Sunday, February 05, 2006

Stuck In Our Ancient, Exotic Mud

We are often in awe over the extraordinary recent revolutions in India.

Unlike export-led China, India's economic miracle is largely consumption-led. We haven't had much economic reform, export barely a fraction of what China does, and haven't quite begun investing in infrastructure. Still, Indians feel great about their future; their consumption has spiked accordingly.

This is a cultural revolution of sorts in a humble people long wary of conspicuous consumption.

Another -- likely more significant but less remarked on -- revolution is the notoriously introverted India turning its confident gaze overseas.

Given this new-found interest in the world one might expect our cultural expressions would echo the theme. This is to say, our literature and cinema and theatre should be about Indians sailing abroad -- looking at the world anew with Indian eyes and interpretation.

Instead, our culture remains introverted. The movies we nominate for Oscars, for example, are all about interpeting the exotic -- and often lapsed -- India for foreigners.

The books we sell -- and embarrassingly buy -- are also focused on Indian exoticism and social complexity. The much celebrated Maximum City is a classic case in point. How much more do Indians really need to understand India? Still, the book was a runaway success among India's elite. Had Suketu Mehta written about his life as an Indian in America instead, his book would likely not have been quite as successful.

This blog has long been a critic of contemporary Indian culture -- which invents nothing, has no insight, and offers very little to inspire the world. Our intellectual generation is culturally deficient -- this is why, even as our businesses have gone 21st century and global, our culture remains stuck in our ancient, exotic mud.

7 comments:

Kuttan said...

Amen!

cynical nerd said...

My local bookstore exclusively hosts 'uber-Orientalist' Indian English literature written by Indian expats/2nd genners settled in Anglo-Saxon countries. Key words include: pickle, henna, aunties in weddings, etc. Of late, I am also seeing leftist rants by Ms. Roy. No good.

Anonymous said...

IS there any such thing called as an Indian culture? Or are we using Punjabi-balle-balle synonymously with 'indian' culture? Put some thought into it...
We are very very diverse in our cultures, and India as a nation has failed to unite us under a common symbol that would spur any motivation to work towards growth and progress. The common symbols that unite Indians are Pakistan and cricket. Very sorry state of affairs, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous:

There are many things, old and new, that unite India despite its diversity. Yes, there is something called Indian culture - be it the classicism of yesterday or bollywood of today. How could you say that India has failed to unite its people? And that the only common symbols are cricket and Pakistan? Just look at its functional democracy!

Savyasachi said...

Very well said!

Any thoughts of what will make Indians come out of this rut?

Red said...

Shobha De outsells Suketu Mehta, Shashi Tharoor, Jhumpa Lahiri crowd anyday. I think that coupled with Ekta Kapoor make things look pretty bleak. :)

But to be fair there is a lot of excellent writing in the vernancular languages (atleast Bengali and Kannada) that goes unoticed.

Suresh said...

{{Unlike export-led China, India's economic miracle is largely consumption-led. We haven't had much economic reform, export barely a fraction of what China does}} - But that hasn't deterred India's GDP growth in anyway, has it? Explain how we have this huge difference in FDI and Exports from that of China and yet only 2% short of its GDP growth?
And the very fact the China does a lot of exports is what is going to spell its dooms day in future. China's economy is largely dependent on American market, China has failed to setup a consumer market simultaneously in its own land and actually it can never establish something quite as similar to that of America's.

{{This blog has long been a critic of contemporary Indian culture -- which invents nothing, has no insight, and offers very little to inspire the world.}} - The irony though is that the long burried ideas of our culture are coming to the fore only now (yoga, medidation et al), culturally and intellectually.
{{How much more do Indians really need to understand India? Still, the book was a runaway success among India's elite.}} - To extend what Cynical nerd has said, your view is just ethnocentric and orientalist in assuming that all Indians share the same culture and they have all been studied and narrated exhaustively.
{{The common symbols that unite Indians are Pakistan and cricket.}} - Well this being a secular blog this comment might be a bit blasphemous for a few. But the fact is that the entire geographic region is connected by a religion and I have no qualms in saying so. And India is not a part of Scandanavian countries, religion and culture are not too far from each other in here. If there is no India the concept of Pakistan would cease to exist, but the reverse is not true.
{{which invents nothing, has no insight, and offers very little to inspire the world}} - Well we are in a position where we don't need new inventions to make things better but conventions that would guide others, and in that sense I see no shortcoming.

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