Because cultures are patterns of traditions and behaviors, it is easy to categorize everyone within a culture as being roughly the same. However, this is a mistake. Within cultures there is diversity, counterculture, and emerging norms and traditions that lead to differences between generations. Likewise, within any given geopolitical area, there are multiple cultures and variations of mainstream cultures. For example, is there a single U.S. culture? No, people in the South are very different from those in New England, for example, while Hawaii and Alaska have their own unique sets of cultures.
Similarly, India is a highly culturally diverse country. With its many different religious sects, political ideologies, and foreign cultural influences throughout history, India is an extremely culturally diverse country (Malik and Pereira 77). Despite the diversity within a specific geopolitical area and culture, the study of culture remains important for understanding differences in trends regarding norms, traditions, and behaviors. The Indian culture (or perhaps more accurately cultures) is the focus here and is explored in the context of a set of interviews conducted on people from India.
My initial ideas about Indian culture grew from my experiences with people of Indian descent who live near me. But these people are not first-generation Indians and have assimilated very well into the U.S. Thus, they had adopted many of the cultural values of the U.S. and of my specific area. My initial conceptions of the Indian culture, then, were that they were hard-working people who ate with their hands and had a passion for cinema. Similarly, I believed that the Indian culture was based in part on self-sufficiency. I realize, now, that this is a mischaracterization of the Indian culture, based on my experiences. But the Indian culture is not particularly individualistic. In fact, the Indian culture is generally considered quite collectivist. This marks one of the misconceptions I had about Indian culture. Another misconception that I had was that the Indian culture promotes analytical, rather than creative, study. Another way to put this is the stereotype that all Indians are good at math and science. Most of the Indians I know are good at math and science, but they also have creative interests as well. Likewise, as I learned during the course of the interviews, there are many people of the Indian culture who do not enjoy math and science, but are most interested in creative pursuits.
Based on the responses given in the interviews, it seems that familial intimacy and closeness are very important during a number of daily processes of those in India and of Indians living in the West. During eating, for example, families tend to sit down and have meals together, rather than eating separately or on-the-go. Similarly, Indian families tend to share information readily. Members of Indian families tend to be quite open about their lives and how they spend their days, as well as what they are thinking about. In contrast, people in the West often only share their experiences when they are proud of their achievements or are ranting about problems that they occurred at work for example. Thus, the Indian culture tends to be more open and collectivist when it comes to many processes, such as eating, and concerning information and experiences.
Another notable characteristic of Indian culture that was discovered during the interviews was diversity. Those interviewed had very different responses to a number of questions asked. In fact, many of the responses indicated that there was a lack of homogeneity in the Indian culture. Some of the interviewees, for example, suggested that other members of their society or culture would not give the same response. Likewise, some suggested that there were no clear trends in India on certain topics because people are so different within their society and culture.
Diversity in Indian culture stems primary from two sources. First, many foreign cultures and peoples have influenced specific groups and areas within India (Pereira and Malik 142). Second, various religious and cultural sects have emerged across the various regions in India (Vanita 22). This combination has led to the development of heterogenous cultures and religious sects in India, contributing to the very high variance in cultural expressions, values, and traditions in the country.
Culture is an interesting topic because it can be studied to identify differences in traditions, norms, and other trends within a particular geopolitical area. However, there is a danger of jumping to assumptions about any particular culture or any individual within a culture. After all, as is demonstrated above in the exploration of Indian culture which featured a number of subcultures and diverse norms and traditions. I had several misconceptions about the Indian culture before I began these interviews. I only had a surface-level understanding of a subset of those of Indian descent.
At that, this understanding was based on a very small sample of Indians, namely those I knew. Exploring the Indian culture deeper through cultural interviews has opened up a whole new conception of culture to me. The diversity in the Indian culture was most surprising. I would like to explore the Indian culture further at the point of artistic expression. Cinema is popular in much of urban India (Abhishek and Sahay 401-403), but there are many other cultural expressions that I do not understand well and am largely unfamiliar with. As I continue learning about this culture, I will certainly focus on cinema and other artistic expression.