Don’t screw Holi!/ Tradition v/s ecology

Its Holi time. 🙂 The best time (for some) to be in India. It is a global party to prepare ourselves of the terrible weather that will soon turn us into homebodies – scared of stepping out in the day time 45 degree dust bowls. One last day of being out and enjoying it – beat the heat with style.

Social media, the zeitgeist barometer, though indicates a different Holi to me this year. On the one hand, there are people talking about the HoliCow party – stripping holi to its most basic ritual, and turning it into a modern dance banality. And on the other, there’s concerned city folks who are advocating abstention from the whole thing – save water/ “Think of the poor” – droughts across India/ natural herbal colors as replacement for the more energetic color+water combination.

(Should we blame this on ACs? I have a hypothesis – Holi will be played more vigorously in towns where there is low penetration of Air-Condition machines. There is a correlation between ‘forever weather’ (AC) and demise of ‘weather/ time rituals’ (festivals such as Holi.). (note to self – death of time.))

Both attitudes indicate a basic degeneration of the festival. I would concern myself with the later for this post.

Old tradition – the sacrificial lamb on the altar of new gods
The Hindu society has no crucifixion equivalent central narrative of a knowing and willful sacrifice (not that I know of). But with the western media consumption, there is an appreciation for such a sacrifice and an implicit sense of sin, though it might manifest differently.
“Ecology is the new opium of the masses, replacing religion” says Slavoy Zizek.

So what that means in this context is – the original sin now, is towards nature – we feel that we are creating an ‘imbalance’ with our acts of excess and dereliction of our effects. While, this sense of original sin towards nature is now almost universal, the implication in India is new.
We (urban Indians) are ‘sacrificing’ our festivals and rituals at the altar of our new religion – ecology. 

The feud: modernity V/s tradition  

Yes. we must be more conscious of our consumption, but how is it that this dialogue surfaces only in the context of our traditions and rituals? It never occurs to people to switch from shower to bucket bath, or from car ride to bike ride (or even better, bicycle ride), or from wasteful quick service restaurant food to traditional foods. (served in plastic v/s metal plates. excess tissue papers/ no tissue paper.)

It seems that the modern ecological consciousness activates itself only in offense against the traditional practices. It seems that urban India can only see modernity and traditions as  dual opposites, (even as they lamely try to negotiate between two)

Sacrifice of the other
The urban thought culture sees traditions in context of the other India – poorer, backward, the one that needs to learn from the urban.
(cracker less diwali, colorless holi – Project deIndianisation. Q: ‘what did you do in Diwali?’ A: ‘saw TV’). 
(Either objectify – holi in vrindavan with firangs. or strip it of its meaning – holi in HoliCow in Delhi with EDM playing)

The operative assumptions (wrongfully) are
Traditions = non urban India, aspirations = urban India
the sacrifice must come from this other India that doesn’t know better. (would you dig a mine under marine drive if you find oil underneath?) (power outages – 0 hours in Mumbai, 15-18 hours in many villages)

 A possibility
How about exercising moderation always? don’t kill our festivities, kill the wastage.
Being able to waste is a sign of wealth, so people have incentive to waste.
Brand wasters as idiots. go ahead, next time you see someone wasting food/ water/ electricity – call him/her an ‘idiot’.
Shift the object of our offensive from our traditions to our excesses.
Stop being a spoil sport. Go play Holi.

On why it took a firang to start FabIndia/ OR Why India still can’t chart its own modernity

Exhibit 1a. Girl wearing a chuda, off for clubbing late at night

This is one of those simplistic visual tropes one might expect in any ‘tradition meets modernity’ narrative.
In one of the automobile brand ads, I believe there is one such shot too.
(the brand champions the insight about modernity being tempered by the Indian youth in Indian terms. What this assumes is – to be Indian is to be ritualistic. and to be urban/modern is to reject the rituals. Brands come to rescue us here and provides an in between truce. ‘Adjust kar lo‘.)

