Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine, Schmalentine

- by Deepa Krishnan
At breakfast yesterday, my 15-year old 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).

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 whisky!).

"Oh?" I said, quite 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. 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!


Anonymous said...

what a great photo of you two!

San Francisco, CA, USA

Prof.Parasuram said...

great photos and sensible writing about madly going by western culture. I want a day when Indian festivals with great history behind is celebrated by people of other countries.

Suratkal, India.

ed said...


interesting post and I totally agree on the objectionable one-sidedness of cultural exchange - exept for the even more destestable reduction of everything 'Indian' to the exotic of spices and the kama sutra.
However, I think your comment about hindi films is a little off and not taking in enough context, because while you are right and there is an increasing number of such disco-numbers even in huge family entertainers (KKKG and Kuch Naa Kaho even have such numbers) they are yet mostly - if not exclusively - used to actually criticize western ways and to showcase the low standard of morals and the lack of respect for women in most instances because these numbers usually appear either as a dance sequence of the bad guys and girls, or before the girl is reformed to the good ways of Indian culture but they are hardly the one number in any film that people are meant to identify with. And even in a film like the recent Jannat where the heroine becomes a night-club dancer, she does so only to survive AND these scenes are set in South Africa - thus 'not possible' in India. On the whole, I would argue, that the Hindi film industry - also because Hollywood films increasingly enter the market - is actually the one part in Indian popular culture most adament at preserving and showcasting the 'superiority' of Indian culture even if one infuses it with or adapts and incorporates some 'western ways'.

islandgal246 said...

We have that same problem as well in my part of the world. Due to our close proximity to the USA we are bombarded and dominated with music, films and business. I am not saying that it is all bad but we must find our identity and develop things with our culture that is marketable. The youth and some of the older folks have adopted the very negative side of the developed countries cultures and believe that is the norm. Everything they see on TV they believe that is real. We need some reality checks every now and then. Everyone wants to look and live as near white as possible to be accepted, and that is really sad. This is because we do not see ourselves in international advertisements, films and magazines. There are a few exceptions but they are also made to look like the market they are selling to. We need to have some self pride without being obnoxious about it. We need to share with other cultures and not believe that ours is better than yours. See how children interact with other for the first time. They have no preconceived ideas about each other, they just want to be friends and play together. We are culturely shaped by where we live and amongst who we live. Diversity is the essence of life. So back to the discussion the only way we can culturely change the world is by integration. A willingness to understand other cultures and share.

Rohan Lobo said...

You have maintained a very good blog.
Keep up the good work
Can i follow your blog?

Deepa Krishnan said...

Of course Rohan :)

Anonymous said...

So how did you meet your husband?

Anonymous said...

Hi Deepa,
Your blog is very interesting! Enjoyed reading through a lot of posts. Will be back for more!!

Shruti Chalamani said...

hi deepa!
umm I'd like to say , how can they celebrate holi? It has so much religious background attached to it. In fact most of our festivals have a whole story to them , so unless you've been here you really can't celebrate them, at least not in its full spirit I think. V-day on the other hand is about love , which a universal feeling right!
not that i follow it or anything , but just an afterthough :)
Have a good day dude.

I.G.I. said...

Such an interesting post! I have found the blog today by chance and I am really enjoying it.
I agree with Pramod about the cultural exchange, that would be great! With regards to Shruti's comment: I partly agree, as I try to put myself in your shoes. But religious festivals from the West have also been completely detached from their religious background and still work well and bring people together... I am a Catholic from Spain and sometimes I have a hard time seeing how Christmas has become a shopping feast and how Easter is about decorating, hiding and seeking chocolate eggs... But if that's what makes people come together, let's shop and eat chocolates! I think it's the price we have to pay for being part of the world as it is today.
By the way: I am not a Hindu, my South Indian husband is not religious at all, but we celebrate Pongal and Dewali in our own way. And I really enjoy it!

Alpha Charlie said...

Hi Deepa,

Isn't culture by its very definition evolving with each passing day?

The next generation does not choose to deliberately abandon its own 'culture' and adopt an alien one, it just chooses what it likes and finds convenient.

In times gone by, when 'foreign' culture was only heard of in derisive tones with facts hidden in a series of chinese whispers, sharp delineation of cultural identities were possible, even beneficial for maintaining identity. But once the information age, made everything known to everybody, people are bound to gravitate to what they like. And hence its not a surprise that national boundaries have stopped mattering completely.

Needless to say, constant exposure to the so-called 'western' culture in popular media and an increasing blending of our country's economy with that of the western world only accelerates the process.

My $ 0.02 !