The many ways we Indians say, “I love you” without actually saying it

Most psychology books are written by Western authors and these authors only look at the Western culture and assume the rest of the world is the same too. When we Indians read these books, we understand the cultural differences and wonder how to address that and at times are confused. 

Conveying love and care
Take the issue of communication in relationships. Most of the books tell us that it is important to convey our love to our close ones. They exhort us to go and tell our parents, grandparents, children and anyone else we care about, “I love you”. In fact, I have seen in a couple of workshops the trainer urging people to stop what they are doing, pick up the phone and say, “I love you” to their loved ones. They, in fact, make us feel guilty by asking, “When was the last time you told, “I love you” to your dad/mom/spouse/children?” When we search in our minds for the last time we told them that we realize that we actually have never told them that and neither have they to us. Does it mean we don’t love them or they don’t love us?
Not at all. Here we are trying to import the facets of a different culture into ours and somehow it does not feel right to us. It neither feels authentic or genuine to go and tell our family members, “I love you”. In fact, I have had many people come and tell me that they got blank stares or confused look from their parents when they tried it. 

How we Indians do it
It is about the sentiment of conveying our affection and care to the other person and we Indians do it in a million different ways, in a million different words and not just by saying, “I love you.”
When a family member or close ones are leaving home even for a short while, we say, “Be careful when driving/walking”. We enquire of one another, “Did you have your breakfast/lunch/dinner?” When guests come home to eat we tell them, “Relax and eat” although the word to word translation is the hilarious, “Eat slowly”. “Did you eat well?”, “Was it enough?” are other ways of conveying our affection. “Take care of your health” is another common comment when parting from elders or the more common “Be safe.” When someone is leaving home we tell them, “Go and come” and they will say, “I will come” (Hogbitu ba/Barthini in Kannada, Poitu Va/Varen in Tamil) essentially conveying that the home is open to them and we never tell them “Go.” All these in English sounds peculiar and to a western mind it may seem intrusive and controlling but to us Indians when these are said in our native language it conveys love, care and concern. Believe me, if I went and said, “I love you” to my eighty-year-old parents they would stare at me and think I am losing it!

Doing what feels authentic
It is absolutely important that when we read articles, books on Psychology we should place the content in our Indian culture and see what applies and what does not. We should be ready to dump without thinking twice, stuff that sounds alien in our culture no matter how popular the book is or how reputed the author is. The test should be how authentic it feels to do something in our culture.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019 By Sreedhar Mandyam

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