Friday, November 09, 2007

A bee in my bonnet 3

The C word

Indian culture. What is it to you? To me, it seems like a convenient and rather hazy area that covers everything from dress code to Bollywood to wedding ceremonies to prime time tv soaps. When I posed this question to an ancient uncle of mine once, he told me that it's the practices that have been followed for centuries by our ancestors. So I asked him if practised long enough, would watching Pepsi Uma on Sun TV become a pillar of Indian culture some day? He didn't answer me but looked at my mother to suggest that she had better get me married soon. So this is what I'd like you to tell me. I don't care for academic definitions. But what's your understanding of culture? Specifically, Indian culture?


Altoid said...

My interpretation of my culture is about the various regional cuisines, vernaculars, attire, Hinduism as a religion(note that even though my religion might mandate following various rituals, traditions etc -I am God-fearing, just not religious. For this point, I give my lighting diyas for Diwali even though I live some thousands of miles away from my motherland because its in my cultural gene as an example, or the fact that I touch a book and then my eyes if I've accidently stepped on it.)- all that is due to my culture. Or the fact that I fall at the feet of people I respect. I am sure other cultures have similar other practices, I absorb and imbibe those too, but certain things are quintessentially Indian culture to me.

Good bee to have in the bonnet :).

Anonymous said...

A wonderful mongrel culture:

In comics: Amar Chitra Kathas
In religion: Atmashtakam by Adi
In food: Pongal vadai (with
In plays: Agni mattu male by Girish Karnad
In music: Raag Saazgiri by Ustad Vilayat Khan
In books: Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh
In films: Jalsaghar by Satyajit Ray
In blogs:

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Unknown said...

Wow, that's a tough question. To me Indian culture is
1. Being involved in the big family of brother/sisters/cousins/second cousins/3rd/4th etc etc. I may be growing up in a nuclear family...but I love how when we define "family members" it rarely involves less than 50 people.(I don't want to dwell on the negative effects of having so many people interfere in your life :))
2. The colors of daily life - be it clothes/artifacts/languages. I've been in the US for about 7 years now and when I think of India, my mind relates it to a burst of color for some reason.
3. Music - I guess this is just because I grew up in India and hence prefer Indian music to any other kind. But I love how integral both filmi and carnatic music is in day to day life.

S m i t h a said...

culture is to promote unquestioning religious zeal par excellence propagated by elders. its great purpose is that it serves as a means to win logical conversation over faith and stupid religious sentiments.
it made sense some 100 years ago but in the current age where one can have b'fast in Chennai and dinner in Chicago... it is only a disposition, as strong as the conviction of the member following the culture.

Anonymous said...

indian culture is absurd.

as a bonafide tamilian, i know absolutely nothing about itarsi, sikkim, bigar, cashmir etc., yet all those places exist in india.

so let us narrow domain to tamil culture.

tamil culture also absurd.

as bonafide tamil iyer i don't mix with garudalvars, gounders, chettiar, nattaamai, kongu people etc.

so let us talk about iyer culture specifically.

now if you are a T.Nagar Tamil Iyer, you want to avoid the Mylapore area completely. Karpagambal Mess adai aviyal will give me the runs. Adyar’s Grand Sweets are not cooked in pure ghee, yellam palm oil. Valmiki Nagar has too many Bengalis. Anna Nagar is too modern. Velachery is infested with those TCS morons. And as Tiruvallur, Avadi and Vyasarpadi speed by, there is a blur of Tantex hoardings. Everywhere tantex banian, tantex jetti, tantex bra, tantex panty. Our Iyer culture will get lost in a blur of undergarments.

So culture basically means T.Nagar Iyer culture. That means Boag Road, Vani Mahal, Bharath Kalachar,Panagal Park, Nalli 100, Kasi Arcade, Kalyana Mandapam, Gothram Migration, Shivaji Ganeshan, et al. Having breakfast in Chennai and dinner in Chicago is not culture, adhu vandhu vulture. True culture means coffee in Crescent Park Road, breakfast in Boag Road, tea in TTD Center, dinner in Denna Dayalu Street, finally you can answer nature's call in Natesan Park.

