Just an opinion on “Indian Culture”

What I want to share is just a personal opinion, hoping to know what others think about it.

I was travelling in the U.S recently and had a chance to interact to few of my close friends from college.When we were discussing about our kids and how they have grown are interacting with us, this thought came across to me.

Is Indian culture about the way we talk, behave, dress or arts etc? I felt maybe it is something a little different.

There are two traits which is strong in the environment which makes the Indian culture Hierarchy and Resource Constraints.


Whether we like it hierarchy exists everywhere, but it is transforming. In my house even today I take permission( to be honest at least FYI my dad if I am going to be late in coming back). 🙂 One thing this helps me in work it is much easier for me handle hierarchies than my counterparts in U.S. Interestingly they grew here but have spent close to 20 years there that their thinking has transformed. I am not judging that it is good or bad here. It is an observation. They find it difficult to comprehend this rules of hierarchy in functioning of systems at work or outside. I find U.S returned colleagues struggling to adapt this culture over here.

Resource Constraints

There are resource constraints every where in India. From roads to housing to things at work. Being in I.T I can comment on a few things. Product guys in U.S take RAM on computers for granted.In India it is a struggle to get 2GB machines but newer products expect 8GB to be a decent system requirement.The fact is this is a huge constraint. When I walk into our offices in U.S I find desktops with dual monitors that too 19 inch ones and individual rooms for developers to help them work productively.It is cool and nice. I love dual monitors and I ratify it does improve productivity. But in India dual monitors is unimaginable. Recently I saw LCD monitors fixed on the walls of developers and the developer’s desktop reduced to a foot in breadth. Gosh it causes a serious pain in the neck ( pun intended ). There is no way adjust the angle of those monitors also. Hey screw ergonomics, space matters and real estate is expensive.

But the beauty of Indian culture is to accept these attributes as a natural occurrencea and work with it. Imagine a society where all are equal, life will be quite boring actually. If all are intelligent then the word intelligent becomes “just about average”. In physics if there is now high/low how will the electricity flow. There will be have and have-nots. The challenge in life is to accept and work with it. But it is an interesting game we try to equalize it only to realise, we tipped the scale in another direction. Think about the U.S supporting the mujaheddin to balance out Russia, they ended up creating a different kind of imbalance. We will have resource constraints at all levels and in different contexts. Constraints helps us innovate, invent. This introduces newer constraints. Read this “Parable of Horseshit”  interestingly cars( fuel guzzlers and CO2 emitters) where a solution climatic problem at some point in history now we have it and that is a problem. 🙂  I think the nice thing about Indian culture helps you embrace these constraints in a positive manner and work with it. It helps us look at constraints with a more positive attitude at least for me. This culture helps accept a constraints without too much frustration. In India you always expect to have constraints and there is a dearth for resources. The environment helps us build this culture – “there are constraints and challenges learn to work with it to succeed.”. Sometimes I feel the western culture does not have as their environment does have a need for it. Which I think works in that environment.

Would love to hear other thoughts/views on this. 🙂

P.S : I have assumed readers are in India when I started writing this post, I realise that there are readers from outside India also. Please read it in this perspective.


  1. Quote

    Great write-up Kumaran. To summarize the difference in twitter style “U.S is capitalist country whereas India is dominate-socialist-but-slight-mixture-of-capitalist country”. Here in U.S we get all the resources we need as long as we show competence and more and more productive, if not, we are out of picture. 10 years ago, i was working with a start-up, i designed and developed one application with 512 MB RAM machine, after some time i have to manage 3 applications hence i asked 1 GB RAM & i got it, after some time i have to manage 5 applications, i asked 2 GB RAM & i got it, after some time i just asked 4 GB without any application added in my portfolio, but permission denied. Everything carefully measured in terms of ROI calculation.

    I don’t agree with you regarding settle with what we have and work with it. I believe that’s make real difference with west. We have to ask for more as long as, it is justifiable. I noticed with my previous job, developers/engineers coming from India to U.S are very hesitant to ask even free software’s and basic things which we knew help them to complete their task sooner. They interested to follow what they know from Indian environments. The issue is, if we complete one task quickly, we will get more and more challenging tasks but Indian environment makes me think that we hit the roof, even with simple tasks because of their practice of resource constraint work environments. But without a doubt my Indian counterparts are very patience and hierarchical obedient than us.

