Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine, Schmalentine

At breakfast yesterday, my daughter put down the newspaper in irritation.
"What's all this fuss about saving 'Indian culture', anyway?", she said. "Shouldn't we be more worried about poverty and hunger?"
She was referring to the ongoing brouhaha over Valentine's Day. The press is full of it - there are those who say festivals like these are foreign transplants, which destroy Indian culture. There are those who stoutly defend the right of people to adopt whatever culture they like, whether it is Western or otherwise.
It's not just Valentine's Day, but also other Western influences that irk many Indians. Many of us are bewildered by Bollywood videos of near-naked women gyrating to 'disco' songs. Where did these come from, we wonder, these images that are almost soft porn? Take a look at this one - Isqh Khudai, Rab ne Banai. While the lyrics are in Hindi, the setting is undoubtedly Western. The actors toss down tequila shots, the music has strong Western influences, and there's not a salwar kameez in sight.
Parents and teachers are also coping with the spread of McDonalds, the increasing absorption with skinny bodies, the new mall culture, the alienation of children from their traditions, the growing incidence of divorce, the popularity of chat sites...somehow, all of these are perceived to be the results of the increasing influence of the West (read America) on the world.
My husband looked up from the sports section that he was reading.
"I can see why they want to stop this Westernisation", he smiled. "I half want to stop it myself!" (this from a very liberal man who loves jazz and the blues and thinks no party is complete without scotch whisky!)
"Oh?" I said, vastly amused. "And why is that?"
"Cultural exchange is great", he said. "But this is all so one-way! How come so little of Indian culture gets exported in the other direction?"
I thought it was a very interesting perspective. If the West celebrated Indian festivals the way we celebrate theirs, perhaps people wouldn't feel so threatened? Perhaps if Holi became a popular world festival, we'd learn to take Valentine's Day in our stride!
Anyway, this whole conversation went on and on, the three of us argued the merits of preserving and documenting culture, the rate at which cultural change happens today, historical trends, and all sorts of other interesting things. Finally, we all agreed, like the sensible family we are, that change is inevitable, and we must change with the times; adopting some changes and ignoring some.

Last night, my husband boarded a flight for Chennai, where he is spending this weekend with his parents. Today is Valentine's Day. I haven't wished him, and he hasn't wished me. Looks like I'm not changing my ways on this and neither is he!
No Valentine-Schmalentine for THIS couple!


SusanG said...

Hi Deepa
I edit a section of the Guardian's travel website and I wondered if you would be interested contributing a blog about Delhi with a big link back to yours? Could you drop me a line when you have five minutes?
many thanks
susan DOT greenwood AT guardian DOT co DOT uk

Anonymous said...

"But this is all so one-way!"

I wouldn't say that. But, I live in Southern California very near to Artesia (Little India)

I work in technology with many Indian co-workers.

And a little movie called 'Slumdog Millionare' has had a tremendous just won 8 academy awards.

The Gori Wife said...

My whole life is a testament to the importation of desi culture into America, although I do know I am a bit biased...

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is all one way... as a child in the 50's when everything in the UK was utilitarian, the only interesting things in our house(carved table,lamps, bowls and curtains made out of lovely fabric) had been brought back from India by my Dad in the war. Then as a teenager I discovered Indian food! Nowadays lots of things in my house are from India, I have just enjoyed watching Slumdog Millionaire" and next week I fly to Delhi, the starting point for an Indian tour. Dale Cheshire

Anonymous said...

U guys look lovely and so happy...I wish 20 yrs down the line me and boyfriend look just as good :) and hopefully dont reach for each others throat..LOL

Noel Lynne Figart said...

Well, I doubt this would necessarily comfort your husband, but I'm an American woman who has never been to India, however, I do wear the salwar kameez from time to time.

I grew up near Washington DC, which has a a large Asian community, and I quickly became enamored of the beauty, comfort and gracefulness of a salwar suit!

Ravi Raman said...

A culture becomes rich only when it assimilates the most of the ideas from all over the world. Good ones live on and the bad ones fall by the way side over time.

Even if all the flow is one way I will still welcome it.

The unfortunate part of our lives is that it is not just a cultural exchange but the conditioning of cultures by the large corporations for exploitation and enhancement of the needs.

That of course is a different topic.