Saturday, March 08, 2008

multitasking or singletasking: which is Indian?

A young friend writes personally to me as follows:
"From the time that they lined up to fill their plates to the time that they finished their dessert of yogurt made from the milk of the buffalo that lives in the shed out back, these young Indians remained conspicuously silent. Coming from a culture where talking is an important part of any meal, the silence struck me immediately. I wanted to practice speaking Hindi with our young hosts at this shelter home, but I decided to wait until finding out the reason for the solemn meal. For the next few minutes, I awkwardly finished my own meal using my fingers. Later, Charu, one of our guides, explained that the students are forbidden to speak during their meals. She elaborated that it is an important principle in India to do one thing at a time. The rationale is that a person will do a better job of nourishing the body when completely focused on that task. There will always be time to talk after the meal. I admire this Indian aversion to multitasking, and am interested to see how it manifests in other areas of the society. In the sprawling metropolis of Delhi where I spent the first part of the week, I didnt see anyone phoning while driving or reading the newspaper while walking down the street. Multitasking is the norm in American society and in my daily life. While I am here in India, I am going to try doing one thing at a time and see how it goes."

My response:

" I don't know what group you are wtih, but they are fooling you if they want you to believe that there is anything Indian about singletasking! The whole of India lives on multi-tasking from the President of the country to the poorest and least-educated person, and from the richest to the poorest! If you haven't yet seen multi-tasking in India, then you need to open your eyes and look more "innocently" around you.

"Singletasking is good in itself and if you want to see a society that has internalised it, teaches it, practices it and lives on it, you need to visit Continental Europe (not UK)

These Indians are trying to teach something that is good to fellow-Indians (and perhaps foreigners) but are doing so on the basis of a lie - singeltasking is not Indian at all.

The idea of concentration is well accepted in India, but only in relation to one field: meditation – when it is a case of meditating on nothing or nothingness – such as the sound of a meaningless though supposedly powerful word (mantra) or the tip of your nose or the feelings involved in breathing or something like that

However, if you can learn singletasking, whether in India or elsewhere, that will not be a bad thing at all!" Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Charles said...

Prabhu, this is an interesting observation about the supposed singletasking Indian. I want to make an observation :

Who is an Indian ? Is anyone able to articulate what an Indian really is. There is the North Indian who is supposed to be fair and there is the South Indian who is supposed to be dark. But you also have people down south who have blue eyes and brown hair. There is the indian from Mizoram who can pass of as a local in Thailand and there is a Korgi who can pass of as a local in Zurich ! So who really is an Indian ? Now I have not even gotten started on lifestyles, cultures, the clothes they wear, the languages they speak . . . or how they handle their tasks. On top of this if we juxtapose the urban Indian versus the rural Indian . .. well that is a complex multi dimensional demographic model already.

So to even come close to making an attempt of defining whether an "Indian" single tasks or multi tasks I would ask the person making the observation to not just have an innocent look around but to make a "reasonably factual" assessment of what he or she really means when referring to the "Indian"