Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Acculturation and our Gutter Garbage complex

It is once too often that we are required to comment on ‘the state of culture’ in Bangladesh and what becomes apparent as and when confronted with this extremely barbed issue, is how little we understand what this so-called ‘culture’ is really all about. It is bewildering how we Bengalis will stand up and ‘resist’ anything that we cannot easily comprehend at the first instance, and move into rapturous states of dementia when the status quo in our ‘comfort zones’ are challenged by anything that we in our infinite judgment, have made up our minds are ‘alien’ and will cause us harm.

Trite with exasperation and irate in our inadequacies, we lash out quite understandably as if it were a treasure in our ‘national psyche’, which is inherently threatened because it is apparently ‘so rich’, and must be defended; yet in our defense we have been pathetic paraplegics! We Bengalis are an excitable race, and nothing excites us more when it comes to the question of this holy ‘shongskriti’ and the precept of how it was, still is, and will remain in the foreseeable future, are ‘serious matters’ that keeps us enraptured as also, hopelessly deluded.

For one, the word ‘culture’ as defined, used or ‘abused’ today, is an invention of our British colonial masters and dates back to the Victorian era. It is a literal derivative from the word ‘krishi’ or agriculture, and for all intended purpose, used on the same premise and parameter i.e. an exercise to control and exploit nature in creating food for man. In a round about way, it means an ability to study the natural laws of science and explore avenues in ‘controlling and exploiting’.

The commodity being exploited for gain was Man and his sense of aesthetics, and this was also a time in Bengal’s history when it became obvious that whoever it was that wanted to ‘control and exploit’ our fate politically, needed to have just that extra dosage of knowledge to be masters of the land and our destiny. The Zamindars (landlords) class was created and before long the early imperialist used this ‘landed gentry’ of their selection, to collaborate and advance the idea of a so-called ‘culture’, that would lead to the control and mastery in the mindset of the tilling and toiling ‘chotolokes’ (low life’s) intrinsically creating a new class after ‘have and have not’s’ – the ‘have plenty’s’! Thus, for all practical purpose the word ‘shongskriti’ might henceforth be termed ‘shongskrishi’ – or exploitation of the human species much as one would ‘agri-culture’?

The ‘elite’ of Bengal were indeed the minority then as is today, yet by wielding this ‘sword of culture’ have consistently defined and repainted whatever suited their immediate exigency or lack thereof. This defined and ‘refined culture’ was not democratic but tyrannical and dictatorial in practice. Unfortunately then, as even today, the vast majority of our populations were deliberately targeted and there seems to be no end to the shielded class warfare that has remained, despite the many insurrections, rebellions, near revolutions and ‘Independence’ that has been our fate.

So what then is the true ‘culture’ of Bangladesh?

For one we have a proud natural heritage of acculturation, and an infinite ability to assimilate. Historically ours has never been a regimented society, and all indications are that natives of Bengal were always open, appreciative and accommodative to other cultures. That is our culture in its uniqueness and try as we may, our apprehensions that this intangible but treasured commodity is always under some form of ‘threat’, in a way guarantees its well being and prosperous health. A melting pot we may be, but we readily do not accept anything without questioning.

The only problem however, we have till this day not been able to shed off our alarmist doomsday mindset that gets unduly activated, as we are not in the habit of doing our homework’s right. What we view as an ‘invasion’ at the outset, earlier than we had thought, we tend to accept them, make them part of or lives, and work our way about improving our lot. By nature we are not a negotiating race, but ‘hard bargainers’ but then we are also consumed by a defeatist psychosis of being perpetually cheated – that leaves us all too often cheated in our ‘historical bargains’, specially when the chips strongly favor, and don’t oppose our moves!

For instance, of late there have been loud debates in national forums of whether or not, the ‘invasion’ of Indian artists, musicians and singer are a ‘threat to our culture’, with accusations that sumptuous sums of money are being spent on their tamashas, while many of our more talented kins are perhaps going hungry, lacking the ‘desired exposure’ that would have most certainly propelled them to greater heights of fame and fortune.

The truth is – this is a double-edged sword and one that needs to be addressed as forcibly as ever. Anybody basking on the notion that artist’s from India can simply walk in, do whatever they have come to do, and up the ante and leave everybody in Bangladesh pauper and in wrecks, are co-opting to the idiosyncrasy that our ‘culture’ is fragile, weak and cannot resists any of the so-called onslaught.

Quite on the contrary, our acculturation regime has proved time and again that it is strong, dexterous and has a capacity to cope, much beyond our limited imagination and it is all because of the resilience in our national character. We as a proud nation are gregariously hospitable, and have inherited the trait, not because we have in anyway proved ourselves inferior, indeed it stems from the fact that we have never feared competition. Thus Indian, or for that matter any artist from any country in the world need not or should not give the Bangladeshi an inferiority complex.

