Will Gucci and Armani overpower India's yoga and ayurveda?
As civilisations evolved, the lines that distinguished the East and West blurred. But in an attempt to embrace the Western way of life, are we disregarding our own culture? Nisarg Kamdar analyses how Indian youth are affected by foreign influences.
Gandhiji was once asked rather innocently by a Western reporter what he made of the culture of the West. He replied with uncharacteristic wit and levity, "It would be a good idea."
As the cosmopolitan youth of India drift towards the attributes and idiosyncrasies of Western culture, these sarcasm-laced words are vividly drawn to mind.
Are we indeed progressing towards a more evolved, refined and sophisticated culture or have we set ourselves on the irreversible journey of self-destruction? Before I attempt to critically analyse this metamorphosis, let me introduce a disclaimer.
I am not a fanatic nationalist, nor do I yearn for a return to 'the glory days of the old'.
Sati and marital rape are two contentions a national debate on the polarities of the world finds itself stuck in.
There exists veritable proof of the vicious aforementioned activities flourishing untrammelled in the heart of India.
I find the concept of a globalised nation enticing and remain taken up by the allure of a just society, rather than one undermined by the weak foundations of blind faith.
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Image: All images for representational purposes only
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters
The grass is always greener on the other side
An inherent inferiority complex is an epithet apt for the Indian mentality.
From all-pervasive colour, class and caste racism to the fascination with Caucasian-looking skin, Indian society seems to have a perennial chip-on-the-shoulder dilemma.
From this derives the rotten myth, sadly more pervasive among the (semi-) educated classes, that anything with the stamp of Western approval transcends any superior indigenous examples of ingenuity.
While part of this comes from the urge of the elites to delineate themselves from the proletariats, who are limited to local produce by their scarce resources, another factor is also the manufactured deprecation and assumed inferiority of homegrown products.
Vrushali Ambedkar, a first-year engineering student at the DJ Sanghvi College of Engineering contends that, "Indian culture has evolved over time. It's unfortunate that people deliberately highlight the negative points to pull down a sound and civil culture. This is the proverbial 'the grass is greener on the other side' syndrome."
At times, it takes Western approval for us to respect our own roots!
Photographs: Carlos Barria/Reuters
Modern day influences and the Western infatuation
Present circumstances, especially with economic liberalisation and the subsequent staggering growth, have certainly given Western culture its fair share of thrust.
Western brands are a coveted treasure and have become household names in skyscrapers and slums alike. The certain allure attached to them as objects of desire has captured a huge section of the middle class.
The peculiar aspect to note here is how elites drop brands if they move out of the bracket of exclusivity.
Maybe this Western infatuation can be attributed to maintaining and fortifying social status by seeking to facilitate feelings of mystery and enigma, rather than any particular prejudice.
The lack of signature status has certainly made a dent in local handicraft and fabric businesses. But institutions have collectively worked to undermine and destabilise indigenous supremacy.
Take the case of the traditional Indian beverage of a lassi, chaas or thandai being phased out for the highly nutritious local cola. This, in spite of the knowledge that Indian beverages like aam panna, jal jeera, thandai, lassi, chhanch or nimbu paani are prepared to beat the sultry Indian summer heat, and chai as well as the popular filter coffee to provide warmth during winters.
But in our inexplicable concupiscence to imitate Western buffoons we have dismissed them as crass, asinine and inelegant, forsaking them for the pesticide-infested soft drinks.
The irony? Today, you have the average urban resident shelling out an exorbitant sum for a packaged bottle of that very 'shoddy' beverage packaged by the same cola maker, when he could consume the same for a pittance in the warm and gracious ensconce of his living room. Donkeys have more common sense!
Another pertinent example is the running shoes gimmick. The Western barons made a fortune out of tricking the fitness freak clique into purchasing shoes at prices, which can mildly be described as extravagant.
Then arrived the bummer. A front page story on a popular daily carried a report on the various health and fitness benefits of running bare foot rather than cuddled in those cretinous shoes, something long propagated by blaring clarions of our homeland.
The benefits of running unshod, especially on sand, are well researched and documented. But why bother until a Western study with the stamp of some fancy university shines some light on the claptrap sitting in your very backyard?
The pages might dry down, the examples could fill a bottomless barrel. Plonkers like me will cry themselves hoarse, oceans of ink will be spent breast beating but what remains is the study by that suave college down by the Thames.
As Abhishek Karandikar so lucidly puts it, "As for them being more civilised with regards to rigidly following civic rules, yes they lead by example. But the hypocrites that they are, can't they follow the shining example of social behaviour they strive to enforce?"
Just to put things into perspective, how many times has the peace-loving Western world destroyed the homes of innocent people under the garb of peace keeping?
They value freedom but unite to deprive other states of their sovereignty. This is not to say that the Eastern world is tolerant.
But if your actions, words and thoughts are not exactly in sync, it is a sure-shot sign of complete lack of civility."
Photographs: Joe Raedle/Getty Images
The sitcom angle
Western sitcom broadcasts have become all the rage these days, what with many fanatical clubs springing up and the 'wholesome' entertainment they offer.
Couple that with the morally disgusting Indian soap debacles and you have a potent cultural upswing here. Or is it?
While many hold Western broadcasts as superior programming with higher production values thus culminating in enhanced entertainment, they may argue that it's a forum for a subliminal cultural push.
While they certainly free and unclutter thought, bereft of parochial considerations, something which we would do well to emulate, they have also sought to stand for excessive drinking, gambling, licentious and promiscuous behaviour -- characteristics which get labelled as vices in civil societies.
Image: Promotional still for sitcom 'The Big Bang Theory'
Photographs: Rediff Archives
Where the East beats the West
We may litter our roads, pay bribes and honk incessantly. But these examples cannot qualify as proof of being 'uncultured'.
It's not these attributes that define us, instead it is our values, our commitment to non-violence and respect for freedom that highlight our culture. In the process of aping the West, let us hope not to lose out on these attributes.
The sense of independence, which often borders on selfishness, is a trend that has travelled from the Western world into our borders.
Despite living in a materialistic world with an enviable quality of life, many Westerners are running eastward to find meaning and peace in their fast-paced lives.
They crave spiritual knowledge, appreciate Indian meditation techniques and the wisdom of our practices.
Are we heading in the same direction towards a problem despite being blessed with its solution?
Image: Foreign tourists indulge in meditation, satsang and Puja at an event in Bangalore
Photographs: Rediff Archives
Are we trapped in a cultural web?
Abhishek weighs in again: "Civilisation is also about the extent of one's development as a person. Many in the Eastern world can easily adapt to their languages and values. Civilisation is not a set code of conduct with competitions between others. It's the assimilation of good values that allow mankind to progress without compromising on morals and conscience."
Siddarth Chandrasekaran attempts to straddle the fence saying, "Everyone wants change now. Westerners are trying to ape our lifestyles and we are living theirs. They love yoga, ayurveda, Indian classical music and we, Gucci, Armani and Kim Kardashian for that matter!"
Does this indulgence in a never ending eulogy of Indian cultural values masquerade the severe lack of morality felt in all spheres of life among those fanatically embedded in the very fabric that constitutes the widely paraded value system?
Do we have the objectivity of selecting what qualities are worth adopting? Or will we be trapped in a cultural web and in the process lose our identity and weaken our roots? The jury's still out.
Photographs: Rediff Archives