Incomplete Zero

Completing the Nothingness

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Bastardisation of Everything

Many hail the liberalization of our country a decade and a half ago for the cushioning comforts it has bestowed upon our lives and hark back to make comparisons with rightfully demonised License Raj that was the third child the great lady gave us along with Jekyll and Hyde. But looking deeper beyond the gloss into how our country has changed, more specifically our culture and lifestyle and how for the poor the things have not changed, we have to question the paens.

Liberalisation has directly made a substantial monetary and hence material difference just to one strata of society:the no longer middling class.What about the poor, well they are waiting for the trickle down effect and given the immobility of labour in India they will all be dead in the short run as in the lon run all of us will. But the greatest and most telling effect of 1991 has been on our culture and lifestyle.

The liberalization of 1991 was not the opening up of the economy but the prostitution of Mother India; we opened her up, and our generation the bastard children born out of that continuing prostitution. We are the bastard children of that prostitution because we have no identity, we can no longer call ourselves Indians in the truest sense nor are we truly Western because we only understand their superficialities and popular culture.

Every country and its people evolve a culture over a period of time, like a girl transforming from the sparkling adolescent to a beautiful woman, that is unique, that is the churning of the great minds that their land produced. The culture manifested through language, music and various art forms passed on from generation to generation who develop it and help it along its further evolution. India is a marvel because of the multiplicity of languages and cultures. But the future of our rich cultural heritage seems bleak.

Our current education and value systems governed by free markets and designed to produce alpha males/females to work for big corporations and ensure that wealth goes into a few hands, do not even provoke thought. More and more children of coming generations would know their mother tongue only in its colloquial form and would be unaware of the beauty of its literature and hence would not contribute to it. Kids being prepared to become scientists and CEO's have too much homework and parents are busy meeting deadlines to even contemplate such trivialities. Do children down south still take lessons in Carnatic music in the same numbers as before or even my generation, do youngsters between 15 and 20 in Maharashtra ,Bengal and Kerala take an interest in their theatre and literature, i would not hazard a guess.

The precious little time people get is used to devour popular culture, which also is no longer Indian. Liberalization and hence the right of MNC's to sell their products in India has brought about a fundamental change in our society from a predominantly non-materialist one to a materialist one.Ours was a land which espoused the need for moderation and futility of trying to find fulfillment of the material unlike the West which was always so, and now we are more like them than ever before, just like Japan is a cheap imitation and hence a huge market for the U.S. . Selling products, as my fellow MBA's would vouch for, is done by occupying mind share and this by altering popular culture through the media. Our wants are controlled by the constant bombardment of audio-visuals through the media. Television which at one point of time aired simple gems like Nukkad,Rajani,Mr.Yogi and the list goes on.., can now only pathetically ape the reality shows which are popular in the West, and which again just prostitute the emotions of the common man and his near and dear ones for TRP’s.

Capitalism creates an illusion of happiness. It turns all of us, like Tyler Durden said,into nice consumers . I'll sell clothes to my friends while I buy their housing loan for that cozy apartment, car loan for that sexy SUV , insurance incase I can't withstand the high pressure lifestyle and deadlines and finally all the cosmetics in the world to keep me forever a young metrosexual who downs his food with cola.

Man has always been driven by the hunger for power and possession and since the first one became the leader of his tribe, we have been constantly been evolving more sophisticated methods concentrate power and hence possession in a few hands. Earlier it was direct, riding on regal horses and elephants with majestic swords in hand chopping of heads in a single swoop, now its totally subtle, it will happen while you are watching Indian Idol and you kid is on the computer. They don't need your body, just your mind.

Is there hope and salvation in any other 'ism', yes nihilism.Human beings essentially flawed as we are can never do justice to any ideology but the one of self-aggrandisement.So even if the revolution is achieved ,the power its brings to the victors will betray the very ideology that gave them power.

The big wheel is moving on, a few cogs make a noise,drop out drowned in the din of the great march forward,and roll away into silent lush dark green alleys and slowly nestle under their favourite tree with all the time in the world waiting to rush into their outstreched arms, if only more could and would do so.



  • At 11:22 AM , Blogger The Consultant said...

    To summarize the post, liberalisation has:
    1. Reduced the amount of attention that we pay to our culture/original thought etc.

    2. Lack of trickle down effect ,which has left the poor starving

    I disagree with both.
    1. People will start paying more attention to theatre/Carnatic Music etc when it starts paying them their daily bread. That cannot happen unless people really start enjoying these. Given a choice between Marathi play & a movie by Govinda, I will prefer the latter, because nowadyas Marathi Theatre, IMHO, has stopped producing good plays. Govinda will entertain me or at least give me something to crib about to my friends the next day.
    2. Liberelisation was never supposed to rescue the poor. The responsibility lies with us & the poor too. If we dont care about education poor abt what they are missing, if the poor fail to realise who are the true oppressors, politicians/babus will continue to plunder the gains of liberalisation.

    One more thing that we haven't considered is that liberalisation that we have seen so far is miniscule when compared with what is still not done. Labour reforms, electoral reforms, Justice system reforms...the list is endless.

    I agree that the results that you see around you are indeed deplorable, however the liberalisation is not the culprit.

  • At 3:21 PM , Blogger Tony said...

    The argument that people will take up an art form of any sort if it pays is misleading.Art is encouraged by patrons.They were kings earlier and then as the times changed it the patrons changed.Patrons were no longer the nobles or the aristocrats but cultured middle class who took their kids along for recitals and plays.In the process youngsters took up art forms out the interest generated and underwent training.

    As people stop taking an interest in encouraging arts because kids and their parents alike are running after the illusory happiness that life in the last decades seems to promise, the arts suffer and hence what you pointed out is a symptom

  • At 5:09 PM , Blogger Gaurav said...

    I vehemently disagree with most of your post.

    Firstly, the deplorable poverty around us. It is NOT a result of 10 years of reforms, but more a result of half a century of socialism. You see abject poverty and your heart bleeds, right? You want to help them, give them money, food, clothes, contribute to charity?

    Tony, at the core of this "sympathy" lies a collective inferiority complex. These millions of starving people in India, do you think they are basically inferior to the masses in the West? I don't think so. They have just not been given opportunities to earn their fact they have been denied the opportunities by a behemoth state. You should try to find out the sheer tortuous obstacles that stand in the path of a hard working poor guy if he wishes to drive a cycle rickshaw, pull a hand-cart, or even run a tea shop.

    You want poverty to disappear? Set them free. Freedom does not mean waking up early 2 days a year and saluting the flag. Freedom means the freedom to live life as one wishes. And the poor are least such huge numbers of them....because they are deprived of this very freedom.

  • At 5:23 PM , Blogger Gaurav said...

    The second part of your post is something I have a different take on. I take it you are protesting against the "dumbing down" of society.

    Yes, looking at it from where i stand, society is being dumbed down. But look at it from another angle, and it is actually representative of empowerment. Years back, art, music, etc were the domains of a privileged few. As you said, only kings were the patrons. But as more and more people get educated, they too will want to watch movies, read books, appreciate art. Our society is at the stage where a lot of entrants to the middle class are new, and bring with them their old likes.

    So if Santa Singh who lived in the 70s enjoyed the Punjabi bhangra music, but did not have the disposable income to actually spend on it. Today his son, Banta Singh does, and so you have a multi-crore bhangra pop industry, which is played on MTV and is displacing Led Zeppelin and Ghulam Ali.

    The patrons are not just a few anymore....the patrons are the masses. As the second generation of this middle class grows up, their tastes too will evolve, and "art" as you like it, will be visible.

    Let me give you an example. In the 50s and 60s, what amused people abroad was the slapstick comedy of the Three Stooges, which today we might find belaboured. But their kids in the 70s and 80s watched 'Happy days' and 'Who's the boss?", which were definitely more evolved, and their grandkids watched Seinfeld and Frasier, which were even better.

    Nukkad and Mr.Yogi were hits when the TV was owned only by the privileged few lakhs with a "refined" taste. Today, a third of the country has television, so the average level has dropped a bit.

    But it will change as people grow up, and their tastes mature.

  • At 5:52 PM , Blogger Tony said...

    I stated my stance on the relevant politico-economic structure in the last paragraph so there is not point discussing that, yup total freedom and anarchy are what is required.

    As far your argument of standards getting lowered because people are being empowered is flawed.Big companies create markets they do not cater to audience's tastes.
    Did the newspaper readers of Lucknow clamour for the page three by knocking on the doors of TOI, know they introduce it and then create a market.

    Capitalism is based on increasing profits which means newer markets which means becoming part of the popular culture and then shaping it to create a single uniform market.

    If you say we are still evolving then what about the USA since it was always the land of the free , how do you think popular culutre has evolved there.If only it has gone from bad to worst, music is the best example.

    Evolution of the television content since the fities and sixties is misleading because the medium of motion picture itself could be talked about in only terms of possibilites,unlike the Indian serials by which time the medium and its language was interpreted a lot better.So the quality there was bound to improve but look at what it is now, its trash most of it.While we are dishing our "reality"istic version of it.A reading on the evolution of the medium would explain my point(no malice my friend).

    On a long enough timeline the survival rate of all things in the current system is zero.Gaurav do not waste your energies espousing a cause.The actions and progress of the human race on the whole can best be described as futile and fatal.Discovering newer and sophisticated methods to annex power.At best what can be done is to capture this futility and fatality through art which perhaps can be the only exaltation.

  • At 8:58 AM , Blogger Gaurav said...

    Bhai, tu to ekdum fatalist aur futilist ho gaya! I am afraid I will have to ask Devi Singh to revoke your MBA. ;)

    An addendum to my comments, something I have been thinking about for the past few days.

    We say all forms of art, like music literature etc, are going from bad to worse. But hasn't this always been a human tendency, to trash the contemporary and hail something from the past? Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, and Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron was a big flop in BO terms. Seinfeld just about managed to avoid the show getting cancelled after a lukewarm first season.

    I have a marathi book written in the 60s who speaks derisively about the film music in those days, yet today Hindi film music from the 60s is considered classic.

    If you read Frank Gilbreth's book, also written around the same time, it shows that "grown-up"s then were very dismissive of the very music in America which is now in the hall of fame.

    Also remember that we just remember a haldful of bands, handful of painters, handful of movies from the past, and consider it as great, since the stuff that wasn't successful gets filtered out. However in the present, we are exposed to the crap as well as good stuff. We judge the present on the basis of Fight Club as well as Gigli.

    Are you being too hasty in judging the quality of the current forms of expression?

    I remember after watching Dil Chahta Hai, I said to a friend, this movie will be considered as a significant landmark in Bollywood, probably a classic. He dismissed me saying it was blasphemous to speak of the movie as a possible classic. Today, 4 years later, the friend admits that Dil Chahta Hai is indeed classic material.

    One theory I have is that good contemporary "art" is what itself shapes our perspective for its own appreciation, so is not immediately appreciated as being as great.

    What you say about capitalism creating markets is right. Media often is a supply driven business. A company provides the product without being asked for and then the people take to it. For example, there was no clamouring demand for walkmans, but its supply created its own demand.

    But remember, even in a supply driven market, it is chances of acceptance that will drive the product introduction. The guys at TOI will not invest money in something they aren't sure of working. So while people haven't banged on their doors asking for the kind of stuff they dish out, there is acceptance for it.

    Think about it. This comment is posted in the spirit of discussion and not debate.

  • At 11:52 AM , Blogger Tony said...

    Gaurav i agree with you completely when you say that my MBA degree should be revoked and my fees refunded.It would be a great service to both parties because the institute wil not have one of its AI specimens virulently attacking the very principles it espouses and yours truly will not have have the albatross of the education loan around my neck :-)

    I was anitcipating the old is gold and new is askew cliche that would get assciiated with what i said.There are two points i would like to make.

    One , every era finds a newer idioms in various art forms to express itself.These newer modes of expression destroy and sometimes supercede the tradional structures in art.Given the orthodoxy in the earlier centuries sublime works of art that found acceptance and fame later were either criticised or ignored.But there would always have been a small contemporary audience that understood the implications of the breakthrough work and its posterity.Just like you mentioned DCH and more pertinently the recent HKA which though not a pan india hit is still a hit in its own right and has its own small legion of fans.

    With each passing generation the shackles of orthodoxy have weakened and people are more open to novelty.But this has not resulted in path breaking work.The small minority has very little joy to find in contemporary Indian cinema.Countries like Iran are finding within the crises that they encounters new forms and means of expression(Makhmalbaf,Kiarostami).The reason is the fasle sense of security i was talking about that our contemporary lifestyle breeds and also the dumbing down of the audience's tastes becuase of the media.

    Companies need to spend money to advertising to occupy mind space and hence content is developed through the collaboration of corporates and content providers(remember the innovator,adopter,follower and laggard classification).

    I dont think your argument that the TV serials in the days we wore shorts were made for the small intellectual minority and now the larger base has resulted in falling standards holds water.Our serials Hum Log,Nukkad,Rajani,Mungerilal and the list could go on...were not high brow by any stretch of imagination their beauty was their simplicity and the true to life quality.

