Why Do Indians Love Giving Free Advice?


Why Do Indians Love Giving Free Advice?

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Most animals and birds are born with basic life skills – swimming, flying, walking. Humans are a little different. We are born completely useless and need to be taught everything. Well, almost everything. Unless you’re Indian. Then the art of giving advice is one of those skills that comes naturally to you, along with making many babies and marrying complete strangers.

But when and how did we master the art of giving free advice? Is it the all-encompassing wisdom of several generations that we call our “elders”? Is it concern masking itself in a bunch of annoying words? Or is it a result of a repressed superiority complex that comes across in casual conversations over drinks?

Brought down to its basics, there are two facets to doling out free advice: The first being the actual advice being offered. The second, and more often the ignored part, is the context, or the source from which the advice comes. Usually, in our country the source is an elder person, although us Oscar Wilde’s “young-enough-to-know-everything” kinds are also throwing it around these days.

Back in the day, until you physically met someone, you were safe from their advice. Today, there’s a blitzkrieg of advice everywhere you go – it comes to us in the form of good morning WhatsApp messages, it’s handed out through shifty SMSes, and it’s the first thing you see when you log in to the internet. In fact, social media thrives on this advice business. I have always wondered who is the one giving advice and who is the one taking it? Are these people professionals? Or is it a free for all? Because if everyone’s giving advice and nobody’s listening, I don’t think we can call it advice anymore. It’s called Twitter.

We convince people to finally take that bike trip to Ladakh, be sympathetic towards cats, and eat vegetarian once in a while.

Jokes apart, the art of giving advice has evolved over the years. Earlier, the kind of advice you would get could be broadly categorised into three life stages:

The first is the pre-board-exams phase. This is when all good Indian boys and girls are told to take up science, not commerce, and never arts. Then they are asked to listen to their parents and not talk about the opposite sex. Also you are expected to know everything that they ask you in your exams because if you don’t you are doomed and spend your life shuffling between rehabs.  

The next stage, lasts from post-board exams until the day you are married. During this period, you’ll hear plenty about stable careers, security deposits, steady incomes, and subordination.

Then comes post-marriage advice: You are told to buy a home, how to take loans of all kinds, when to have children, what activities you shouldn’t indulge in with your children, etc. (Note: Once you’re a parent, your advice will be considered a taunt.)

But things have changed a little today. Now no one wants to offer advice on marriage and investments. In a desperate attempt to appear woke, Indians have now started giving out advice about Tinder, LinkedIn, and netbanking. You will even get advice on how to reply to spam emails, how to deal with office politics, advice on lift etiquette and on which gender you should be.

Health advice has blossomed into a whole new industry worth millions today – with some writing books on how kale is the future of all foods and protein bars are the best in-between snack and whatnot.

Another blooming industry, is the one based on travel advice. Not the kind that tells you where to go, of course that would be merely a suggestion, but instead the kind that explains why you should travel abroad to beautiful destinations and how this will enrich you. This is only useful if you earn big bucks and currently can’t figure out a way to spend your money. For the rest of us, who are excited by that trip to Lonavala every year, this is just poor advice.

But why do Indians love giving advice so much? And how many really follow their own? I think this art is a form of second-hand living. As Indians, our socialist realities didn’t create prosperity the way it did for the South Koreans, leading to most of us not being able to fulfil our goals.

So when we give advice, we want whoever’s listening to live that experience for us. We want other people to follow their hearts, to give up their jobs, and start that restaurant. We convince people to finally take that bike trip to Ladakh, be sympathetic towards cats, and eat vegetarian once in a while. Everything we didn’t do, couldn’t do, or chose not to do, and regretted it later, comes back in the form of advice. It doesn’t come from a place of wisdom, but regret.

Anyway, as long I am not expected to take any advice, I’m happy getting it. But I often wonder, will my regrets pile up enough to turn into advice.