Having stated the above, it also makes sense that we try and identify what it is that makes India or its artist, or lets call it even their ‘culture’ such a hot favorite among our citizens? Because we have been unable to fuse our spirit of acculturation with the finer lines of business and commerce, and because our ‘national leaders’ know nothing about ‘culture’ – than how to juggle about number bingo games before elections, ‘culture’s’ biggest threat if at all, lies within.

We have a handful of gray haired nincompoops routinely boring us with long lectures, yet ask them to work out a solution, and all they will peddle are the ‘threats’, not our opportunities which we have suicidally lost. A solution appears only to be the exclusive purview of a band of ‘culture vultures’ – who will act only when it is their own ‘picking’s’ that are ‘threatened’ by whoever they consider ‘predators’. We will get to that in a while.

It is our media and by that we do not mean to infer, as if it’s the electronic media that is the villain. Pick up any newspaper’s, journal or magazine printed in Bangladesh and none can help overlook how much space and importance we give to Indian’s at the expense of our own, without even thinking about it and hopelessly without even their asking for such ‘favors’?

It is a travesty of judgment that our print and electronic media advertises India in its entirety - and that has moved on from an ingrained bad habit to that of a delirious ‘feel good’ mania – akin to a fine art. With no ready remedy available to monitor or regulate our ‘more than free’ media and no clear direction on what constitutes matters of ‘national interest’, what we have in hand as outsourced garbage with in-sourced resourcefulness, is inbred arrogance of the worst kind.

Getting back to nit picking, measure to measure, let us ask, would any Indian newspaper be so ‘generous’ in promoting Bangladeshi artiste or for that matter any product, to the extent of breaking the law?

One so-called ‘highly circulated national newspaper’ in the English language for instance, is notorious in coming up with a regular full page broadsheet every week in heavy promotion of Indian music, books and DVD’s, little realizing they are not only harming the nation, but also promoting piracy as none of the proprietorship of the product advertised is owned by any company or Indian representative in Bangladesh.

If you do not blindly support or advertise India, you will most certainly be termed with pains of humiliation as an ‘anti-liberation, fundamentalist, Razakar element’ in the popular shongskrishi! Yet try flipping this over, and attempt to endeavor a proposal welcoming Indian daily newspapers to ‘invade’ Bangladesh, and one can quite predict the outcome? Their well-trained, primed and plumed brigade of ‘culture vultures’ would have you slaughtered!

Bangladesh acculturation problems have routinely come with huge price tags. Decades back we opened our skies and our hearts to almost all Indian satellite TV worth its name, little realizing that it was just not culture that was up for sale, we opened the floodgate of our market to Indian consumer products which we then heavily advertised - FREE. Over the years much as we shouted, gloated and moaned, our ‘big neighbors’ cheap products essentially captured the local markets.

One of the arguments advanced when Indian satellite TV was literally ‘ushered in’ is how entertainment starved our general populace was, and since there was nothing comparable on offer (or available free) – no greater options were conceivably available. However post 1996, there has been a steady rise in the number of Bangladeshi satellite TV channels, offering as good if not better than Indian TV programming, within the limitations of budgets on offer and the very small size of the market they operate. Yet no government of the day has been able to effectively hard bargain an entrance into the Indian TV market, meaning all the ‘hospitality’ that we had offered earlier had been taken as granted for our ‘inferiority’. A hard balled Razakar statement: it can also be perceived as an appropriate ‘return’ for the ‘hospitality’ India extended to our people in 1971?

We as a nation never had our priorities straightened out and it comes not from a lack of interest or sheer incapacitation under any situation, rather it has become our ‘national culture’ of the ‘agri-cultural’ variety to bend over backward to accommodate India’s whims and caprice. By that we cannot singularly blame any political government at any time frame in our history, indeed all ‘democratic governments’ post 1990, have been relentless in their unabridged sycophancy to India, and one the general masses of chotolokes have begun to unwillingly accept as their predestined fate.

It is a shame that while we question any possible ‘cultural invasion’ by sounding clanging alarms and raising red flags, what is incomprehensible is how quickly we accept them and look the other way when things go terribly wrong. If there is at all a threat to acculturation, it comes not from any flaw in our national character, but in our failure to hard bargain, as we have readily accepted that ‘culture’ is not a commercial or political capital, but an intangible ‘commodity’ that can correct itself without much prodding from any direction – and with no intervention from market forces. We have remained primitive in our thinking as much as our ancestors, who lost out on the jamdani muslin fabrics to the Brits, and the ‘have plenty’s’ continue to ‘have them’ in heaps 200 plus years later, as much as our grandmothers sing us lullabies of our past glory.