    The insipid fare being dished out limits the pool that people get to choose from and hence results in their inability to appreciate other things.

    The fact that there has paralllely been a loss of individual cultural identity and this is a universal phenomenon, and a sinking similarity in the change to a plastic consumerist lifestyle in all "developing" countries, the idioms future generations can find might not be rooted in their soil.

    But that will be offset by the one thing i am sure of,the disconnectedness that contemporary city life breeds will find expression in India too..its just a matter of time till the bubble starts bursting for many many more....and its will be the work through which posterity will view each of dimnishingly short eras, art can only but imitate life.

  • At 2:04 PM , Blogger Tony said...

    We are insulated by the comforts and logic that the prevalent economic system delivers at our doorstep , free of cost 24*7.

  • At 10:46 PM , Blogger Nilu said...

    I bet this was exactly how that idiot Karl Marx felt before he wrote Das Capital.

    Why is it that you somehow feel you are equipped to sense other people's illussion? .....and don't kid yourself - you are neither Jack nor his wasted life.

  • At 12:16 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    In fact, I would suggest that we have not liberalized enough.

    The standard answer to any "cultural decline" is - do it yourself. There is nothing preventing you from creating a work of art. But sometimes governmental distortion of the cultural scene can be a hindrance.

    Even today, a guy who would have preferred earning his living by strumming the guitar is forced to go to a more traditional service occupation, because there simply aren't enough avenues to play the guitar in.

    Let me illustrate with some examples where the sarkaar-mai-baap has still kept its viscious control in the cultural sphere.

    Widepsread censoring of material both in the public sphere, and in private places. - why?

    The onerous entertainment tax on establishments from clubs to nightclubs.

    The great licensing restrictions in creating an establishments where people can get together. If I serve you a dish at my home and you instead give me a well-embroidered wallhanging, what is wrong with that? But if the same thing is done on a commercial level, there are all sorts of restrictions from doing so.

    And, the electro-magnetic spectrum can accomodate hundreds of more channels than it does now. The major hindrance to more people being able to run their own TV stations is govt. control of spectrum.

    And not to mention, the great number of tariffs that increase the costs of creating works of art.

    So, still think that "liberalisation" is the problem?

  • At 11:54 PM , Blogger Mind Curry said...

    i totally agree with the consultant and gaurav.

    the only way india can become a developed nation and improve its economy is by liberalisation. only if money comes in from somewhere can it trickle down to the poor.

    what you say just sounds good, but years of such conservatism has only made the poor poorer. what you say is similar to communism, they just sound good, but cannot do anything practical. its a failed ideology.

    already we can see, the indian govt is initiating programs like the EGS, which is such a bful program, that will make sure whatever benefits we reap as a nation will trickle down to the poor - but only if they work - as opposed to the communist ideology of gaining everything for free, or by robbing the rich - either way it only makes the rich poor, and the poor poorer.

    as for art, take kerala as an example. all the artist families are today in shambles and on the verge of suicide. because art also has to evolve with the times if it is to be a means of livelihood. i cannot imagine someone surviving solely on carnatic music anymore.

    long post..sorry..on the whole, your thoughts are excellent, just that i have different thoughts. maybe i am wrong. i am no economist anyway.

    p.s. hope your mba seat is still yours. we need thinkers like you.

  • At 12:10 PM , Blogger Tony said...

    My whole post was not about the economics of it all at all.Let us hope state willing liberalisation can solve the problems of food, education(rather skilling you for a job not preparing you for life), and shelter.Would this cure all have no side effects.

    I don't think so,what it means to "exist" will change under different regimes(all of them are regimes some overt and some covert)

    If you were a citizen of a developed country and like i assume are not a passive individual but are aware of your "existence" would you see any problems around you(please spare me the much more better world argument).

    I am sorry but i can't believe in any "ism" , can't base my vocation on it.Rationality exists but the most strongest allure has always been that of power.The history of the world is based on its transfer.The rationality and the irrationality of many men will always be used and abused by the power of few.Each new "ism" transfers power to a newer few.I can only hope to be an active witness to history as an outsider rather than a part of it and interpret it through the medium of expression i choose.

    Otherwise as Kundera said the all powerful future will judge us.Like we judge the men who believed in the ism's that are failed now but burned as bright in the reflected light of their intellect, as the markets glow now.

    P.S : As part of a developing country with problems of poverty we are the young children of history, i sincerely wish all of us would be alive to look back at this youth with the maturity of our age and that of our economy.


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