Like that I have born and brought up to be upright Tamil Iyer and I shall propogate our Iyer culture far and wide despite the blurry Tantex hoardings that cloud my vision.

Anonymous said...

Well - to me it is pretty similar to what other phrases like Chinese culture, European culture etc. mean! It is that which uniquely identifies an Indian in a mixed group of internationals. Of course it might at times be something bad, sometimes even imperceptible. But it's always there!

As for pepsi uma - if it can endure just a few thousand years more - sure it will be part of the C word!

Anonymous said...

Am rolling on the floor with laughter....
100 points to Chockalingam..with his fetish for Tantex banian and jatti..that forms an integral part of all his answers and indeed his growing-up.

It makes me wonder whether he wore it in his pants or on on his head:)
(it always seems to be on his mind).
Others may write what they want - but chockalingam - you are the one that writes about the one thing that carries weight - Tantex!!!!

Premalatha said...

my only problem with this C word is, practise anything you (you means the public) want, don’t tell me I (I means anyone) am bad if I don’t do it.

Let us Diwali day for example. For some it is about eating and hence preparing sweets. For some it is about lighting Diyas. For some it is both.

Let us take a person who didn't do any of those on Diwali day. Didn't bother to compensate the preparing sweets process by buying sweets. Didn't bother to compensate by doing something during the following weekend. Not even going to a restaurant.
Is this person culture-less? Is this person bad? Is this person not Indian/Tamil anymore?

(just commented here to get following comments as emails to my inbox. :-D )

KB said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sunita Venkatachalam said...

I am as culturally challenged as you are ! If someone cracks it please let me know ;)

The Practical Idealist said...

What is Indian culture? A definitive description:

a. Be religious. For meat-eaters, this means eating meat whenever possible, and not eating meat on "holy" days. And yes, you have to, absolutely, visit temples once in a while, even if you're in a foreign country (perhaps, "especially if you're in a foreign country"?). Otherwise, you'd forget your "roots"...

b. Be respectful to elders. Even those that you absolutely detest, and about whom you make funny jokes. That's a very essential part of Indian culture.

c. Refuse to mix with locals and strictly avoid adopting local customs / practices when you're in a foreign land. Never forget that you're Indian and consequently, eat only Indian food, have only Indian (or desi) friends; never travel alone - because the foreigners are out to get you!

d. Follow cricket matches on TV / the Net. Cricket is as essentially Indian as idli / dosa / roti / paneer tikka is.

e. Never spend more money than you can get away with. If that means sharing a single bedroom flat with five others even when your earnings are enough to let you rent a flat all for yourself, then so be it! Thrift is an essential Indian quality, and living comfortably, let alone lavishly, is a sin.
Auxiliary tenets: i) always travel in a group when you're in countries like the UK, because a group ticket is cheaper ii) Always purchase second-hand goods, be it a car, a tv or a bike iii) Scour ebay for the best deals, even when you're hard-pressed for time in making a purchase.

f. Publicly scorn obscenity in movies, especially English movies; lament about the degradation that they bring into our culture, all the while watching such wonderfully culture-enhancing regional flicks in which heroines show skin and indulge in hip-gyration and other gestures which are none-too-subtle. After all, all regional flicks show Indian women in such a lofty light, especially when they're dressed in their wedding garbs.

I challenge anyone to poke holes in the above.

yezdi said...

Years ago i was told "ye hamara culture hai", never quiet understood what it meant but since then started the never ending quest for an answer. However simply put, I think culture broadly represents....
a. Food
b. Attire
c. Religion

Our life, lifestyle, thought process and most other areas are primarily governed by these 3 things. Though I'm very tempted to state JOB, these days your food habits depends more on whats available in office "cafeteria" (which is an exaggerated term for "canteen"), Mon-Thur- Formal and Fridays- Business Casuals and whether you get UK holidays or US.

Anitha(Nikki's mom) said...