  2. Quote
    Kumaran said May 11, 2010, 6:32 am:

    hi Subba,

    Thanks for the comments.

    You are correct int saying “I don’t agree with you regarding settle with what we have and work with it.”. Let me clarify, I did not mean telling that statement from defeatist perspective. It is more like it is reality you can fight/work hard to change but sometime that is all that is there. For example how much ever I fight I can’t get a big plaground in T.Nagar for kids to play. There simply is no space. Theoritically it can be done but the effort would be so huge. I might be better off getting the government to ply a special bus at reduced cost from T.Nagar to a playgroung in outskirt and back in the evenings.

    Last liked the summary you had put. In others sarcastically, as it stand we are in no man’s land trying to find a good balance/equilibrium between east/west or capitalist/socialist. Interesting times ahead to see whether we settle for fully west or a hybrid.

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    Ramanujam said May 11, 2010, 8:23 am:

    Dearth of resources makes you cringe..assert less..become more adaptive…all in good cause..
    But to think really big, we gotta think how to thrive in good times too.. we have made ourselves so accomodating we don’t even exercise our rights any more.. An indian man does not get Veg food that he asked for on the flight, he takes it as his fate and eats the fruits whereas any other citizen would assert for it and let his vocal chords let loose…
    All this accomodative nature have build up the “pent up Indian”, one who is comfortably numb, complains a lot when he is India and is part of the problem… I am one of them.. Trying to break this mindset hopefully for the betterment of the new generation.

  4. Quote
    Kumaran said May 11, 2010, 9:21 am:


    Thanks for comment.We at the moment are at extreme end of not opening our mouths. But I see a difference with the new generation. They are less accomodating/forgiving. That is both good and bad.

    I hope we will strike the balance of accomodating and fighting as we evolve as a more progressive society.

  5. Quote

    Good post! I can identify with the points mentioned in it.

    One more difference that I noticed here in India is that we were taught by elders and parents that it was not good manners telling everyone about a thing we completed successfully (for e.g. I got the 1st rank in class) for fear of boasting or bragging. But I find that in the west (and nowadays in India too) it is not discouraged.

    The result of this is that western employees are more confident talking about their achievements where as we (the older gen) are a bit hesitant, usually using replies such as “It was not such a big deal or anyone could do it” rather than accepting the credit confidently.

    So, I suppose we need to allow a bit more appreciation, just enough to not make the child a braggart but enough to be an assertive adult.

  6. Quote
    Kumaran said May 11, 2010, 3:27 pm:


    Thanks for the observations.

    But the problem is that some parents make the kids feel as if they can do no wrong and their ego gets boosted so much that their humility to learn/share and co-exist on a equal plane with others is also killed.

    Yes we need to develop the presentation layer 🙂 but hopefully not making the mistake of just the presentation layer alone but with a strong backend as well.

  7. Quote

    Interesting post. Your observations are excellent. However, these are actually the things that hold us back as well. You may want to look at Geerts Hofstede’s research on various country-specific cultures. Interestingly, hierarchy is one of the 5 dimensions of culture he has come up with.

  8. Quote
    Arunava Bose said May 12, 2010, 8:51 pm:

    I think the biggest credit to Indians and the biggest attribute of Indian Culture is adaptability. The rest of the actions are manifestations of this characteristics.

  9. Quote
    Akshay (subscribed) said May 12, 2010, 8:56 pm:

    You are spot on about these two points. I would like to add another one, which probably is a corollary more so to the hierarchy. It is “Tolerance”.
    Ok, not to sound snobbish, but in India the personal boundaries are drawn very loosely and it is a norm to have family members or friends inquire about matters one would consider extremely person in US.
    Most Indians (NRIs not ABCD) in US are isolated in the community from a social perspective. Most times their best company is another Indian. Since most are just acquaintance, there is a level of personal space that is created and indians get used to it in US. The basic tolerance for people wanting to know personal things dramatically decreases. I am not saying its good or bad, but one of the biggest problem any “foreign returned” indian would find is that people transcend that personal space and step over the boundaries.

