Thursday, December 21, 2006

Are Indians creative and original?

[This is an updated and edited version of an article that I wrote in 1998. This is quite negative in its tone. Please bear with me on this. I understand that some things have changed for better in the last few years, however most concerns remain the same. I have added some of the recent events in the flow of the article.]

Someone asked- "Are Indians good only at mastering the skills that have already been proven and established, and lack creativity to create something new and original?"

I don’t think it’s that easy to make a generalization onto an entire nation, but there is definitely a pattern that one can discover which can be applied to a whole class – like, Japanese industries are more quality-conscious, German trains are more punctual. Does that mean all Japanese are quality-conscious and all Germans punctual? Not necessarily, but there is a trait that you can apply to a group or a subgroup as a whole without taking this to an individual level. So, are Indians good only at mastering the skills that have already been proven and established, and lack originality to create something new and original? I don’t think its going to be an easy answer.

We see that India is making good progress nowadays. This progress is derived from achieving the same what the West has already achieved. To do that, we perfect those skills which have already been invented, devised, proven, and thus established to have been working. While Indians do have their own music, their own art, their own science and philosophy inherited from the ancestors of very remote past, they could not come up with anything new in the past thousand years or so (I am resorting to an exaggeration to drive my point- I do know that there are some exceptions). I am trying to find some of the ailments that seem to cripple us from freely floating new ideas, champion new causes, invent new things, and create new expressions.

Can’t take risks

There is a general malaise in India- we just can't take risks. Whether it is our finances or sports, science or philosophy, we have always been lagging behind because we are not the leaders but mere followers; and recently, all we are becoming is ‘better’ followers.

Why can’t we take risks? There may be many reasons, but the primary reason is the way we are brought up by our parents. What they do in their lives matter a lot to us. We are always asked to take a safe path. No examples are set by parents that suggest that one can take risks. For example, Families save; and this money never contributes to country's economy. In olden days, we needed to save because there was no other security, with whimsical kings and rulers one’s savings was one’s assets. Times have changed, and it is not necessary to save the same way as we did in olden times. But, we still think that saving is a virtue just because it was once upon a time. Families that save money and stash the money inside their closets think that they are doing a great deed- they look down upon those who do not. Sometimes such savings are converted into extremely useless goods- such as gold ornaments, utensils made of expensive metals, or stashed in pillows and mattresses. Most families shy from investing in Indian industry (which is risk oriented) and consider it equivalent to gambling.

Young men and women are risk-averse and tend to follow already established paths. Most engineers join a branded company even if the work sucks. Very few would venture out to join a startup. Fathers of the brides are not ready to give their daughters to those who work at startups. All young people want to become engineers or doctors. Everyone wants to make a home, buy a car and settle down (and then do what? I don’t know). This tendency to shy away from risk is all pervading and overreaches into other domains outside the family affairs. It does not allow us cross the boundaries imposed by our traditions. The caste barriers and religious barriers are too high to be surmounted- very few marry outside their caste or religion. Even if they do, they carry the stigma for a long time. Therefore, many do not even contemplate on crossing it, either it is a top scientist's family or a famous doctor's family. This holds true for most of Indian population except certain displaced and immigrant urban populations.

Bad education system

The other malaise is our education system which works on age-old system- a mixture of medieval Indian and some what British school system. The key to an emerging nation lies in its young generation. How are we creating our young people? What are the ideas we are seeding into them in schools? What are the dreams and desires of our children?

Indian schools do not promote originality. A student who replicates what is written in texts is given more marks than those who use own words. We call it ‘mugging’, ‘by rote’, ‘pidi’, ‘ratta’, etc, and teachers hail the boys who do it the best as ‘brilliant’ and ‘clever’. The practice of just mugging up and writing down verbatim is continued all the way from primary school to graduate school. Whatever creativity that kid was endowed due to whatever genetic contribution it would be slowly and completely suppressed or extirpated by the time he is done with graduation. Parents contribute to this by forcing the kids to score more. The kid’s performance is solely judged by the scores he attains. This obsession with scores and marks, overburdening of kids with too much homework which involves more donkeywork than any originality, combined with peer and social pressures restrict originality and creativity from burgeoning in these young minds.

