Ramblings on Culture

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Expatriate Cultural Organizations

Posting in Tamil Nation June 99

Tamil Nation is growing in strength qualitatively and quantitatively. A forum for actual problems of expatriate community may be a useful feature. A group of people from varied walks of life and background are trying to form a society as islands of safety in a cosmopolitan setting. But in doing so they are trying to establish a hierarchical order. This in itself is OK. But whatever venture we are embarking on very soon becomes a center of disturbance, whether temples, sangams or anything. Is this actually in our genes ( infighting) or is this syndrome prevalent to the same degree in other communities? we can't really say. What makes us tick in cultural matters, inspite of our plight is amazing and what makes us fight is still surprising? While this is going on, and we talk about Tholkappiyam, children are moving out into another area. May be they are fed up with what goes on as entertainment of adults and branching out into their own idiosyncrasies. Should we not provide a forum to bring these out? Young adults are not going to queue to this but elders might set some priorities. Opening up Tamil chat for youth is a good outlet for their energies. We might learn what their real interests are. Could we consider the following:-

An internally consistent society would be more productive and meet challenges better than a dissenting one. Consistency means the coarse and mindless disorder in social affairs are understood. It does not mean that we all agree on everything. But instead have in place a widely prevalent attitude, in such matters. A basic fabric of understanding to encompass as many views as possible under its umbrella. The hierarchical infighting or "naddanmai" is the run for elite position within the society. Elitism in the colonial era had its uses. It was in touch with the bureaucratic power centers. Thus influence flowed down and had a real benefit in terms of jobs and securing a place in the Society. But here ( overseas) it is a repetition of the patterns without much practical purpose. But patterns are had to crack, even if we know that it is irrational, something deeper perpetuates these patterns.

Clannishness is an element of feudalism. Once we have this attitude, society will find ways and means to manifest this tendency. People who migrated before 1983 several of them have a grouse , that they had a better image with locals before the influx. There may be an element of truth in this, but main point is that what was exotic & exclusive to them have now become common garden variety. This seems to be the real grouse. The professional migrants had to witness, how simple folks are able to adopt to western living, just like themselves. They have been under the impression that this sophistication is their domain. The fact remains that they had been living without the elements of culture and cuisine, before 83. They lived on the remnant of pre colonial image westerners had about Indians and were satisfied with reciprocating to this appropriately. A tinge of exoticness. But real life is harsh and not exotic. Now we are what we are. Before also we were that, but now we are reminded of it constantly. This is the problem. This change could not have come about without the influx of migrants from all levels of the society. This division becomes a factor in social interaction. Middle class lives by the rule of law. The new migrants did not come with jobs. In fact some of them were not qualified, in that sense. So they got into skirmishes with the law. They had to tell lies sometimes small, sometimes big that are needed to get on with authorities. However, lot of them with sheer determination were able to make it and their children are as good as others. This group has its own vernacular idiom and forms its own layer. They are the practical lot whose skills are called in for behind the scene events for festivals etc. Their singular contribution is versatility and adding colour to otherwise drab middle class setting.

 But certain category of young people in this group may have gone too far in this direction. These aggressive elements have a disregard for "educated people" and they too had become successful. This is the potpourri we have. Whether the society functions along these layers may be questionable, but the fact that there is lot of aggravation can not be disputed. This is compounded by the fact that educated people do not take a moral stand. They simply align themselves for convenience or withdraw. This way the process of degeneration is aided. The problems one hears as happening in Toronto is going to affect the future of the community. Looking at what is happening overseas and what is happening in Tamil Nadu or Srilanka, I am being forced to ask a question: Have we overrated our culture and spend energies into this ( cultural biz) whereas we cant seem to live decently. Is there something inherently wrong in "our culture" that we are blind to?. Or even worse the is there something wrong with our genetic make up for us to be blind to our plight. This may not be a welcome doubt, certainly I was not overjoyed by asking this question. Whatever the answers are proposed for the question, but the question itself has a validity at this point. You see, modesty is a good startingpoint.

