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India Anthropologist Finds Denmark Wanting : Research: He laments the loneliness and lack of human values in remote village and asks if prosperity can be achieved without such sacrifices.

June 20, 1993|CHRISTOPHER FOLLETT | REUTERS

COPENHAGEN — Indian anthropologist Prakash Reddy has turned the tables on Western colleagues who put Third World cultures under the microscope.

Reddy, of Sri Venkateswara University at Tirupati in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, spent four months in the village of Hvilsager--population 104--on Denmark's Jutland peninsula.

His study, published in book form in English under the title "Danes are like that!" expresses dismay at the loneliness he found and the hope that India would not have to pay the same price for prosperity.

"The most fundamental question that should bother every social scientist in the East is: Is there no way of achieving development without sacrificing the human values and the way of life cherished by homo sapiens?" he asked.

"A social scientist from a Third World country studying a Western society is rare," he said. "Scores of Western anthropologists go visiting societies in the developing world for long field work. The reverse is unheard of."

Reddy said he found a neat and tidy, cozy little society, stiff, rigid and seemingly full of practical, down-to-earth but lonely people, isolated from each other and lacking much sense of religion.

Compared to the teeming villages of India, the Danish hamlet seemed deserted and closed. To an Indian, accustomed to constant close contact in an extended family and community, Danish life was cold if not nonexistent, Reddy said.

"Coming from an Indian village, I was used to seeing people in the streets . . . but here in Denmark not a single soul was sighted and, except for the sound of a passing automobile, absolute silence prevailed," Reddy wrote.

His conclusions have upset some villagers.

They accuse the Indian academic of moralizing rather than observing local village life.

Nina Hoegh, an English language teacher, wrote to Reddy: "My opinion is that any development has a price; you cannot have it all. . . . However, I think that we gained more than we lost in developing into the society we are today in Denmark."

Reddy believes that the villagers, though well-off and hard working, have no sense of community, with little spontaneous social contact and negligible family life.

"My exposition of Danish life might lead one to view the Danish people as unemotional, unspiritual and individualistic--separating the private from the public, life at work from home life," he wrote.

"The villagers live behind closed doors and hedges, running between home and office, time conscious, their children thinking incoherently, their family life confused."

Besides the scarcity of children, Reddy was struck by the fact that only one-fifth of the villagers were employed in farming, with most residents using the village as a dormitory suburb in which they did not communicate with their neighbors.

Reddy wrote:

"The Danish personality is too individualistic and this, coupled with the tendency to divide every aspect of life from material things to space and time into 'mine' or 'yours,' also creates problems for adjustments and compromises in family life . . . making it difficult for their egos to cope with lasting relationships (with the opposite sex).

"By the time a Danish man or woman enters into a third or fourth marriage, no doubt they are experienced enough not to commit the same old mistakes . . . perhaps they also learn to make the compromises which are essential to lead a smooth marital and family life."

After a life of loneliness, excessive independence and privacy, Danes end their days in old peoples' homes, Reddy said, adding that most of them were surprisingly happy about it. Some said it would be pleasant to receive more visits from their children, he said.

"The lives of the old men and women in Denmark are not all silver-lined clouds; there are dark clouds . . . the most important difficulty for them is loneliness," he wrote.

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