Usually the narrative is set in the premise of ‘victory of the young’, as ‘smart strategist’.

Smart strategy – yes – to the extent that traditions and modernity, both are reduced to mere symbols that are entertained for maintaining the status quo. That’s the strategy- to strip our acts off their meanings.

Why wear a chuda? ‘I am supposed to. must be the right thing. I am confident now of being Indian. This is ethnic cool.’
Why go dance to yo yo Honey Singh in crowded clubs? ‘that is what i am supposed to do to have fun.’

Both acts – wearing chuda, clubbing regularly – seem to be acts whose will is outside of the person doing it.
A part of the society wants you to wear Chuda, so you do that. Another part of the the society tells you that you cannot really be ‘free’ and have ‘fun’, unless you spend a quarter of your income in expensive clubs.  and you do it too.
There is no ‘victory of the young’. The young are supplicating to whatever forces they are subjected to.

They are supplicating to not just one god, but many gods! and that is being a true Indian.
Second misreading – its not the confidence of being Indian that is allowing people to continue practicing old rituals. Its the permission from the western image that ‘allows’ us to feel confident about our own rituals. We look to west for what is acceptable and what is not, for we deem ourselves incapable of charting our own modernity.
(why is the image of a man wearing a mundu,woman wearing a salwar kameez in corporate offices, sacrilegious? why wear coat and tie in the hot tropical climate? if modernity is about rationality, what is the rationality behind the uniform of coat and tie for corporate image?)
When the western image accommodates an Indian images (that it cannot understand) as ethnic/ exotic, we in return also see our own traditions and rituals as ethnic/ exotic.
See how us city folks pronounce the words ‘Mahabharata’ or ‘Ramayana’,
or how we tend to act as outsiders at traditional events, we literally keep ourselves at the periphery.
Or how there is still an audience for ‘America returned do-gooder’.
It took a firang to start FabIndia and such. The cultural industry of Indian identity is almost entirely run by Firang, for firang.
The visa to ethnic pride still gets stamped in the western image. 
Another observation by Saba Dewan – 

“Why are the new jingles based on a reworking of old Hindi film songs sung in this fake, ‘firang’ accented Hindustani? Regular desi speak not good enough uhnn? We need to sing even good old Hindi filmy songs in some phony nowhere accent to match our ‘global’ aspirations?”

What does it mean to not being able to see ourselves with our own eyes? that we need a western eye to recognize our own  self?
We Indians can accept ourselves, only ironically. Its as if we do not exist outside the conscience of the white man. If we are not recognized/interpreted by the west, we probably do not (should not) exist. (Imagine Dongria Kondh’s fight without Survival international’s image building. Imagine the futility.)

P.S. – Again.. wearing chuda/ going to club – both acts by a woman. Tradition and modernity, both hold women responsible for transacting with symbols of meaning. A man’s act is invisible to the civilizational meaning, but a women’s is not. heavy unfair imbalance.

The rabid dog.

Saw ‘pom poko‘. Its a story of how an able, happy community of tanukis face their extinction in the face of rapid urbanisation that causes the loss of their homeland, their lifestyle and their food.

Its really amazing how Japanese movie makers so empathetically voice dissent while fully cognizant of the futility of it all. The sense of capitulation at the climax of many such movies are scripted in a way to invoke not a sense of loss, but a sense of preservation of whatever small life, pride and identity is left. Under the mask of laughter, there is a vigorous attempt at forgetting the loss and making the most of the present. I wonder how deeply has Hiroshima affected the Japanese psyche, or does this sense of ‘interal triumph in face of imminent capitulation’ goes beyond Hiroshima, in their amazingly rich culture?
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while thinking of this, got reminded of the Japanese response to the Tsunami in march 2011. Had read about their belief of ‘wa wo mottte toutoshi to nasu.’ (regarding the importance of consensus and harmony) that was the hallmark of the amazingly dignified response to the catastrophe.
But while this consensus and harmony was exercised by Japanese in the face of a disaster, the disavowal of the same principle led to the nuclear disaster. At the heart of nuclear technology is the removal of natural effects from the equation of harmony. Without clear answers about nuclear safe disposal, its risk, the modernity bogey has been pushing the world to consume more n more of energy.