Culture is what is injected inside you from birth, practised for years by the community you were born into (and/or the community you grow up in, if both are different), more or less shapes your approach to everything you do(what & how) in life, without you consciously realizing it. What you eat, how you dress, how you react to death(oppari,just crying, silence), how you greet people(folded hands, shake hands, rub noses), how you treat children/elders, how much importance you give to time, what you gift on specific occasions & how u gift it(writing in a specific color of pen is bad omen to Chinese - don't remember what), your attitude towards work, how you marry, expectations in married life, what you celebrate or don't, how you bury the dead, how you remember them... I can go on and on and on. In general, what a community considers good/bad ..
I attended a workshop on cross-cultural awareness sponsored by my company when I first traveled to US(about 4 years back). I wish I had kept the material that they distributed then. It was very interesting. The guy (actually old uncle - see I am calling him uncle it is my culture :) ) was well traveled and had lived abroad for more than 25 years. He classified world culture into 3 types: Active (american, most of european), Reactive(south east, India, few european - italy, spain) and I forgot the name of the 3rd one, that is practised in Japan and some of mid-east, it was the best. I was amazed about a lot of things he said. That Indians, Italians and Spaniards have lot in common(punctuality rather lack of it, siesta,work ethics, etc.). The importance Japanese give to elders, family, work(working 16 hrs a day is not really hardwork), country(patriotism is part of their culture), how they react to shame(suicide for this is common), meeting room etiquettes(hardly anybody speaks much in the open) etc... I forgot lot of stuff.
The impression it left in my mind is :
there is good and bad in every culture, Japanese(hope I remember the term, i am breaking my head) is best, no matter the culture you were born into or brought up in, it is important to know the culture of the place you are living in or traveling to, so you don't feel out of place/awkward in public situations and most importantly, inadvertently cause hurt to their values/sentiments.

Anitha(Nikki's mom) said...

I loved practical idealist's comment.

Anitha(Nikki's mom) said...

forgot to answer your second question. Indian culture?
A person's culture in India is largely determined by the caste, religion and state that they are born & brought up in. The common thread that runs across all castes, religions and states in India can be called as Indian culture. e.g. looking upon film heroes as demi-gods. Your question of whether "watching Pepsi Uma's shows for years will make it a part of your culture" - yes it will be considered if it is practised long and consistently enough.
practical_idealist has given very good examples.

The Practical Idealist said...

Well, I'd posted a cynical comment, let me see if I can post my opinion minus the cynicism.

Culture is essentially one's way of life. Which is why my parents' culture is not necessarily mine, though it contains a good deal of what they practise / believe in. Thus, Indian culture is the Indian way of life. And that means that it has changed - and drastically at that - over the centuries, a good case in point being the way we celebrate Deepavali (worshipful / meditative versus boisterous), or the way we greet people nowadays ("hello" versus "namaste" - the latter having spiritual overtones).

On a related note, I find it endlessly tiring to tolerate people who think sticking to one's "culture" in a foreign land is the same as visiting temples and observing festivals like Deepavali in the traditional way. Even the Manu Shastra says that it's wise to adapt to the changing ways of society, at least to the extent that we find reasonable.

Unknown said...

A long, long (ok, add 5 more longs there) time ago when I taught intercultural communication, we got stuck on the definition of culture.

I always related to Singer's explanation of culture. He said that we are like a fish and culture is the water in which we live. So, it is everything around us...of which we are aware or even unaware. And it changes. The culture in which my parents lived in their youth is very different from mine. Culture is dynamic, evolving and ever-changing.

Saying culture is ghar ka khana and religious rituals means that it is not also (sadly) Bollywood and social mores. To me, it's all of it and more.

*drops in her two cents*

satya said...

I am one of your silent reader. About a few days back - you wrote about being ashamed in shower, even though u wernt entirely naked- even if you were only in a woman's only place.

That my dear, is what i think is culture :)

Such things - are culture. Parents inculcate them without u knowing about it. There are a thousand things like that .. together they form the fabric of culture.

Another example .. When you are afraid, you tend to call on god - for hope. this near-involuntary action is culture.

Dr. Ally Critter said...

Well the way it is packaged it is
a. Arranged Marriage
b. Not eating beef.
Nothing else.

Values, love family etc etc are all universal. Everyone loves their families...

I think people just insist it to hide their non-assimilationism

Dr. Ally Critter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.