The teachers are not only good at encouraging mere reproduction; they also indulge in practice of threatening the student with dire consequences right from primary school all the way up to the bachelors' degree. The young students undergo physical punishment, endure insults and disparaging remarks, and learn to live with humiliation. Such an experience on a young mind is appalling and would be considered a serious crime in the western world. Many kids end up losing self-confidence. Teachers also practice discrimination and are very renowned for favoritism and nepotism. It becomes very clear for the rest of the class whom the teacher prefers. Young minds are attuned to accept this favoritism and here are sown the seeds for all different kinds of discrimination and prejudices that are to follow in his/her life as he/she enters the mainstream of Indian society- casteism, regionalism, communalism, etc.

Sanctify everything

The next problem is our tendency to make ‘all good and great things sacred’ and to revere them so much that they are transformed into immutable and irrefutable axioms never to be challenged or questioned. While we boast of Vedas, Ayurveda and Arthashastra, nobody ever tries to find new methods that are relevant in the present world. We are complacent about what our ancestors have done and we put a hold on further creation by sanctifying them for all ages to come. When Vedas were created, the authors played with their work, proposed theories contradicting their statements and rectified their work. They could do whatever they wanted because they were not sacred at the time of creation. Nowadays, the norm is not to question them, not to doubt them, not to challenge them, but accept them as they are without regard for amount of time that has elapsed since its creation. There are even efforts to transform these age-old documents into science now. So, instead of bending our backs to work, we take the easy path of achieving the laurels akin to the western world by just converting our old works into science. That turns out to be easy than actually working towards inventing something new.

Not only do we curtail creativity in academics, science and philosophy using the process of sanctification, we also enter the domains of art and music, which actually require that unhindered and unrestrained freedom of expression not bound to any existing rule or law. When it comes to music our plight is dismal. The music teachers do not let their students experiment because music is considered sacred where all the rules have to be strictly followed. Any alteration is disrespect! While we easily welcome an innovation from a westerner, we cannot tolerate an innovative idea from a fellow Indian. Rock and Roll, Disco, Rap, etc, have been gleefully incorporated into Indian Music, while the edifice of Classical Music stands unchanged and unchallenged. While the West has been prolific in inventing new styles of music, we try to retain to the past and curtail any change in the future by sanctifying it. Only those singers who make some modifications to the already established western style to appeal to the Indian audience are accepted and hailed. Therefore you see more remixes and remakes than originals these days. A young student is never given an opportunity to play with his music, art and academics. Little do we realize that creation comes out of tampering and playing with the existing systems! Coming to art, we don’t have any renowned artists. Even if we do have one in MF Husain, we scandalize his art on the name of ‘culture’, ‘tradition’ and ‘heritage’, using all the sanctified words that we can come up. We still stick to the dance forms which are some 1000 years old. We could not create a new "Natya".

Copy everything

Another common trait with Indians is that they can copy anything without remorse or guilt. ‘Plagiarism’ is non-existent. Movies, music and books are easily copied. Our theories in economics and management are completely borrowed from the West. We try to apply a social rule proven in western world into our country without realizing our social structure is completely different. We get frustrated when those theories do not work; and then we blame ourselves for not implementing it properly. Little do we realize that we need different theories which are suitable for our social structure! When that western world has awarded one of us (Amartya Sen) with a Nobel Prize, we bask in the glory of that achievement but never seem to implement his theories to work. We might be good at software but almost all computer languages emanate from the West. It turns out that we are only good at its application. Not many products or solutions have come up from Indian software companies though we have an extensive ecosystem. We are good at nuclear technology and space programs, but most of this science has already been established in the West. We have merely learnt to reproduce it.

Even our Indian Cinema is now renamed ‘Bollywood’ directly copying from the word ‘Hollywood’. We flagrantly plagiarize western music and dance and our crowds lap it up. One of the prominent buildings being built in Bangalore is a replica of Empire State Building of New York. Just count how many important cities in the world copy buildings of other important cities. For Indians, there’s no shame in copying.

‘Chalta Hain’ to everything

Our attitude to everything is "Chalta Hain" (everything is accepted). This is the greatest danger of all. Bad roads are OK, bad traffic is OK, filthy streets are OK, bad sanitation is OK; kids begging on the street is OK. We say ‘Chalta Hain’ to everything. We see how our schools work, but we do not challenge the system. We see how they treat our kids, but we accept it all. No parent is ready to stand up and ward off the discrimination his kid had to endure through. Instead he accepts it and makes his kid shut up. We are committing the gravest crime of all- "Killing the individuality" of our kids.