  10. Quote


    Wonderful post. I’ve always believed, that a crunch of resources brings out the human creativity. I had recently visited one of the offices, where the monitors were wall mounted. one of the developers had pushed his chair a little back, raised to its maximum height(which brought his eyes level with the monitor), & used the desk as his foot board, placed the keyboard on his lap & used his leg as the mouse pad. he had achieved the same flexibility tilting monitors would have given. Also it was good for his back since, he was forced to sit with his back supported.

    Seeing this i had suggested to him, that he might be considered disrespectful, since his feet was on the desk, he simply upturned the bin next to him & hoisted his feet on it. it was creativity at its best. All of this would not be needed, if you had the comforts of a western office.


  11. Quote
    Kumaran said May 13, 2010, 9:28 am:


    Thanks for the comments.

    Yes you are correct the strength’s are also our weakness. I guess we have to figure out a way of moving in the optimal direction.

  12. Quote
    Kumaran said May 13, 2010, 9:29 am:


    What you say is true. As I understand from other comments adaptability becomes a “bad” when it is taken to the extreme of becoming docile or self-defeatist.

  13. Quote
    Kumaran said May 13, 2010, 9:30 am:


    Thanks for the comment. Nice observation on induced creativity. 🙂

  14. Quote
    Ganesh Vaideeswaran said May 13, 2010, 10:40 am:


    Nice post. Hierarchy maybe a must in a business environment. But that should not turn into subservience/obsequiousness. I would reserve those for my father, not my boss.

    As others have said, resource constraints may lead to creativity, but can be a hindrance to productivity. So, people may accept the constraints, but if it borders on cheapness, they would be turned. Particularly, in a creative work environment like programming, I would err on the side of making it comfortable for the workers, so that their mind is uncluttered and can concentrate on the what needs to be delivered. And this should be possible, even in India.


  15. Quote
    Kumaran said May 13, 2010, 12:47 pm:


    Thanks for the comments.

    You point out an interesting where I unconsciously mixed house hierarchy with office.

    I did want to communicate that first we need to accept reality (constraints) as it exists at current point of time and that there is a reason why that exists today. After that work towards breaking/changing them. I am worried there are times people walk away telling these constraints are there so I can’t do anything about rather than understand and work with it to solve it.

    On the last line “it should be possible in India” , it is defintely possible in India. The change is happening but it is a little slow hopefully we can accelerate.

  16. Quote
    Kannan (subscribed) said May 13, 2010, 8:46 pm:

    Good points Kumaran.
    Hierarchy can be a double edged sword. Startups have little love for hierarchy, having said that hierarchy can be a wonderful binding force for a family structure. I feel inclusion of caste in our census is a promotion of hierarchy by other means!

    Regarding resource constraints I am afraid we Indians tend to put up with extreme constraints before we protest or ask for a remedy. I am confining this comment on resource constraints culture to our civic society. I have seen posh neighborhoods in India tolerate an awful civic environment which in an american society would have seen its citizens raise up in arms.

  17. Quote
    Kumaran said May 14, 2010, 6:29 pm:


    Thanks for comments.

  18. Quote

    Kumaran: Nice article.. i have a slightly different view on what we all seem to accept as productivity here. Are we searching resources outside for becoming productive? Are we truly are constrained by the resources that are made available to us? I think the western thought process of depending on instruments has slowly worked upon our indigenous minds – the minds that have shown the world what ‘intelligence’ is.. We are today at a state to believe that man-made materials that lie around us could beat our minds & brains and constraint us in terms of productivity or intelligence!.. to take it to the next level, i believe indian system made our best part of the brains to work smarter than anybody else.. we are losing them altogether…
    Most of the times, as i read through some of what has been written down through our scripts, my observation above gets stronger. Simple example, all of us are aware of ‘Panchangas’ that are published every year.. the methods & suthras used by those people are created from time unknown, and are passed on through generations – not through any written materials – but from father-to-son pattern…. and even today they do not need any supercomputers to do the predictions of when the eclipse would start, when it would end, visible in which part of the world, where will it be partial, where it would be fully visible, how the rains would be, how much % of rains would fall into sea and so many other details are calculated to perfection & predicted. And with all that modern satellites, hubbles & supercomputers, we can make sure to prove what is yielded by these ancient suthras.
    I know this is getting off topic, but my intention was to bring in another perspective of why are we so blatantly ignoring the ‘indian-ness’ and are attractively adopting western culture.

