Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What is Indian Culture!

I recently visited Ladakh which I always thought as a magical and mystical land. And so it is. The Place is so stunning that when you see it for first time you can’t help but get overawed. What make it mystical, apart from moon like terrain, are its denizens, most of who practice Buddhism, a mystical religion and way of life. Ladakh literally means land of high passes, surrounded by greater Himalayan passes, some of which are highest in world. Being in rain shadow, it hardly ever rains in Ladakh which explains the harsh, rocky dessert terrain. Ladakhis have a unique culture of their own which was created by various influences from traveling mendicants of Tibet to tradesmen stopping -by en-road the legendry skill route.

The joy of travel and seeing a new place increases when you can indulge in a culture different than yours. While on a trek in Ladakh with my friend, I stayed with a Ladakhi family in a village as there were no hotels or lodges in the area. It was wonderful to spend time in a traditional Buddhist family. They invited us in their kitchen, let us see Buddhist prayer being performed by a lama, all the while supplying us Thukpa and hot tea. We got to know why our search for a local climbing guide called Norbu was fruitless, because every second ladakhi boy has Norbu as his middle name. While we were soaking in this new culture, we observed how kids of house were glued to television kept in a corner of kitchen. And no, they were not watching any Ladakhi channel or program, but some Hindi serial on zee TV. One of those serials which show beautiful women draped in glamorous saris plotting against each other and men who are rich but never seem to work and still live in palatial houses. So how would this exposure to Mumbai- Delhi culture (TV), change new generation of Ladakhi kids? It is said that Ladakhis never waste anything. They use and reuse everything which is locally available. Their houses are made of sand bricks, because sand is all around them. Water is scarce so where-ever get little water, they turn the land into a mini green oasis. Instead of using water to flush toilets, they use pits to store the human waste and convert it into manure for their farms. Nothing really gets wasted there. But it is changing slowly. Now a new supply chain is opened from rest of India and locals don’t have to be frugal anymore. Many will call it Ladakh’s integration with India. Or would it be Ladakh's dependence on India!!

Renowned lyricist Gulzar was in Tribal district of Chamba in Himachal recently and he was aghast and angry by change in art and music tradition of locals. During a function he found tribal singers singing bollywood songs. In a public speech he lamented this “erosion of culture”, or as he termed it.

Then while browsing TV, I happened to watch some program where a little 5 years old girl was performing in a talent hunt. She danced to a very garish bollywood item song as her mother watched adoringly. One of the Judges, Sonali Bendre was shocked and other judge Shekhar Kapoor asked the kid to stop midway. They couldn’t understand why a little kid was asked to perform on a number which was way beyond her age. But after the episode, Shekhar Kapoor while reflecting on incident said something which is very pertinent question. He said "We can’t really blame these kids. They are merely doing what they see on TV everyday. And they see Indian culture. If Indian culture today is not Bollywood music and dance, then what is it". What is Indian culture, indeed?

If Indian culture's richness came from its diversity, if it came from a Ladakhi tradition or a Chamba's tribal folk, then how long will it survive against a bollywood cultural onslaught which is beamed into every house and which has defined a certain lifestyle which Indian middle class aspires for.


Milann Tress John lives in said...

i'm a film maker and very strangely exploring exactly the same ironic truth for a film I plan to shoot in ladakh,and am having a tough time convincing people it needs exploration.
my recce is in july.
strange you wrote this recently too.

the universe thinks,and I'm glad.
Keep observing,don't stop writing.
Take Care.

Gaurav said...

HI Milann,

Even though I believe that culture is not a static entity and is bound to change with time and other influences, but not all the change is good. People of Ladakh also want development but problem is the way development has been defined and the impact that it will have on Ladkah, if development is not sustainable and if it leaves their next generation disconnected from land.

Best of luck with your endevour. Would be an interesting film.

Innocent Warrior said...

Dark side of globalization....