In this context the media of expressing oneself is limited. There is not much of an outlet for energies of young people. Technology has advanced to abolish communication problem over distances, but we have not taken advantage of this power in any organized way. In this Tamil Nation has pioneered. I hope this oddessy continues by extending its boundaries. At the local level, the Radio programs, video libraries and Kalai vizhas have a long way to go, in making them relevant to the society. Except in Bharatha Natyam, where teaching is a disciplined tradition others linger behind. In drama the situation is pathetic, often lacking content or form, it is simply testing the patience of audience.

I have heard that Balendra and Thasisius had been striving to establish a meaningful theatre in London. But they had it in them even as far back as 1980s. There may be others like them. There is work by individuals like Kalyana sundaram, Govindasamy Ilanko and several others who are updating technological reach of Tamils. How many of such people are widely known? The need for getting excellence into social affairs itself has to be first felt by people. We are just now getting to know this amazing medium. But the content of the medium too is important. Often this is lacking.

We can use this internet medium for upgrading our social events. For example, Cant some sensible drama script outline be made for events and made available to societies all over by pooling talents. There are numerous Sangam magazines, some among them I am sure has material worthy of reaching larger audience. Cant a joint publication effort be made to reduce costs, improve standard which individual sangams can ill afford? An expatriate publishing house may come out of such efforts in sharing. These are now impossible not because of Technology or finance but lack of perspective. We have not come to the simple level of being aware of our limitations. We have not defined what a meaningful culture is in the first place. We have to give way to creativity at the expense of being enthusiastically naive, or clannishness. The thriving commercial ventures in video and audio suggests ample circulation of green bag. Fact remains that we are caught in the whirlpool of consumerism, and not even aware of it. where does this all leads to?

I am sure Tamil Nation would be able to bring current issues to the focus of
interested people - By constantly hammering this home. {my link
indicated through Tamil Nation has changed. new email : bharathy@paradise.net.nz }

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Ramblings on Tamil Culture

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We tend to think (implicitly), that culture is embodied in Bharatha Natyam, Film Songs, Films, Dramas and having thus externalised "Culture", we then send our children to 'study' them. This way, parents 'make up' for their supposed lack of culture, by the alleged accomplishments of the children. It is generally, not clear to us, that behaviour, our conflicts and relationships also form the bedrock of culture. The dance and songs are external manifestation of this inwardness.

Most of the artforms like dance, are broadly speaking a mechanical imitation of creativity. This is a symptom of inward tawdriness. Of course, it is wrong to generalise, but we can use some caution in gullibly accepting these as the real McCoy. In this sense, I have not come across very many devoted teachers. Most of these exponents are quite mediocre and have little worth transmitting.

But then again, remember the proverb, "Wedlock and Guru are written on your forehead" - meaning that we get the teachers we deserve. Having said this, it must be said to its (all this ging-bang) credit, that children come together and participate in a common goal in these ventures. They have a forum and context to come into the Society. (This is mostly limited to the girls). Boys can entertain themselves with their own devices. At least it gives the youth a breather space to fill the time of the day (non destructively) till they go for higher education, which is what the parents really care for. So all this can be said to have a relevance, in a limited sense; limited by the importance we attribute to them.

It is easy to see why behaviour,(ie getting rid of conflicts and fear) is not considered as an important function of 'culture'. It is undramatic (no outward panthas-showbiz) and has little to show for in a short time. It is most elusive and requires a strong commitment, honesty on the part of the Society to define this as an important goal of a cultural School. We do not have the patience to do this. Besides who cares? As long as one's own children enter the Uni and beat the 'socially relevant neighbour' to it and then gets a Job and then gets married, and so on. This individual aspiration is very strong aspect in 'our midst'. I am not sure whether it prevails in other migrant communities. May be it does. The reason that we do not consider these may be, becuase we have succeeded in establishing ourselves in expatriate surroundings, and that makes us sure of ourselves.

' We know all about it, So don't listen to old foggies'. But there are problems ahead. Fortunately, those of us who came to the West in our teens or adult life, have some grounding (how real is this assumption anyway?) on how to handle crisis, like bereavement, economic pressures, marital problems. Though admittedly it is not a foolproof system, the good aspects of 'Tamil culture' has mostly by good luck rather than design has stuck with us. This credit goes to savants, saints and ordinary good men, whose 'Thavam' has cleared some unconscious blockages. It is a good time to pause and think what are we doing about being really good. Even if we are unable to be this, are we earnest in making a movement towards goodness which is really creativity? This will determine how the next generation will handle life?

