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On why it took a firang to start FabIndia/ OR why India still can't chart its own modernity

Exhibit 1a. Girl wearing a chuda, off for clubbing late at night

This is one of those simplistic visual tropes one might expect in any 'tradition meets modernity' narrative.
In one of the automobile brand ads, I believe there is one such shot too.
(the brand champions the insight about modernity being tempered by the Indian youth in Indian terms. What this assumes is - to be Indian is to be ritualistic. and to be urban/modern is to reject the rituals. Brands come to rescue us here and provides an in between truce. 'adjust kar lo'.)


Usually the narrative is set in the premise of 'victory of the young', as 'smart strategist'.


Smart strategy - yes - to the extent that traditions and modernity, both are reduced to mere symbols that are entertained for maintaining the status quo. That's the strategy- to strip our acts off their meanings.
Why wear a chuda? 'I am supposed to. must be the right thing. I am confident now of being Indian. This is ethnic cool.'
Why go dance to yo yo Honey Singh in crowded clubs? 'that is what i am supposed to do to have fun.'
Both acts - wearing chuda, clubbing regularly - seem to be acts whose will is outside of the person doing it.
A part of the society wants you to wear Chuda, so you do that. Another part of the the society tells you that you cannot really be 'free' and have 'fun', unless you spend a quarter of your income in expensive clubs.  and you do it too.
There is no 'victory of the young'. The young are supplicating to whatever forces they are subjected to. They are supplicating to not just one god, but many gods! and that is being a true Indian.


Second misreading - its not the confidence of being Indian that is allowing people to continue practicing old rituals. Its the permission from the western image that 'allows' us to feel confident about our own rituals. We look to west for what is acceptable and what is not, for we deem ourselves incapable of charting our own modernity.
(why is the image of a man wearing a mundu,woman wearing a salwar kameez in corporate offices, sacrilegious? why wear coat and tie in the hot tropical climate? if modernity is about rationality, what is the rationality behind the uniform of coat and tie for corporate image?) 
When the western image accommodates an Indian images (that it cannot understand) as ethnic/ exotic, we in return also see our own traditions and rituals as ethnic/ exotic.
See how us city folks pronounce the words 'Mahabharata' or 'Ramayana',
or how we tend to act as outsiders at traditional events, we literally keep ourselves at the periphery.

Or how there is still an audience for 'America returned do-gooder'.
It took a firang to start FabIndia and such. The cultural industry of Indian identity is almost entirely run by Firang, for firang.
The visa to ethnic pride still gets stamped in the western image. 


Another observation by Saba Dewan - 
"Why are the new jingles based on a reworking of old Hindi film songs sung in this fake, 'firang' accented Hindustani? Regular desi speak not good enough uhnn? We need to sing even good old Hindi filmy songs in some phony nowhere accent to match our 'global' aspirations?"

What does it mean to not being able to see ourselves with our own eyes? that we need a western eye to recognize our own  self?
We Indians can accept ourselves, only ironically. Its as if we do not exist outside the conscience of the white man. If we are not recognized/interpreted by the west, we probably do not (should not) exist. (Imagine Dongria Kondh's fight without Survival international's image building. Imagine the futility.)

P.S. - Again.. wearing chuda/ going to club - both acts by a woman. Tradition and modernity, both hold women responsible for transacting with symbols of meaning. A man's act is invisible to the civilizational meaning, but a women's is not. heavy unfair imbalance.

Comments

Anonymous said…
"The visa to ethnic pride still gets stamped in the western image"

Touche'

Look forward to your writing everytime.

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Catch yourself slipping away.

Deep  breath. 

Close the browser. silence the mobile and turn it away.

Open an offline-real-paper diary. Stop your thighs from lolling impatiently. Stay still. 

Pick up a pen awkwardly. ahh, the fingers are stiff. It will take a  while for them to get used to holding a pen. Quick finger exercise - open the palm, stretch finger outwards, close into a fist, dig the fingers in. Repeat.
Ok now.. about to pick up the pen again, but eyes dart towards the screen. Tempted to check email.

Shut up. The last consequential email came two months ago. Nothing of consequence is online.

Pick up the pen. Don't fetishize the object now. Get on with it. Put it on paper, write a word and start it already. If I get to a sentence, perhaps I will get into a flow and won't have to look up from the paper at all. 

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