Pride and Prejudice… The Indian Cultural Scenario

Published June 11, 2013 by vishalvkale

This is the 10th article on the culture series

India is an ancient land with a rich heritage going back several millennia, a resplendent artistic and cultural tradition, a history with several glorious and resplendent chapters and a richness and uniqueness of the land and its people who have stayed together despite many challenges. These are known and accepted matters internationally- for which we do not require any approval or acceptance from anyone.

And yet, a look at the contemporary landscape of Modern Urban India would belie the above statement in its totality – the penchant of the Urban Indian of fawning over western symbols to the detriment of our own being a painful symptom of this. Anything to do with western recognition in any field is hyped up – there are innumerable examples across the cultural landscape. Be it The Booker, or be it the Oscar – any success in these is a ticket to instant recognition. There is nothing wrong with this by itself – but at the core lies a fundamental dichotomy that is strange at best, and reprehensible at worst. We Indians love to wax eloquent on our heritage, and yet pay little attention to national Indian awards. The problem is not that the western symbols are hyped up; the challenge is that Indian awards, functions and symbols are played down, and not given their due importance in the eyes of the public. The same Indian who extolls our culture and heritage, is the one who downplays these – and that is the dichotomous behaviour. This is the pull, the allure of the west, and its blind aping in  India. This is not limited to the artistic scene alone; but has spread to nearly every corner of our society, like a cancer.  Let us take movies and books as cases in study

The Indian Mumbai movie industry outsells Hollywood quite comfortably in terms of annual ticket sale, and has now acquired a following across the globe, spanning Pakistan, The Middle East, Africa, Singapore, Malasia, Thialand etc – with an increasing presence in European countries: and even the USA. The net result is ticket sales that outsell anyone else, and a global footprint that exceeds 3 Billion in ticket sales, with a covered population of more than 4 -4.5 Billion people across the globe. This is by no means or scale a small achievement. 

The point is not that the western movies and functions are to be avoided, or to denigrate them, or indeed to compare. The point is the due place to our own internal products in movies which currently they dont get. Cover and covet the Oscars by all means; but give a similar importance, pride and prestige to our own internal awards and functions – which should not be neglected. It is this lack of pride in our achievements that is the root of the problem.

The point also is that our movies do not need the stamp of acceptance from any culture or nation; they have acquired a momentum and fan following of their own across the world. In the words of Shah Rukh Khan, our movies are the only ones to have withstood the onslaught of Hollywood. Given our movies their due place. This is a statement echoed by Javed Akhtar as well : “Hollywood is such a powerful film industry that it has ruined film industries of the world. Wherever Hollywood films reach, the original film industry of that nation got ruined, except India. Our film industry is flourishing be it Tamil and Telugu films,” the 67-year-old said here at the music launch ofYe Khula Aasman. “Our films are showcased in around one 30 nations abroad. The number of nations that view Hindi films is increasing and this is not an ordinary thing,” said Akhtar.”We have made some good and bad films. We have made some excellent films as well. I think Indian cinema is at such a point that the future can only be bright and in another 10 years it will reach great heights,” said Akhtar, who has penned songs for films like Mr.India, Tezaab, 1942: A Love Story, Dil Chahta Hai andRefugee.

Unfortunately, you wouldnt know it from the reportage of our media – which is ultimately derived from the impressions and views of the readers. These, and other similar facts, go unreported, or get carried in small columns somewhere; whereas even the smallest, most ludicruous of achievements in the west, especially in the USA and UK get reams upon reams of media coverage. It is this prejudiced coverage, and assumptions that is the root of the problem at hand. The unsaid – and at times explicitly stated contention – that they are better and that their awards are global and ours are regional is not borne out by the facts. It is a sad lack of pride in our achievements and a prejudice that is clearly in evidence. I shall go into the details of the reasons of this behaviour in a later article – as there is much that needs coverage and detailing. At this point, suffice it to state that this behaviour represents a collosal failure for us, and is reflective of a deep-seated complex within us as a society – in addition to being a total failure in marketing our Film Industry. 

This can also be seen across the length and breadth of the cultural spectrum: let us consider books. We have a rich tradition of writing spanning millennia – but you wouldn’t know it from a visit to our book stores, where I can – and have- procured a copy of Alberuni’s India (reviewed on my main blog) , but cannot get my hands on a copy of The RugVed, or any Upanishad, or any Puran. I can spot an entire rack of western classics – but no Indian classic is in evidence. I can even spot Islamic and Christian religious literature on occasion – but no Indian works. Not even the famous Abhigyaan Shakuntalam. (The Strand Book Stall Fort Mumbai is a notable exception – respect, sir). I can find Shakespeare – but no Tagore. And if I cannot find Tagore, then to expect that Neeraj, Suman, Kaka Hathrasi will be present is being optimistic in the extreme. 

In the literary sphere, we are still on a learning curve – as I have noted in my earlier articles. That accounts for lesser sales and a lesser fan-following, which is in keeping with  a growing industry. Thus, greater visibility of western books is only to be expected. Curiously, it is this growing trade which is giving a fillip to its internal image by showing 2 bestseller lists: Indian, and Western. Furthermore, the explosion of literature in India in the recent past in all genres- fiction as well as non-fiction has brought this industry centre-stage. 

And it is this trade that is showing signs of a revival in pride, and abandonment of its long-held prejudice. This is evident in the increasing shelf-space to Indian writing, and the increasing fan-following of Indian writers. What is now required is a revival of the vernacular literature; but that is a different article entirely, to be taken up later. But the worries still remain – the absence of interest in our classics, and the attendant interest in western classics is just one such example.

The same can be spotted across the broad spectrum of urban life – especially metropolitan life spanning Television Serials, movies, books etc. This manifest fawning over western culture, icons and symbols has deep-seated roots, as we shall see in the next article. It is a matter of routine statement that you come across, advocating western awards on various items as proof of having arrived; as I said there is nothing wrong in  it. The issue is the disdain for local awards and achievements, which are not hyped to extent that the others are – and this is frequently when the item that gets an international award portrays India in a bad light, examples of which are in  abundance. 

This manifest lack of a pride in ourselves, and a realisation that we are a culturally unique nation that has held its own against a severe cultural onslaught which has overrun others is the fundamental problem. This has reasons -as we shall see later. But it is this discounting of our numbers, and of our cultural influence which far exceeds our borders and our realisation which is a major stumbling block in our path. 

For pride is not just a word; it is a way of doing things; it has practical ramifications, and a potential for realisation of self-worth. Prejudice prevents us from seeing our potential, of our ability to influence the world and make India a better place for ourselves; while pride opens doors for us – so long as we are in control of that pride, so long as it doesnt go to our heads…

One comment on “Pride and Prejudice… The Indian Cultural Scenario

  • If you are truly looking for some answers, read Dividing India and Being Different by Rajiv Malhotra. The latter for a pride in the nation; the former for what is breaking that pride.

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