Reverse cultural shock


My friends and I have had this thought cross our minds several times during the past few months, everytime the topic of visiting comes up: are we going to get a reverse cultural shock when we go back? I know that people have been bored to death with discussion on the impact of US culture on India and how fast Indians are catching up and so on. While the debate is certainly old, its visibility is not.

Till about a few years back, except for some niche “cosmopolitan” pockets, most of India was “safe” from the so-called perverse invasion of the Western culture. But now, with the proliferation of mass media and the Internet right into the heartlands of India (I mean jungles and villages), things are changing. The changes are much more visible than they were before; but this time, the invasion is not from the outside, its from the **inside**. And the West is hardly to blame.

Consider this: my grandmother’s house is in a small village called “Chhoti Baroni” about 20 kms away from a small district called Datia (smallest in Madhya Pradesh actually) located in the dry, arid interior of MP. Its an ordinary village, with its share of ruins, farms, dried up rivers, and of course, pigs. Last time I was visiting, I was pleasantly surprised to see a shopkeeper advertising internet access in his small shop in the village market. Not that its was popular or anything, but it was a beginning atleast.

But much more shocking was the conversation I overheard between some young kids playing around our courtyard — these were little 7-8 year olds, no knowledge of English (or Hindi for that matter) except that picked up from all the TV serials (oh yes, cable has been around in the village for quite a while now). And they were talking about love and boyfriend-girlfriend games (where previously we had the every popular mummy-papa games) etc.

Of course, one could easily dismiss this as regular, cute, meaningless chatter of youngsters. But there was something in the way of their manner that seemed almost… sinister. Well thats probably too strong a word to use, but it certainly didn’t look innocent to me. I mean with the whole country hooked onto Ekta Kapoor’s K-legacy, what can we expect really? On one hand these serials try to emphasize the “strong moral foundation” of the Indian culture, and on the other hand the stories all revolve around husbands cheating, wives having affairs, unmarried girls getting pregnant, rapes and suicides.

Another (extremely) troublesome case in point is Bollywood. Just take a look at the kind of movies released over the past few months — “hits” like Hawas, Murder, Julie, Girlfriend, Masti and numerous others that I don’t care to mention here. There are two things that bother me the most about these movies. The first is that the sole USP of these movies was skinshow. None, I repeat **none** of them had anything in the name of originality (either in terms of script or production or acting or whatever). Its remarkable how two movies with the **exact** same plot (Hawas and Murder) can both be released within days of one another and still make good money.

The other thing that worries me is that these movies are actually popular with the vast majority of the Indian mass. I am a bit old-fashioned, but I can proudly say that I share a very open relationship with my family. But even I would feel uncomfortable at watching some of these movies with my family. And they’re all being advertised as family movies. I mean, who are they kidding?? And the fact that all this is just sinking down as “routine” into mainstream Indian cinema just means that its sinking down as “routine” into the mindsets of the people as well.

The isolated eaves-dropping incident I mentioned above (well its not isolated actually, there are plenty of more “colorful” examples that I chose to leave out here) is nothing compared to whats happening in towns and cities. Especially those that are popular with students — like Pune and Bangalore. The stories that I’ve heard about these places are nothing short of spectacularly ridiculous and lust-infested in most cases. But you know what the saddest part in all this cultural exchange business is? It seems to me that this is an eventuality, and that there is little we can do to prevent it.

As I mentioned in a [[http://floatingsun.net/blog/2004/07/14/182/| previous post]], IMHO the world is eventually going to converge towards a global culture in another 5-10 years, and not surprisingly this culture is going to be nothing like the Indian culture that you and I know. I’m not saying its good or bad, I’m just saying its sad, because atleast I love whatever little tradition we have left. [sigh]

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