Our attitude "Chalta Hain" is towards politics, infrastructure, administration, and almost everything. We know that Jayalalitha is one of the most corrupt politicians, but still we would elect her back. By electing such leaders back into power, we legitimize the actions they have done and in a way encourage it. Every politician dreams of earning lots and lots of money when he gets elected and he assumes it as a divine right to take bribe- Did he not struggle to get to that position in the first place?

It’s not just the illiteracy and over-population that is the major problem. Being apathetic to what's going on in our surroundings is the root cause for all problems. How come most of the elite who refrain from exercising their franchise are the ones who spearhead the criticism of the present situation in the nation? Citizens of India can easily afford to make their streets cleaner and better, protect their environments, fight for better education to their kids, and work for upliftment of their fellowmen, all without the help or intervention of its government. Who are we to blame here- ‘The man’ or ‘the state’? Nobody makes an attempt to rectify or improve anything. When everyone is apathetic, we have a big nation of passive recipients who accept every ignominy of the society and call it "great Indian Culture".

Lack of heroes

We do not have many examples to learn from. We do not have idols to emulate; we do not have precedents to follow. All those great people from whom we could learn from are gone with the Independence movement. What is left over is this nation of pathetic populace of mediocrity which squabbles and blabbers and breeds the kids who are only good at mere reproduction like a copier machine. One look at the proceedings of Indian Parliament or a State Assembly would show us the maturity of our leaders. Many actors and sportsmen are mired in controversies- some of them gun-toting criminals, while some are murderers. Some of them just kill endangered species for fun.

There are no good examples or precedents for crossing these man-made boundaries. While it is easily accepted among the present young generation that caste is a malaise and that it should be completely ignored in our society, none of them dare to cross these boundaries. Marryng outside one’s caste is a rarity. It’s strange that one would rather select a mediocre partner from the same caste than a better person from a different caste even though we argue for excellence and quality in education, employment and industry. How does one set an example to the future generations when the elite generation of this time itself succumbs to the pressures of the prejudices of the present society?

The pattern that I see from all the above arguments is that while we are ready to accept a new idea only if it has already been proven to work and is firmly established in some western nation, we never allow any revolutionary idea from our own people. There are three fundamental reasons for that- we do not take risks, we sanctify everything, and we say ‘chalta hain’ to everything. These reasons in turn seem to affect us in many ways. There is a lack of self-respect, lack of dignity of work. There is a tendency to undermine ourselves. A philosophical thinker in India is bogged down with age-old religious theories. A scientist is undermined by his peers. There is a constant need to conform- and we use words like ‘heritage’, ‘tradition’, ‘culture’ to justify that conformance. The parable of ‘Indians crabs’ is seen in every facet of Indian life.

So aren’t we original and creative?

I do not believe that a race, religion, caste or a nation is inherently original or creative. Every individual given the opportunity or access can perform better. Some societies create those opportunities for themselves. Every society has potential to become a great civilization. As individuals and as society we Indians seem to suggest a pattern- that we are being less original and less creative. That’s doesn’t mean we are inferior. It only means we are not being effective in using our potentials. Either we are curbing them at young ages, or not accepting the spark when we see it, or we are suppressing such original and creative works from our people.

24 comments:

  1. Your observations apply to our present and not too distant past, IMHO. Different civilizations have gone through creative phases and there are certainly ups and downs. Think of contributions by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Chinese and our own philosophers and mystics.

    When it comes to creativity (in science, technology and business), we are certainly worse off. However, there are other aspects of our society that are better. For example, I would take our family and extended family structure over highly individualistic american way of life where people are essentially trying to live in their own "bubbles", isolated from one another, resulting in so many people suffering from alienation, social and mental disorders. Since we are discussing this in Indian context, here are my own reasonings in addition to yours:

    1. Elevation of an individual above an institution. We are essentially a nation of personality cults. A person is well regarded in a particular field just for being nice and not necessarily being talented or creative.

    2. Indian society does not follow the concept of "dignity of labour". That's why nothing made in India has a quality finish, no matter how much you pay for it!! Our caste system is the primary culprit here. A skilled person or artisan was always of "lower caste" and hence the work done by that person was less dignified even though the fruits of that work was for the enjoyment of the upper caste person!!. That's why our skilled and labour class takes no pride in what they do. It's a shame. Compare this to skilled workers in Japan or West, there is a certain amount of pride in their trade and profession. It's probably not an exaggeration to say that most of the "educated" or upper class Indians simply don't know (or don't want to know) how to use a screwdriver.

