When I went out in this t-shirt on Delhi streets (more specifically, on a sight), the Russians were staring at me more than Indians, to my surprise (I’m Russian). Not every Indian or someone from another country would know what’s pictured on my t-shirt. It’s Matryoshka – the Russian traditional doll that was famous in the last century. Matryoshka is actually the most popular souvenir to take from Russia even now so it can be called the symbol of Russia, though traditionally it wasn’t really (I am ethnography graduate).
My explanation for such reaction from my own country people is that when tourists come to India, they mostly dress up either in Indian traditional wear or in the so-called here indo-western: usually in Indian style wide pants and simple t-shirts. And here I am dressed in Matryoshka t-shirt – not something expected. But they don’t know that I am in India for a long time and can’t be surprised by Indian clothes anymore – in my situation psychology works from the opposite now – there are a lot of Indian things around me and Russian things are not very accessible to me now.
But it made me to think of some paradox. Wearing Indian traditional clothes is considered absolutely normal in the world, not only here in India but also in other countries. When Indians move abroad, many of them continue to wear traditional clothes. And not only to wear it but also to actively sell it, especially in countries where there are many of Indian immigrants. But local people who are interested in yoga and Indian culture can buy it too. And people wishing to attend an Indian wedding in their own country as well.
Yes, Indians are great patriots of their diverse cultures. But in the same time they don’t try to instill this feeling in minds of foreigners who moved to India – to keep their cultures or to be themselves, they do the opposite – actively impose Indian culture on them. Indians themselves would call it a racism if the same would happen to them in another country. Some of them also talk about “Western cultures” being forced on them, though it’s not true, they are adopting it themselves (young people mostly). Foreigners in India don’t talk about enforcement of Indian culture on them either (sometimes it seems to me that I am the only one who feels it such way).
And I’m not trying to protect my culture here irrespectively of my ethnography degree. I’m someone who likes to keep an open mind, to take on inside only what suits my mindset from each culture and not just to “wear” this or that mentality on myself with all their pros and cons.
But I see some paradox in it.
I imagined what would have happened if I casually went on the streets of India in Russian traditional clothes? (One of the types of it is on the picture below). I surely would be looked at as if I am crazy. But isn’t it strange that there are so many countries in the world that have forgotten their traditional clothing and cultures but interested in Indian?
Why do you think it happens? (Please leave your opinion in comments below, it would be really appreciated).
And well, as ethnographer I can say that Russian traditional culture (can’t say about the others too much now) in the past had many similar things to Indian but it was abandoned a 100 years back.
Now everything people around the world know about Russia is disgusting stereotypes which are far from truth (but certainly can spoil lives of Russians abroad). Only the people who have visited my country change their minds about it. In a lot it’s because there isn’t much information about Russia in English language. So I was asked to write about Russia as well – in the end my goal is not to advertise India or Russia but to break stereotypes which I have lived through in my own life. And won’t be wasting my degree living abroad as well, ha-ha…So stay tuned, I m going to start it in a while! (But still will be writing about India and how is it to be a foreigner here for sure).