Are We LOST?

I’d written the following piece as a column of mine in the DNA some time back. I thought it would be quite relevant to share it here on my website now that it is long published. It is an article that points a lens at a possible Identity Crisis we are in. It examines the question, Are We LOST?

Circa 1992. I enter the ‘common room’ in my boarding house at Doon and put a Bhimsen Joshi cassette into the decrepit but still surviving Philips Powerhouse music system. As Jago Mohan Pyare sounds through the speakers the rest of the boys playing TT, carrom, chess, or generally lounging around, cringe. They stare right at me, judging, pronouncing me awfully ‘uncool’. And while that wasn’t all the lads at school, I shamefully admit that it was the majority. That’s when it hit me. As Indians, we are in a phase of ‘identity crisis’.

Why am I talking about it in this column? Because it is a crisis that perhaps manifests most vividly through peoples’ choices in Films, Books and Music. And because I am also an educator who interacts with children across all age groups, I am deeply saddened to share that not only does the crisis continue, it has grown to epidemic proportions! We are just NOT a proud people. We define ourselves mostly through Western Culture. If my generation did not know and watch the popular American sitcom ‘Friends’, we weren’t cool enough. If today’s youth does not know or claim to love shows like ‘Stranger Things’ or ‘Breaking Bad’, its just not going to cut it. Binge watching Netflix is IN, watching wholesome Hrishikesh Mukherjee, OUT!

I am not for a moment pretending or propagating that I am, or that everyone else should be some nationalist prude. What I do certainly feel is that there is a paucity of national pride. Amidst all the noise and sensationalism of patriotism, Hinduism and nationalism that is defined by illogical and banal yardsticks that we all know and I don’t feel the need to delve into; we have genuinely ‘lost’ our Indian-ness.

The films we want to watch, at least urban India, are Hollywood blockbusters. The books we want to read are International Bestsellers rather than Indian books in Indian languages. And the music we want to listen to is ‘Gaga’ instead of a beautiful Raga, or ‘The Weeknd’ instead of Bhimsen!

I wonder what has caused this shift. What is it that makes us so terribly uncool to ourselves, if we subscribe to, and openly admit loving anything culturally Indian? Is it a pilfered morality of an urban elite that now all strata of society feel compelled to adopt? Why can we not strike a healthy balance between ‘Ishqiya’ and ‘i Zombie’, between A Suitable Boy and Confessions of a Shopaholic, between Indian and International?

Countries celebrate, venerate their artists, dedicate tombs and statues to them. And we drive ours away. From painters to musicians, writers and film makers; Indian culturists have sought refuge in the warmth and appreciation of foreign shores for decades. I suspect it is this dichotomous combination of people being too ‘cool’ or too ‘touchy’ for these artists’ expression!

To me, all it reflects is a huge identity crisis, that we must do our utmost to stop, by exposing our children to the myriad of mesmerizing Indian art.

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