    3. Our education system is an imperial relic. Instead of meaningful reforms, we still follow what the Brits left, a system that was designed to create clerks. Yes, we are doing just that today by being the back office to the English speaking world. As you pointed out, Indians don't encourage creative and critical thinking. This is again related to rote learning and blind obedience our Education systems demands.

    4. Import/borrow/steal/copy ideas and practices without really thinking about their suitability to our society. Our urban educated class is infatuated with all things western, but, I don't see good things from West such as respect for law and institutions and civic sense being imported. All I see that are imported are crass elements of western pop culture and some tech/business ideas.

    BTW, I liked your take on UB City in Bengalooru :-) Malya is trying to create a miniature Manhattan in the heart of Bengalooru. Proof positive that even the leading businessmen and "risk takers" such as Malya are not original thinkers. He could have created anything he wanted with the cash he has, but he chose to replicate a few Manhattan buildings. Embarassing really...

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  2. I just had to add my own pet peeve :).
    I studied in IIT Kanpur. The academic buildings there are copied from some American university, I forget which one, but the funny thing is that there is a small fountain in the center and the copiers, diligently copied the shape(An American Eagle).

    And this is in one of India's best colleges :). So much for originality. I wonder if they would have copied the american flag as well.

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  3. Possibly the most important cause of all these attitudes is that each Indian is always concerned about his / her own survival. As you yourself said, things are changing now...

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  4. I too have some thoughts to share -- wrote a blog entry on similar topic.

    http://everythingunderthesun.in/2006/11/09/the-innovative-indian/

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  5. I had written something similar long ago. Posted it after reading your blog.

    Indians lack creativity

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  6. Hi

    Though you cannot put all Indians in a blanket categorization of not being innovative enough, there are scientific (but highly controversial) reasons to believe it: as a race, we Indians are not as evolved as the Nordish Aryan White race (which still contributes 95% of all innovations worldwide) - think of Bill Gates, Edison - etc. and there is a reason for this: their DNA sequence which contains a Haplogroup R1b on paternal side.

    Most Indian-Aryans have a close haplogroup R1a - we are definitely a more superior race compared to Middle-Easterns and East Asians (though they have better Mathematical ability) - indeed, Indians abroad are renowned for their brains especially our scientists and doctors.


    Indians are "innovative" but not in India where you are surrounded by all contaminated races- there collective energies "bring your own down" - the problems of "attention-seeking" which is not common to Whites - plus, we live in an overcrowded country where people scramble for basic resources such as water, sanitation etc. all these factors reduce our innovative potential.

    Most successful Indians are living in "developed countries"

    Here is a website that will show you more http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Y-chromosome_DNA_haplogroups

    Do check this map where percentage of R1a and R1b is given for various races: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Y-Haplogroup_R1_distribution.png

    Finally, do check where you "stand" in the human evolution chart:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haplogroup_pre-HV_%28mtDNA%29

    If you are Indian, you're somewhere a mix of H and J on that chart - quite good but a little behind the intelligent races.

    This is not to say that some Indians are infinitely smarter than Whites, but we lack some characteristics such as White man's altruism, sense of fairness etc. that are very much needed for evolution, and human innovativeness.

    India is full of lowly-evolved people - 95% of our population and I don't like to share space with them - they are contaminating my air:

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  7. Wow, you have excellent posts. Usually I am not given to expressing superlatives. I was planning to start a blog with almost similar complaints about us Indians in general though I would say my English is extremely poor compared to other bloggers. The reason for the complaints is not hatred, but just frustration about this gross inequality in our country be it about the sexes, race, caste, prosperity etc. If we were a developed nation with high ethics, none of us would be writing blogs like this. Instead we would probably be spending time innovating things. Well I guess this is a start. Many people have started thinking and internet has ensured that we find people with similar thoughts and ideas. Keep going with your posts. I also hope the good ideas on the internet translate into action for a better society. I think it will take about 1000s of years for us to evolve to a level where the West has reached.

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  8. Read pygmalion effect on wiki (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pygmalion_effect) - the more you complain and loath yourself the worse you become - it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    I think it will take about 1000s of years for us to evolve to a level where the West has reached.


