From Madras to Manila

Friday, October 07, 2005

Ignorance is NOT Bliss

[Disclaimer: The following material contains information and ideas potentially unsuitable for those with a weak head. Please switch off your monitors and lie down in case you get a headache, become purple in violent disagreement, feel the need to compulsively scratch your head or rush off to eat Thai food. In case the subject matter is otherwise distasteful to you in some form please feel free to post a scathing comment so I can carefully consider your opinions before I delete it and remove you from my birthday list]

We Indians are overly proud of their general knowledge and awareness about world events, methinks. Haven’t you often participated with glee in conversations putting down those Americans / Europeans, who think Indians still roam the jungles on elephants’ backs during the day and watch snake-charmers as prime-time entertainment?

I have. Several times. Usually as the initiator.

But Now…

I’m ashamed of myself.

Because I know nothing about Philippines, whereas most of my colleagues here know tons about India – major cities, the saree, Indian food, customs, vegetarianism, religions… In fact, Indian history actually forms part of the curriculum in Filipino schools.

Imagine that! Indian history barely made it to the Indian school curriculum! How many of us can name more than a handful of figures in Indian history? Or the period during which they lived, however approximate? Or even what they did / are famous for?

See what I mean?

And It Doesn’t Stop There.

Filipinos, being part of Asia proper, are decently informed about their neighbouring countries and are quite capable of having meaningful conversations on important events in the region (except those related to finance, which is a subject usually met with blank incomprehension).

We Indians have no clue on Asian events – at least I don’t and I’m quite certain many others are in the same boat. I mean, to most of us, Indonesia is probably 'earthquake-country'. A nation of 250 million people written off, just like that.

Even on the subject of our immediate neighbours we have, at best, a limited understanding – and what knowledge we have is usually related to some form of violence or disaster (insurgency in Sri Lanka / Bangladesh, killing of the Royal family in Nepal, typhoons in Bangladesh, the tsunami in Sri Lanka...)

Do we have a clue about tourist spots in Pakistan? Or the quality of life in Bhutan? Or how about commerce and industry in Bangladesh?

Doesn’t ring a bell, does it? I didn’t think so.

An Interesting Question

If Filipinos can study about India and China, what’s stopping us from learning at least something about the various Asian countries in school? I’m sure we can remove the bits about Henry I to Henry MXCVIII and move directly on to Prince Charles and Diana / Camilla Parker-Bowles, thereby making room for the Ming dynasty.

We might even understand and appreciate the Eastern cultures better than we do now.

[Yes, cultural appreciation extends beyond gorging on Chinese and Thai food]
[No, adding Filipino food to the list above does not absolve you of the need to learn more]

My apologies to those of you who speak six Asian languages, are invited as a speaker to ASEAN conferences or otherwise demonstrate more than a passing knowledge of Asian events.

For the rest of us - there’s a whole world out close to home. Let’s learn something about it.


  • This is very true. in fact this realisation dawned upon me also recently when ma and i were watching kbc. 2 diff episodes had these questions...which is the only country in the world which doesnt have a rectangular flag and which of india's neighbouring countries has the cow as its national animal. answer to both was nepal...but i didnt know this and these were thought difficult enough to be high stakes questions on kbc.
    it is really a mini-catastrophe for me to realise i am not really even an asian (leave alone the indian identity i am grappling with). how many people know that angkor-vat in cambodia has indian roots and that singapore is a bihari name. we are really closely related nations, but we fail to see it.
    i'm gonna read up on all these things now. see me after a few years.

    By Blogger Sumit, at 1:38 PM  

  • did i sound just like a 'knowledgeable' indian when i spoke of cambodia and singapore? i didnt mean to say everything in the world has its roots in india (like that guy on goodness gracious me).

    By Blogger Sumit, at 1:40 PM  

  • Amit,
    Nice work on the writing bit.. You're almost there ... Dave Barry will soon have a counterpart in the IT (Indonesia Times) :)
    - Teenie

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:47 PM  

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