There are no easy solutions, yet if we so much as try to be masters of our destiny the first thing we ought to learn are the fine skills of negotiation and behave independently. Much as India veers in its fanciful dream of becoming an international superpower by 2025, propelled by a US shot in the arm, thanks to the windfall courtesy the War on Terror, it nonetheless faces the haunting prospects of a huge energy security crisis and would play fair and foul to have it their way or show all its neighbors (with the exception of Pakistan perhaps) the ‘highway’.

No one has missed out the print medias recent columns after columns deification and glorification of Tata’s ‘proposal’ for a paltry US $ 2.5 billion (even when we have yet to see the face of the money) to have uninterrupted gas supply from Bangladesh, neither have we failed to notice its quick dribble back and forth when met with ‘ governmental resistance and delay’ to once again advance the millennium East India company’s jargon – ‘heck we don’t want gas pals – we want coal’ (read we want to trade innocently, NOT occupy), yet so ebullient and dogged was the media’s happiness with the Indian offer, that around the same time when a cocky Middle Eastern walked in to Dhaka, and offered over $ 3 billion up-front to buy up prime time real estate and hotel, it made little if NO press. Why? He wasn’t seeking gas or coal or any of our intangible and so-called ‘agri-culture’?

The answer lies if one looks up a good map of our pompous ‘Sub Continent’.

From the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh at the very bottom is viewed by India no more than a clogged and smelly drain, left to its elements at best. Its unabated, unprovoked and unrestrained propaganda howitzers aimed at Bangladesh only reinforces this very sore point. It knows all too well that we have to let the tide of fortune and misfortune they ‘control’, flow unhindered through our territory, yet nobody in Bangladesh has taken an education, that indeed all that ‘sediment’ good or bad, deposited in our shores, in our rivers and in our land makes us who we traditionally are – fertile, rich and prosperous and one that encompasses our national psyche.

A great Indian sage once said, “The human mind has a garbage dump and a treasure trove within his soul. It is up to him what he values and use it at his own discretion”.

The Bangladesh ‘culture vulture’s’ advanced, financed, fed and led by the media mafia, have inherited a most unpatriotic ‘gutter garbage complex’. It is only the confluence of time and space - much as the confluences of all the mighty rivers emanating from the Himalayas is one which will deal its preemptive final blow and reward them with appropriate answers.

As much as the water leaves the residues of all that is rich and bountiful in our soil and thus our spirit, it also rejects and ejects waste and effluent materials into the Bay of Bengal.


Here is wishing a ‘watery hell’ to our unpatriotic ‘patriots’!


Anonymous Subhan said...

Which way now?

Culture is the combination of beliefs, values, way of life and intellectual thoughts. Deposit of knowledge and acculturation play there respective part as well. For a nation it is quite a battle to deal with several sub-cultural groups at once if any one or more are vulnerable or even thought to be vulnerable.

From a broader perspective, Bangladeshis put their believe in Islam regarding religion, values family life in particular, practices persist hospitality, walk in the path of habitual income generated activities and lay to the traditional line for regular entertainment. With the flow of technological advancement, spreading the urban attitude and beliefs throughout the country is much easy then before. It is indeed dangerous to be effected by more than one element and to try coping with all at once. Though Bangladeshis believe and have faith in Islam, very few actually follow the Islamic lifestyle; rather lifestyle became a series of combination including Indian taste. With the urgency to be united with the rich communities is a treacherous step though it is essential to be informative about the surroundings at the same time. Though acculturation does not make our culture fragile, the mentality does! If the mentality of the mass turns in to the notion that our cultural activities may not be fulfilled without some elements of the exposure oriented activities which has to be hired from neighbors, then we as a nation are under major threat. The flavor of ‘ethnocentrism’ has been observed by the Indian media and their think tanks for decades. If our media and intellectuals move with the flow then we are heading towards a disaster. Culture’s biggest threat lays here; illiterate national and cultural leaders heighten up the situation with their usual idiosyncratic decisions.

In the era of market oriented economy, it is tough to bargain with such a powerful neighbor when priorities are not even straightened up. Emergence of TATA which made the headlines is just one petite element of the whole picture. Garments industry, hotel industry, sports, marketing, electronic media and medical sector are also invaded by the Indians. Fumbling and sycophancy only help this malevolence neighbor to form its Imperialism step by step. Process started in 1971 if not earlier. We must open put of the colored glass and face the dirty reality. True that technological know-how, expert opinion and the vase market India can offer is on the affirmative side of the coin but how much must Bangladeshis pay just to act like obedient, dependent little brother to get these?

The last and only thing which has a tremendous force within to race with the big evil is our cultural belongings. We must not seat back and enjoy some Indian idols or writers or newspapers enter minds of the mass to fulfill its wickedness.

4:45 PM  

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