Modernity first erased nature and life of animals from the equation of ‘consensus and harmony’. While most ancient cultures through out the world appreciate the importance and relate to a life of co-existence with nature, the ‘New world’ methodically reduced the world outside of humans to nothing more than a ‘resource’.
As the resource got scarce, the second wave of reduction from the equation came in the form of negating certain sets of people from the consideration of ‘consensus and harmony’. So adivasis, minorities, eocnomies outside of the connected world… started facing the ‘othering’.
As the pace of change accelerated, there remained no place for the equation at all in the world. The world is now an anarchy of economic interests. The world does not recognise any other interest at all. Its a blind raging animal. Its like the rabid dog, that is driven to its doom.

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Originally published at The rabid dog.

On how it is ok to be ordinary

Ordinariness has such melancholic grace to it. Perhaps, its the finality of its evident fall that leads to submission, that stillness.

Just saw the movie ‘The illusionist‘. Its script was written by Jacques Tati, one of the most wonderful film makers ever. Most of his movies are keen empathetic witnesses to the effect of modernity on a simple human existence. When I saw his movie, ‘playtime’, I was spellbound with the many layers of stories woven in a comic portrayal of  a man navigating a modern city.
Watching the Illusionist, reminded me of the fragility of our identity. The movie is about a magician who is finding it more and more difficult to get work due to advent of modern entertainment of rock music and television. One scene is especially telling, when people in the cities are not at all interested in his acts, while in a village in Scotland, his acts gets appreciated. A woman tags along being awestruck with his ways. He tries to earn more to keep her happy, but she finds happiness with another young man. His fragile existence, a function of a bygone era, is erased when he puts a note to her saying ‘magicians do not exist’ and leaves. He sets free the rabbit that had been his trusted aide in magic tricks for years. One is left wondering, what is he going to do with his life now? But no such worry seems to paint his face. He has simply accepted the end of his identity as a magician.

It made me wonder about my own career too. Since I was a kid I have always known exactly what I want to do with my life, and how I want to lead it. The conception of a life was blamelessly grand and simple. It was simply a business between me and ‘the world’. Of course I was born for greatness.

But somewhere along the way came the question of money and debt. And now what must be done is to judiciously carve a route that will keep me as close to my desired life while being able to earn enough money too, without the aim of greatness. (well, towards nothingness really. more about it later.)

A few years of walking the safe path and you start appreciating the hardship that you are not compelled to do. Hence the simplicity of labor becomes all the more alluring. But great things are simple too. and though they are alluring, your safe distance keeps you away from greatness too. You know that you are not Ajinkya (Invincible). That you are quite ordinary really. And all of a sudden, life becomes so much easier. The self-imposed weight now lifted, you can aim of nothingness and be happy.

But then my chosen identity, that of a ad man, is so fragile. I was in that industry for a while, and now intend to get back into it for good, but our addiction for change will force extinction of my identity as a planner too in some time.

Well, good then. It makes my life easier really. It took a long time for me to accept career as a industry and a role. Earlier, I could only imagine career as what I would learn and how that will shape my life and experiences. I guess, the later view of career is better. I do not remain susceptible to times then. My life doesn’t remain just about my labour then.
After-all, I am more than my 10 hours of weekdays.

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Originally published at On how it is ok to be ordinary

Imagination and all its sisters

 

What makes one cling to fantasies so dearly? I can understand the impulse to run away from your life. But what color is your courage that pushes you beyond the limits of truth? To suspend reality and recede in thoughts. To forget and to belong.

I just saw a docudrama ‘catfish‘. The movie chronicles online exchanges that is just about to evolve into a  relationship which takes a new turn due to uncovering of a deception. While I suspect that it might be scripted itself, it certainly strikes you with its reality. Our reality, that is only defined by the deceptions around us.

