Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Desperate to be Separate?

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall…”

~Robert Frost ‘Mending Wall’

I look at all the sweet, young teenage things, noodle- strapped, straightened- hair and blue- jeaned. Bangles and kohl eyes and nose stud—surely this makes them different; Eastern, Ethnic and Exotic. Non, non. From Madonna and Britney to the occasional girl in downtown London, this is also there now. So we can do a transference of these girls from India to that place in the U.S. and they will be very much ‘chewing- gum happy’. And they will be able to ‘talk the walk’ as well, since we do have the English language as the great binding or liberating force, depending on which side of the coin you are looking from.

So whether it is material girl or metro- sexual male, woman of substance or man of means— identities and their definitions change fast and furious in a world in a hurry. Welcome to the 21st century, where cultures collide to merge or get submerged in what is termed the ‘globalization’ of the world. Human beings are still human beings, but the world has changed.

What has happened is the advent of communication and connection whence the exchange of both ideas and ideology are no longer limited by time and space. I refuse to cry ‘foul’. Protest has raged rampant about how globalization has made everyone identical, that culture and identity has taken a tossing in the whirlpool of everybody ‘mixing’ together. McDonalds, malls, and Valentine’s Day have besieged our country and turbans, tandoori masala and tattoos their country; but we should stop and think—is this just not what was happening before? The Beatles and Ravi Shankar did play together a long while ago. Fusion is possible. The change has accelerated, and the handshakes are faster across cyber space, that’s all.

Eastern identity feels threatened, but one needs to question why. It is not a one- sided deal. We are also giving a lot to the world, making it available in ways not possible till now. The Gayatri Mantra can be heard on a CD in California by an Indian lady and her American friend and they can both enjoy and discuss it. Not possible if the world were not globalized today. An Indian surgeon in London can advise an American one in New Jersey how to perform a particular surgery through a video conference. Not possible in yesterday’s world. Book your tickets online. Make friends and chat with them free, whether they are in New London or Kalimpong. Strike deals on the mobile as you walk your dog. You can still say your morning prayers in your temple. You can still wear your salwar kameez and bindi. You can still talking Punjabi with your friends. What changes for you is that you can now teach Punjabi to a friend outside your city anywhere in the world, via the net, which has been so instrumental in making the world smaller. In fact it has made the world bigger for all of us, because we now have access to all kinds of knowledge, ideas and thoughts. And people can understand other cultures better, be it Eastern or Western, with this widened knowledge base.

Why should we be desperate to be separate? Decades ago, when people moved from villages to cities, it was urbanization, and it threatened the very core of thinking then. Yet, in the cities, people from different places and backgrounds walk and work together. Globalization is cursed because it brings with it a kind of commercial uniformity all over the world. Have a look at the sized and packaged bananas available at the malls; they are perfect clones of each other. This is just a micro-level example, but it states a fact. It scares us that we humans may some day become perfect clones of one another. Globalization also raises issues of ethnicity and immigration. Should immigrants from Algeria be assimilated into France? Should Sikh boys be allowed to wear turbans in British schools? There are cultural upheavals that take place.

We have to find our answers and make our decisions. But we cannot be static.

‘Something there is that doesn’t love a wall’. Humanity definitely does not. The answer actually lies here.