Have we connected the relevance of being earnest and good to the future of the generations to come. There seems to be no other insurance. Education and Jobs are susceptible to so many faults. Nearly everything depends on an infinite number of causes, it cannot be approached this way. For example a war or depression can upset carefully calculated equations. At least after all these years of packing our bags, we should know this much. If the community has survived the onslaughts and ravages, it may be attributed to the goodness described above.

The last two generations of 'perfect government servants' has created a colossal materialism in our culture. Middle class created a mediocrity in Politics and Life of the Tamils. The commercialisation of the dowry system is one of the phenomenon of this white collar 'a la Jaffna' style. This motivation still propels us to great extent. There is some practical realism ( move from clerks to Doctors/Engineers/Accountants and accumulation of wealth) in this set of conditioning, which is the reason why it succeeded. But it may not hold the key to future generations. This should be considered as a statement to be examined by people and debated rather than an axiom. Leaving this for a while...

We talk of Sangam poetry ( Please try to read the originals or read AK Ramanujan's translation: Poetry of Love and War). Anyone who has studied this will be struck by the stark originality of some of the verses. But Tamils have lost the art of appreciating nature directly. It is only through a bad recording of a second class Tamil film that they see the nature in all its splendour. Have you heard of complaints 'The movies you get now a days are all vulgar with no story'. With the same breadth they keep on borrowing videos.......ad nauseum. As a community we have some pet beliefs, one is that we are heir to some mystical ancient wisdom. That just calling ourselves Tamil, we can invoke this power. I have yet to see the signs of such wisdom (we wouldn't be in this plight if this were so).

It is like a bank account, unless we also put in credit we cannot keep borrowing on an overdraft. It does not work that way, at least it seems to me. A word of caution. It is easy to make these kind of observations but we have to be careful that we are not hurting people. Fortunately some of us may have not been a victim of personal suffering in the recent political conflicts. Or perhaps some of those affected have managed to heal. Therefore they could bring certain objectivity into discussions However, those who have been recipients of a direct blow, may not be able to be so objective.

But being directly affected by events is not a necessary condition to understanding. The people directly affected cling on to a perception that they have more to say, or should be heard more and have more rights associated with their suffering. Thus communication problems arise. The best option is to put it across and just leave it at that. In any event what can one do in these extra ordinary circumstances we find ourselves? I would think that we have to earnestly desire an understanding. One of the preliminary conditions would be a stance of true humility that : We have messed up things, that we really do not know what to do. Without some humility it is difficult to listen to saner voices.

I have been helped by some saints in my inquiry, but just giving these names ( They always point out that they are Not persons in our accepted sense and are not limited by names and forms) might have the opposite effect, to what is intended. This can be misunderstood and we could easily fall into a trap of miracles and easy salvation (albeit Success).

The international forums of various Tamil do's are just variety entertainment. There is a time for sowing and time for reaping. This is not the time for table thumping but time for refection. We are just being hurried into writing papers. There should be a foundation laid, which calls for a minimum standards before people can air their views.

Most of the expatriate products do not reflect the experience of expatriate ( Bharathi Mukerji , Raja Rao, VS Naipul are some good examples of Indian expat authentic writing) living but are mere cliches. I hope this fact is put across strongly to some participants at least (organisers are happy with organisation paimpals).

It is difficult to just be. I think restraint would be the best course in confused times (particularly when confused persons are too sure of themselves). Atleast then a geniuine attempt will not be mistaken for one of these alladdal. Models of culture based on Jaffna, is not the best answer. Obviously, the last winning Lotto number will not repeat the next time.

Blame for the current crisis in Sri Lanka, in part must lie with Tamils. Yogar Swamy was known to have repeatedly told people of the destructive effects of mass clerical culture. Nevertheless, the people surrounding him have been asking for boons in promotion class 2 or 1 as the case may be, and got it from him!. