Culture, tradition, modernism, exploitation



Each one of us has so many memories stored deep within us.  And this article (please read the article) set some bells ringing in my head.

I spent a year  in my nanihaal, a village in the heartland of Kuttanad, the area known as the Kerala backwaters. The area has exploded as a favored tourist destination and is now bustling with resorts, fancy cruise boats etc.  But I am talking of a time when I was all of 7-8 years of age. Childhood memories are a strange bag of tricks – somethings which are so innocuous stand out so vividly, while the important things seem to be hazy! What decides how and what the brain retains is something that we have yet to understand.

I remember my the family house in vivid detail (and quite accurately, as I saw on a recent visit to the house in  2010), the arrangement of the houses in the village, the temple and much more. I also remember many details of the every day life – carrying thairu- shatham (curd-rice) in a stainless steel (new at the time) container for school lunch, dinner by petromax (as electricity was yet to reach), the various temple festivals etc.

And among these, I remember going with my Mama (who had to put up a fight at home to take me along) to a festival, where the highlight was the men dancing frantically like ‘people possessed’ with iron hooks through the small of their backs!! I remember the bright lights provided by large flaming torches (made of cloth dipped in oil, in the pre-kerosene days), the long shadows it threw, the loud noise of the temple drums and all round frenzy – all hazy but clear. I can also feel, even now, part of  the sense of awe and fear I must have felt as a young child!

But then life moved on, I moved to the nations’s capital – and life unfolded in what would be considered a routine manner. But how compartmentalized and sheltered this middle class life is! I was probably too young to see the occasion as anything beyond the spectacle it was. But this article awakened me to the many layers under the spectacle, and little seems to have changed in the six decades since my childhood! What is tradition? And does ‘tradition’ justify exploitation? Can there be no middle path?

If we cannot shake of the prejudices that seem to be so much a part of so many of us, can we really claim to have progressed. There has been a shift in the global language of progress, from pure economic indicators (GDP, growth rate and the like) to the human development index or HDI, which incorporates life expectancy (as an indicator of the health status), education (expected years schooling for school-age children and average years of schooling in the adult population) and  income  (measured by Gross National Income (GNI) per capita). And while India boasts of its robust growth rate, it performs poorly in the  HDI (130 in 2016) . And would fare even poorer I think if an index of the state of prejudices (I am not sure how it can be measured) within the society is also added!!


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