Recently, I read a comparison of cultures based on whether a person should ask for something or wait for it to be offered. In the asking cultures, a person is free to ask for anything, anytime. They don’t know whether they will get a yes or a no, but there’s no harm in asking. The party being asked feels free to deny the request, give what’s asked, or think it over for a while. In the other type of culture, one only asks for something if they are reasonably sure they will get it. And the person being asked feels impelled to say yes. They may be annoyed with the request if they are refusing it.
It seems to me (and I could be wrong) that the asking kind of culture seems to fit into cultures that practice sharing resources. The offering kind seems to fit into cultures that are more possessive of material resources.
In The Milk Lady of Bangalore, we’ve already seen Sarala asking Shoba for all kinds of things. The section we read this week (the first half of Part 2) gets more in depth into these practices.
I imagine that many of us who have moved from offering cultures into asking cultures have felt the pressure Shoba felt when she moved back to India. At first, she intended to refuse to give anything to people who worked for her. No loans (or advances, as they prefer to call them), no hand-outs, don’t even ask. Gradually, she changed her policy, had too much “borrowed” and not returned, then changed her policy again and again. Have you been there? How do you decide whether to give an advance or not?
I love the term advance instead of loan. As Shoba says, “It suggests progress and betterment—latent potential turning into reality…A loan is cold and cutting. An advance is civilized.”
Shoba saw a therapist for a while after repatriating, and I am so glad she includes this in her book. She tells about one meeting with the therapist. Shoba didn’t want to be seen as a gravy train, just waiting for people to come along asking for advances. She had started to fake conversations with the loan officer at the bank so that people (Sarala especially) would see that she also had financial constraints. After explaining that economic inequalities really bothered her, her therapists advised her to “revel in [her] relationships.”
This is good advice for us, too! I think that when our focus is on our relationships, we are more fulfilled, more satisfied, more content, more at home.
When Shoba began to approach Sarala’s request for a cow relationally, she came up with a way to respond that she could be at peace with, considering that Sarala intended to pay her back but would be unlikely to do so – donating a cow in honor of her father and father-in-law’s 80th birthdays. It was both creative and unorthodox. The priest explicitly told her that donating a cow “isn’t an act of charity unless you donate said cow to a Brahmin.” Also, it had to be a native Indian breed. Sarala isn’t a Brahmin and wanted a hybrid breed. Shoba decided that it would be ok.
Though Shoba didn’t want to be seen as a gravy train, she seems to have been doing well enough financially. When she told Sarala of her book deal, Sarala responded, “That is what is called a cow’s blessing, Madam.” For Sarala, everything ties back to the cow.
Join me in the comments. What did you think of the cow market? Or the cow donation procedure? What are you thinking about from this section of the book?
Next week we will finish the book – including the Post Script!
In October and November we’ll be going a little slower and digging into Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey by Sarah Shin. Here’s a summary of the book:
“People say they don’t see race. But this approach has limitations. In our broken world, ethnicity and racial identity are often points of pain and injustice. We can’t ignore that God created us with our ethnic identities. We bring all of who we are, including our ethnicity and cultural background, to our identity and work as God’s ambassadors.”