Monday, December 27, 2010

In Further Soil

A lot has been said about the diaspora who have distinguished themselves in almost every area of human experience . In fact, the 20th century has witnessed the largest volume of migration across the globe. Next to the Chinese, it is us Indians who have populated this planet in the furthest reaches of Alaska and Papua New Guinea. Where the ‘desis’ go, there also goes the culture, religion, food, dress and other customs and oddities. As much as we in India tend to poke fun at or envy the lifestyle and success of hundreds of our fellow Indians outside our shores, we rarely stop to think of the immense hard work and sacrifice that such success has demanded. Ask any Indian who lives within the geographical boundaries of this subcontinent to work the long hours of the New York news stand owner, a London garbage collector or a Chicago taxi driver and they will shudder at the sheer robotic nature of the job requirements.

When it comes to the arts, I see a glaring gap in commitment and focus. This is the season for the dancers, musicians and arts student to fill our streets and stores. These visitors are smart, focused and prepared. Their arts calendars are planned with rehearsals, special classes and concert outings mapped out on their hand helds and I Phones. They do not carry the excess baggage of groupism or cronyism that plagues our local students and seniors. They watch, listen, discuss, learn and rehearse repeatedly. They take notes, do their homework and are model students in a classroom or in the auditorium where their punctuality and decorum are enviable. This is because they know how difficult it is to make an impact in their respective cultural constituencies as professional artistes.

Ask any teacher about the differences in teaching their foreign or NRI student compared to a local person and the answer will invariably favour the outsider. For every brilliant India-based Indian dancer and musician, there are too many local hobbyists who erode the hard work of the serious practitioners. Already the academic centre of Indian dance and music has moved outside India. There is no serious scholarship or discourse worth mentioning in our country. Nobody here is interested in anything that is not cosmetic, glamorous or entertaining. In contrast, the presentations by Indian academics and scholars from overseas are objective, analytical and well researched.

In a society that spouts homilies about the “inner core”, dipping into the “sacred waters of art” and partaking of a “divine experience”, it is about time that we call ourselves what we are. Hypocritical double speakers who talk out of the sides of our mouths. If we truly care about the arts, we should accept those who are striving every minute’ in further soil’ by transmuting and transforming our traditions and practices into classrooms, museums, concert halls, special needs and audience outreach. So let us stop poking fun at their stilted accents and their readiness to genuflect at a blink. Through the arts they perhaps love country more than many of us who reside here. In recognizing their contribution we honour ourselves.

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