Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Oh brother!

When you lift up something to question it, against what light do you hold it? I've been quite vocal about the importance of questioning everything; our thoughts, actions, intentions, beliefs. But I've come to realize that our conditioning is so deep, that it seeps through even when we break something down to analyse it.
I recently saw a post that had gotten many admirers. It ridiculed the Tamil practice of calling strangers or acquaintances 'anna', 'akka', 'amma'. (brother, sister, mother) I was saddened. When I use these words or hear them used, I don't see it as frivolous. It is not done out of fear, or to manipulate. More than anything, I see it as the remnants of a culture that was so steeped in human connection, so open and willing to recognize the invisible bond between us that our language simply reflected this. It is as an acknowledgment, as natural as calling someone by their name. In an instant, it cuts through a few layers of the formality that we've cloaked ourselves in.
In mocking it, I saw behind the writer's words something that has been weaving itself into Indian culture aggressively; westernization.
In the west, it would be ridiculous to walk up to someone and call them 'brother'. Neither the language nor the societal framework make allowances for it. You would have to be eccentric, or trace your ancestry to some tribe for it to be received without surprise. Basically, you'd have to be wearing a feather in your hair.

Indians seem to have failed in recognizing the difference between modernization and westernization. I cannot bear to switch the television on to regional channels today. Soap operas, reality shows, award shows- all very poor, cheaply done copies of American television. Anchors in stuffy costumes shouting at the audience and the cameras, the stage covered in glitter and horrendously mismatching backdrops, glorifying fame, desperately trying to project the image that is the pinnacle of success and happiness. It's like the media is determined to embrace the very worst of what it sees from across the oceans.
I've been to a therukoothu- a street drama performance that was common before TV exploded on the scene. They begin with an introduction. The person who speaks then does not shout- they know the art of voice projection. The actors actually act, the subject material actually says something of interest, the people who watch are free to interpret what they see. They did not kill art for the sake of entertainment.
An iconic actor, a lover of art, who protests any smoking or alcohol warning message that appears on screen in his movies because it insults his art, in now hosting our first ever season of Big Boss. Even when we were swinging from the trees and defecating in the open, we were more civilized than the people depicted in that show. The intention behind it is sickening.

I've heard arguments that media is an art form and should not be burdened with social responsibility. As good as that sounds on paper, it's not so straightforward. You're not dealing with a bunch of enlightened masters who know what to to take and what to dismiss. A vast majority of our masses have no access to education or are being educated in a system that leaves them with very little analytical skills. They are learning from what they watch. And what they watch and idolize, of late, is scary stuff. We can all see it happening. I see my maid's adult son sporting a cool hairstyle, refusing to find employment and taking pride in being 'street tough'. It's like seeing Dhanush stepping out of one his movies. You can't keep sending the same message, over and over again, and call it art. You can't just blindly tear out bits from other cultures and present the mess you've created as art. And importantly, you can't pretend that that mess does not influence life.
It may be that the West, in its new age spiritualism and embracing of practices like meditation and Yoga, eventually goes on to use 'brother' and 'sister' on the street. I wonder- will it suddenly be easier to swallow then, for our modern Indians? Will it then carry the seal of approval that has become so necessary?
"Hey man, how much do those bananas cost?"
"Dude, lend me a few bucks."
"Hey gal, how's business today?"
Translate any of those into any Indian language and savor the utter ridiculousness of referring to people using their gender or their species. And now tell me, how can it possibly be better than the warmth and instant connection that you get from 'anna', or 'amma'.
When you lift up something to question it, my beautiful brothers and sisters, be sure to look at the light that you are holding it up to.

No comments:

Post a Comment