a true picture of India and goodie bags loaded with delights other than souvenir elephants.