“What I like about India”



On the plane to Goa at the weekend I read a story in a newspaper about a 13-year-old English boy who had fathered the baby of a 15-year-old teenage girl in the UK. Alfie Patten’s voice had not yet broken and his son had been born after one night of unprotected sex. It reminded me of several things I don’t miss about the UK and like about India: the breakdown of family values being one of them. Sex education is widespread in English schools; I am not even sure if it exists in India. But, I am yet to see a teenage single mum in India.

The expectation and pressure on men to lose their virginity starts in the UK at 15 or 16 whereas in India no such pressure appears to exist and many men in their 20s are virgins, it seems.

In the UK I only need to show up at a mall in, say Leicester, in daytime and the stiletto mini skirt wearing dyed-blond haired brigade of teenage boppy mums are everywhere, prams in toe, chewing gum. Teenage pregnancies in the UK are the highest in western Europe. The worst part is that it is the mainly poorly educated lower social economic strata – the council estate residents – who are breeding like rabbits, often because a single mum gets pushed up the waiting list for a council house, whereas a woman without a kid has to wait in line.

Meanwhile, the educated posh set who might bring their kids up well and give them a proper education, are not getting pregnant and if they are, it is when they are 40.

This is causing problems for employment as there is a dearth of young people to be waiters, labourers, builders and plumber, creating the influx from Eastern Europe and is rather worrying for the future genetic pool of the UK.

The same problems cannot be seen in India. I have been astonished at how well-behaved young people are and how respectful they are towards their parents and elders.

When I interviewed students in Mumbai about their views on kissing in public and they were all against it because they were concerned it would offend elders. I cannot imagine any British teenager being the slightest bit concerned about their parents’ view on anything.

In India too everyone seems to get married: it is rare to meet anyone over 30 who is not. In the UK the Bridget Jones brigade of single men and women is on the increase. There is no organised system for people to meet their future partner as there is in India. The era in the 1960’s when men would marry women they had met at the local dance on a Friday is well and truly over. Noone asks anyone to dance in nightclubs anymore and if you go to an evening class, you can be sure most people are over 50. Hence the proliferation of speed dating and online dating…

I will never forget soon after arriving in India how I had to interview eight housewives: I asked each of them diligently whether they were married and whether they had children, sometimes in the reverse order. I was surprised to find the housewives were all married with two children.

When I asked one woman if she was married after she said she had kids, she looked horrified.

The reason I had (naively) done this was because, in the UK, if you interviewed women 40 plus you could not make any assumptions. It was likely one would be at least single mum, one a divorcee, one married without kids and at least three with kids but unmarried in live-in relationships. If they had children, you could make no assumption about their surnames as they may have been fathered by different men.

This may have all contributed to the hooded gang and anti social behaviour culture. Gangs of youths roam around the streets places like inner city London or cities in the Midlands – aged anywhere from 12 to 18 – they may brandish knives, are often on drugs or alcohol and apparently it is all because they come from broken homes, where their parents might be drug addicts, alcoholics, or simply unemployed.

These gangs take over neighbourhoods on a Friday and Saturday night randomly beating people up, slashing car tyres and smashing up property. In nightclubs you find girls collapsed on the floor or vomiting in  the sinks; I have never seen this in India. Girls in Mumbai that go to bars and clubs never get so drunk they collapse and most teenagers seem to be at home studying.

The worst offence they ever commit is to sit for hours being noisy in Café Coffee Day or Mocha. Drugs are also rife in the UK, dealt directly outside the school gates in many London schools. Not so here. The work place is also preferable in India. It feels more like a family. Everyone stops for lunch, often eating in a group, sharing gossip and news.

In the UK most people wolf down a sandwich in five minutes alone in front of their computer screen and go back to work. Bosses are also civil to you here, even if you make a mistake. Not so in the UK where you can expect to be called up and screamed at down the phone…

Finally, and most importantly, I prefer Indian men. English men are too contained in that British stiff upper lip world they inhabit: Indian men are more emotional and perhaps more honest…

(This blog was written by Naomi in Goa, where she is currently on vacation.)

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