  19. Quote


    Is not hierarchy more prevalent in western society than Indian one? The family system is NOT hierarchial but role based. So as the caste system. Whereas, in the west, every social structure is institutionalised.. whether its the religious church or the NGO or any other business entity, it is systemic, and hence have a hierarchial authority.

    Even our company has a hierarchial authority, which we aim to overcome through decentralised medium like blogs & forums.

    In such case, how can we single out just Indian society alone?

    Secondly, by the culture, you have largely referred to the work culture, rather than the social culture. In that understanding, why indian workers are dynamic is because, they do not have any experience in working under any institutionalised system in the historical past. The very fundamental characteristic of Indian society is collobarative, collective and distributive. When buddha started to spread his message, he did not go for an authoratarian model.. rather he went for sanghas, which consists of council of members to take important decision.

    To an indian worker, solving the problem, or achieving the purpose is more important than how to do it.. so they are ad-hoc and target based.. whereas in the west, they are always trained under a system, and hence they are mostly process based, and hence they can work only if the standard environment is available..

    I may be wrong here.. but i am expressing the different that i perceive over west and eastern work culture..

  20. Quote
    Kumaran said May 17, 2010, 8:39 am:


    Thanks for comments. I was trying to look at what “Indian culture” means to the common man today. This is in context of the statements like “I am who I am because of indian culture”.

    The post is not a definition of Indian Culture. There are lot more aspects to Indian culture.

    It would be cool if you can do a detailed post on what you are describing.

  21. Quote
    Kumaran said May 17, 2010, 8:46 am:


    Thanks for the comments.

    I am not singling out Indian Scoiety here. The scope of post is “Indian culture” so I talk about India only. 🙂

    I am not really sure the very fundamental of Indian Society is “Collaborative”. In villages today it is the leaders of big men of village who take a decision. If you look at big families ( trading in norht Chennai ) you will see the decision is taken by eldermost in the house. I do not know of a widespread practice where the common of the villages was consulted for decision. As far as I know they were not even allowed to walk on village streets.

    For the indian worker you seem to say “End is more important means”. I believe our systems work the other way around. May be if you do a seperate post with title “Indian culture is more about end goal than path to it” with specific examples, it will be easier for me to understand.

  22. Quote

    /** As far as I know they were not even allowed to walk on village streets


    Isnt this view of yours, a sweeping generalisation? If our fundamental understanding, opinions, and perspective itself is far from reality, how can we understand the underlying culture correctly.

    I would request you to get details from those who come from village background, on these issues.

    /** I am not really sure the very fundamental of Indian Society is “Collaborative”. In villages today it is the leaders of big men of village who take a decision. If you look at big families ( trading in norht Chennai ) you will see the decision is taken by eldermost in the house. I do not know of a widespread practice where the common of the villages was consulted for decision.

    Have you attended any of the village panchayats? Or have you attended any of the village festivals? Without direct experience, how can you say indian society is NOT colloborative.

    Next, even considering your own assumption, if its NOT colloborate then what else it is? Is it authoratarian? Or is it dictatorial?

    I would like to quote a post from sukumar in this blog long back, on his experience in one of the temples he visited (i think thirukkadaiyur). In that he had picturised, how the whole temple management is done in a distributed way, and how he and his family was guided virtually by everyone.

    You are seeing only the decision taken. But you fail to notice that, the people give feedback about the decision taken. Even in big families, the decision is NOT an authority. But by mutual consensus.

  23. Quote
    Kumaran said May 17, 2010, 9:07 pm:


    If you are under the assumption I have not idea about a village or I am not from a village. You could not be more wrong.I have spent enough time in village to see the life especially as a “parayan”. So leave it at that.

    I am happy to know you have seen more families and panchayats where consensus is there. Unfortunately I have not been so lucky.

  24. Quote


    Yes. I am under the assumption that you are NOT from a village. I will correct myself, if i am wrong. I am happy to know you have village background, and i would be more interested to know about your experiences, whether positive or negative. This sastwingees community will benefit a lot from it in understanding our society at first hand.

    Ultimately, everything rests in how we view it. The world is as we look at it.

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