Friday, 15 June 2007

This Commodity called Culture

The Meditation Lady solemnly declares, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama was once questioned about the concept of self-hatred. Unable to understand the word, he requested a translation in Tibetan. And sure enough, the distinctly ‘western’ notion of hating and judging the self didn’t exist in his language, or, for that matter, in his culture.”

The Experimental Musician sips a freshly brewed cup of camomile tea at Om Organic Café. The beads-clad Blonde-turned-Brunette sashays through the crowd in an ankle-length cotton skirt. The newly-bald Recent Convert to Buddhism practices patience in a supermarket queue. The Afro-haired Prince Charming chats up with a Jehovah’s Witness. The backache-prone Yoga Practitioner takes the lift to his first-floor office. The Curry Lover asks for more meat than sauce in his main course meal. The Vegan thinks…we all need to get back to our roots.

After two years of living in a Western Society, these are the tokens I see of the East. And what do I see when I go back to the East? Much more than tokens of the West. Hybridity abounds, but unfortunately, so does misrepresentation.

Premier Rann gives a glorified speech to the New Citizens of the state. He himself has visited India, and is bent on pointing out the similarities as opposed to the differences between the two nations. We are both democracies, and we both value our multi-culturalism. Sorry Uncle Rann, your good intentions aside, we don’t call it multi-culturalism in India. We prefer the more pedantic Secularism. So Prime Ministers don’t mourn over Popes and Popes don’t Cry about Wars.

Agreed we have communal riots now and then, inter-religion marriages are still frowned upon, but things are Changing. The average urban youth is a Hinglish-speaking Kylie fan with a distant cousin studying in America. He/she is not living in a mono-culture, or a hybrid-culture, but a culture where culture is not self-consciously multi-cultural. Where culture does not try to Include or Assimilate. Where culture is not a Melting-Pot or a Soup or a Mosaic. Culture is just human nature not yet subjected to the inward gaze of postmodernism.

When I came to Australia, I was asked what my mother tongue was. Probably Hindi, because that is the national language of my home country. Or Punjabi, the tongue of the religion I was born into. Maybe Urdu, the official language of my state. Perhaps it is none of these, because I do not Think in any of these languages. I learned more Punjabi while working at an Indian restaurant in Adelaide than I would have ever learned in my particular social circle in India. And my English, formerly the Queen’s version passed down to generations of post-colonial subjects, is now closer to the colloquial jargon of a native speaker. But worst of all, I am Conscious of my Accent. I am Aware of being Different. I am an Ethnic person in a multi-cultural society.

Who then, is not Ethnic? Is multi-culturalism only relevant for the countless Ethnicities? If it only implies food and travel for the majority; if it is another consumer durable for a shopping-friendly society; if it only means world music and world cinema for the arty-farty…then a few Oxfams are adequate.

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