    All I can say about this post and this comment is - :) (smily) :-)

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  9. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

    --Barack Obama

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  10. Instead of unsupported epistemically weak arguments make out a case by giving epistemic evidence. Bland views don't have pursuasive force, even if you write volumes.

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  11. Great post! I agree with your opinion, that we Indians tend to follow the safe path much more often than innovate our own. Like you also observed, I think the problem is more about our attitude and grooming, than talent/capability/intelligence.

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  12. Wow. Never have I seen the term "evolution" being so brutally abused on the internet (well, aside your average cretinist that is). Do you understand that the genetic factors behind intelligence are extremely complex - and cannot simply be addressed by R1b gene-frequencies. Ofcourse, I wouldnt expect a simpleton like yourself to be able to fathom the mechanics behind modern genetics.

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    Replies
    1. Please expound and illuminate our ignorant minds

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  13. A baby when its born thinks this is the start of the world!

    your post will go to a thrash can..in 50 years time...
    where is oppression..rape and murder on INDIAs in ur post that made a significant impact on out thinking and drove us to conservative mindsets... the west told us the same lie over and over again and made us believe every thing they do is the best...

    look at us talking in their language and tring to evalutatve INDIA and its people...its'nt it foolish my friend..
    we have hundreds of original languages, arts unparalleled in the world ...

    only time will prove what INDIA is and will be! till then lets keep our mouths shut and get to work..

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  14. The FEAR factor is what is letting us down.Each one of us wants to be SAFE.

    http://in.education.yahoo.com/links/detail/are-indians-still-imitators-innovators-general-news-8eaaea9e034477b1c47662a03318edb816c628a6a203834d8babd849601aa18b

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  15. Screw you man ! You always look at negatives. There is second side to the coin. Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo, Ramanujam, CV Raman, Bose, Bose ......... I can keep on saying, till you get tired.

    India WILL ROCK. Lion is about to shrug off all its odds now. Keep Watching.

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  16. Indians are creative.. they just use their brains to discriminate people.. and find plans on how to hurt christian's etc.. and the only reason they study is because they want more dowry etc. And people don't question their religion.. You can't say anything about religion (all religions)..

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  17. One more thing to add.... Indians always say, "Everything that we need to know can be found in the Vedas"... How about Mendeleev's Periodic table, atomic theories, Theory of Relativity and Quantum Physics... Somehow they try to "discover" all of science, past, present and future in the sacred Vedic texts thus obviating any need for further work...I guess all Phd students need to have a copy of the four Vedas and they are done.. no need for doing any research!! ... Great to read your post, by the way....

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  18. Agree 100% , today is independence day 2013 and your blog is the best . Indians and India is messed up in their roads and in their heads. We survive on our legacy . You didnt mention one thing though , we are good at one thing "reproduction" . 3 F things take priority in our life "Film" , "Food" and "F**K" , where is scope for anything else.

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  19. First time I found somebody thinking the same way as I do about India and Indians..well..i 'ld add up to innovation part that the culture itself is so bad that nobody wants to contribute to India..everybody looks at theselves..before getting passed out..students dream of a job in a company based on cmm levels and a good brand badge..but nobody devotes to education, i would say that, it's a bullshit culture developed here. The same students after getting jobs seek for girls and get married..would become managers of tomorrow and do nothing and that's it! Think about people like Newton and T.A.Edison who devoted their lives to innovation and doing something..contributing something..so that the world may know them. Think of British saying during second world war"Success is in peril, defend it with all your might", it is something what can help us. Why to get married and make your wife fighting your mom as it has been a history for every Indian home,..why do we believe in false legacy ideas..which are of no use..why do we blame westerners for not being cultured? And by the way who says west is not cultured..I got few pals from French(one of most dominant countries) they are more happy and also do care of their parents..they celebrate holdiays altogether with girlfriends/ partner/ wives and their parents..I've observed it myself. Simply they make sense more than us, but on the other hand, we Indians are not ready to give this culture bullshit. Seriously guys it's nothing.
    Well..very good blog with intellectual thoughts.

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  20. Sujai - you are fcukin right on! I wish I personally knew my country men here who commented.... ismelliteverywhere@gmail.com

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  21. LOOK AT OUR INDIAN NEWS CHANNELS AND THEN COME BACK AND COMMENT PLEASE

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