How fragile are we? To need to run away from reality so often? So your partner vice is the cigarette, his’ is grass (respect!), her’s is booze, but everyone’s hooked onto the internet the most.

Kids slip deep under the blanket to escape reality. But when someone takes away the blanket, the kid has to face the real world. Game over. Grown ups shut down the world around and populate the world inside with assumptions and make-believe stories. (Stuff fanatics are made of) Their blanket takes some work to be taken away. The blanket that is readily available these days to us, young and old, is quite alluring for its potency in anonymity and versatility in creating make-believe world – the internet.

I was wondering by giving us this individual escape towards togetherness, we are allowing us to slide to a more fragile world. Imagination has been the hallmark of human existence but it often was a collaborative act in search of strength. So the evening ritual of song and dance of our ancestors perhaps created enough noise and energy to frighten away possible predators (and more potent mythical fears) and give the group some courage.

Quick fix courage = Forgetting + imagination 
Forgetting real world; imagining a new one.

But the nature of imagination has now changed.
Imagination is no more a collaboration in real proximity in space and spirit. Digital world fragmented the act of imagination. Now the act of seeking courage is inverted. The demons of everyday boredom do not get tamed very easily. The inversion has to be fantastic. So now the courage is sought digitally not along with fellow tribesmen but tested against other men/women, and wholly supported by one’s own imagination. Cruel pressures of individuality. Its the entrance fee to enter this generation.
Its like the digital world is a tub filled with bubbles of imagination floating around, waiting to hit and hurt each other, until you find one that gets merged without question.

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Originally published at Imagination and all its sisters.

‘Adjust kar lo’

The Indian auto rickshaw is made for at max carrying 3 reasonably weighing people. But often I see families haggling with the driver to let one or two more people crowd in the small backseat. The fact is that just the shopping of an average Indian family will require an auto rickshaw, let alone the big fussy family. They don’t want to go separately. Its not that they can’t afford to get 2 autos. But they would not even want to travel apart. Family that shops together, eats together, laughs together also travels together. A vehicle is an enabler. It could have identity connotation, but its not as personal as .. say a cell phone is. (A recent research we did found out that for people, cell phone is the most personal thing. The man shared everything with his wife, but not his cell phone.)
As against say US, where a car that can carry 4 people, is used by an individual. It’s perhaps the strongest personal identity statement there. (correct me if I am wrong.)
So while for Indians, a tool of connectivity and communication is a personal identity statement, western world has more things that would need to be personal.perhaps its a function of opulence.(In rural heartland perhaps the concept of personal space does not even exist and along with urbanity, the ‘need’ for personal space is born and increases thereby.)
Anyway, i am digressing here..
I was wondering if you could see such an happening (where family is haggling with Taxi driver to take more people in) in developed world. Would they trade the convenience of lesser people and driving in convoys with the uncomfortable experience of sharing a cab ride with so many people and so much inconvenience, just so that the family can travel together? This has many implications.. safety, comfort, efficacy, time..
Would you want to be uncomfortably stuffed in a vehicle which will be unsafe and probable entail slow travel to reduce risk?
I guess an Indian family assumes that they must travel together and later variables are adjusted accordingly. So they will drive slower, someone will be on the lookout and assistance. there would be some ‘accommodations’.
Would it be right to assume that perhaps out of this subcontinent, convenience and safety would get higher weightage in consideration? perhaps, they are not as fatalistic and would want to show concern for the family and break it up in multiple vehicles. Perhaps, Time is of consequence.. and the systems are built with convenience and efficacy in mind, people are bound to take up those assumptions.
The efficiency assumption and safety paranoia defines the first world’s considerations. (Among Indians, a paranoiac want of bottled water is a sign of  upward mobility; an attempt at first world citizenry.) However, Indians don’t have ‘faster, higher, stronger’ in their ethos really. So while an Indian would say ‘adjust kar lo’.. the first world counterpart, in his bewilderment, would perhaps not know what is happening 😛