Sunday, January 17, 2010

On achieving

The first response to "What is westernisation?" in India is invariably burgers and jeans.But like always these first responses are only the apparent, observable effects and not the cause. Primarily I think there are two causes that make us do stuff like drink cola, eat chewing gum, wear revealing or skin tight dresses, be indifferent to far relatives; sometimes farness reaching as close as parents, etc. (Note I have not put speaking English in there)

The first cause is fairly visible and obvious. I think it is a lack of confidence in our own culture and better selling by the west. As Shashi Tharoor said in his TED Talk "each nation has a good story, what matters is who tells a better story". We are too impressed to see the greener grass on the other side to actually feel the warmth and the softness beneath.

The second cause which I am really worried about is which i think is also a cause fueling the above mentioned lack of confidence. It is a new mentality among the human beings all around the world to be heroes in their lifetimes.This is a fairly hidden cause because it was not present during the times when westernisation began in our culture, so it is easy to miss. This change in mentality is affecting the western world as much as it is affecting our way of life, only that it is affecting them a little early.We being master imitators, it spreads to us almost as a free gift.

Let me elaborate on what I mean to say. Compare the stories of say Ramayana told during king's times,with the stories of Rama told by Ramananda Sagar, to the animated 2-3 houred Ramayana. Leaving aside the time of the reel there are many other things that are different. The change which most relevant to this discussion, is that during the olden times the story of Ramayana acted as spices in the main food. The food being the substance, the moral, the lessons on politics, the spiritual understanding. Just to add taste and make them easier to remember, the stories were framed.

Gradually, while they reached the times of Ramananda Sagar, they started to be perceived as stories of God. We no longer bothered as much about the hidden meanings, first of all because they were hidden and did not take the screen time. What took the screen time were special effects on the stunts that god performed, though what was common to the past era still was that we did not associate us with god. Ram was still some ideal man who was very very different from us.

Today when we see the animated Ramayan, for the kids of this generation, it is not very different from say spiderman or pokemon adventures.We are only eating spices so to speak.

Now coming back to the 'change in mentality to become a hero in a lifetime' thing I was talking about. Let me again give you an example of a TV series called Sa Re Ga Ma, so that we can all relate to it. In the times of Manna Day and Mohd. Rafi, singers were a different class of people, their technical knowledge was esoteric, almost all singers did nothing else in their lives but sing and nobody who did anything else ever sang, at least not on stage and never on TV.Compare it with the time today when we are so connected to the reality shows that we are more bothered about the love life of the singers than the actual song. The song may be recorded and filtered but it does not matter to us as long as the comments by the judges after that are spicy, cheesy, extraordinary, extreme...anything but mundane. Doesn't matter if they are wrong or contradictory. I bet people don't see a paradox in experts arguing whether an amateur singer is 9/10 or 4/10 every time.They are too busy following their idols. Another interesting thing is we have started to accept faults in our idols. Imagine some singer being even accused of being a child molester in the old times. Imagine someone giving a hit album after being molested.

All I want to show by the above example is that we have started believing that after all even common people like us can be heroes. Everyone can be extraordinary.

But poets in the past would have thought it is a good thing. Why am I sounding so worried and cynical? Because I think we all can be heroes by being ordinary and people around me are not understanding it. And trying to be extraordinary is killing them.

Lets take the example of IIT JEE. Holistically, it is nothing but an exam to test students for their engineering aptitude (that too of only one kind - theoretical) and in doing so take the best few thousands to teach them engineering. Now think of a student who is not inclined to be a good theoretical engineer, ....(sorry! need to go now,will continue later)

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