Wednesday 19th July 2006

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Renewing Indian aesthetics

Old and young east Indians participate in the singing of holy bhajans. Photo: Adrian Boodan

I am surprised at the level of interest last weeks column roused on the subject of Indian aesthetics. Thank you for your calls.

Aesthetics is about beauty. What gives pleasure and what you choose for recreation depend on your concept of beauty or aesthetics.

If for instance, an Indian song does not appeal to a child of Indian descent, it means that the child’s aesthetics has been transformed. Many parents then think the child is getting “out of hand” when the child prefers MTV instead of Mastana, lamenting; “How things reach so far?”

But the issue is deeper and the consequences more heart wrenching when parents realise that the child is in dissonance with Indian culture.

For one thing, the child becomes more and more a stranger in the home as the family shares less and less common cultural interests. This reduces the scope for shared interests for Indian families during family time. The resulting casualty is the intimacy that a parent and child should share. More and more we are seeing two opposed cultural groups in the Indian family—that of the parents and that of the children.

The level of cultural intimacy between children and parents at home is, by extension, reflected in the community consciousness and behaviour. This affects how the community feels and behaves in the womb-like ceremonial spaces.

The first signs of a community being at risk may be seen when its younger members begin to demonstrate awkwardness, nervousness, reluctance and retreat from their traditional forms. The community then becomes vulnerable to those agencies of cultural hegemonies that are lurking and ready to move in.

The Indian community therefore must be culturally aware and savvy enough to negotiate this challenge. But the Indian community is hardly culturally literate.

No wonder it took so long to press for the cultural space to stand “side by side.” No one can accuse Indentured ship for being sensitive to the welfare of the jahajees; it took long after independence for meaningful change to be initiated.

The Trinity Cross issue—which should have been dealt with, as matters arising in an independent nation—had to reach court only because of how laaparwaah we are in matters of heritage.

For many years, the national community has remained dumb to these needs, and the Indian community, dumber or don-kay-damn. This is best exemplified in the fact that there was no objection to the Trinity Cross for decades. That has changed.

The community is becoming increasingly aware of civic issues and is now articulate. This first step of protests has taken long, long after even the UN sponsored, Decade of Decolonisation. Some are now prepared to take matters to courts. The solution however, lies much more within the community, than out there.

Carifesta for me has always been an important landmark to measure the positioning of Indian culture in the Caribbean space. For me it reveals how few are there to articulate Indian Culture, how little its ethos is understood and how under prepared Carifesta is to accommodate the nature of the Caribbean diversity.

The launch of Carifesta recently was an opportunity to sound out this issue. That Carifesta could put the parade together with such ease does demonstrate that the country is always ready. (This was aptly demonstrated in Germany recently)

But the parade, as it was designed, facilitates Carnival culture and disadvantages every thing else including some of the very carnival arts. Further, The Big Truck syndrome is a loudmouthed tyrannical neighbour.

It is here that I want to suspend the parade and ask of people who trade under Indian culture and those who live Indian culture and those who want to secure a place for Indian culture in the lives of their children: Are we culturally ready to contest even at the level of the national stage?

How many Indian children, for example, can join in an Indian community dance? In community dance, there is no separation between audience and dancers, everybody performs in the community dances, no one is a passive spectator.

Community dancing gives a child the self-esteem and power to take control of his/her own body and to enter that space with grace and confidence.

When a community losses its community space it denies the child that familiar space for initiation into cultural norms through which the child learns to negotiate space. The lack of an active community culture which all children express themselves, dis-empowers the child.

The child is therefore hardly ready to negotiating spaces outside the community. The natural corollary is that the entire community suffers from inhibition, fear of an assembly and inability to represent itself.

Many people think discrimination is preventing Indian culture from taking its rightful place in Carifesta.

However, I want to ask: Are we ready?

This is precisely why The Kendra has been increasingly working amongst children. The Kendra has been experimenting in Baal—Children’s—Ramdilla. Ramdilla allows for the kind of collective cultural activity that it can become a means to community participation and growth of confidence to negotiate the space in which we live. The community must therefore possess Ramdilla.





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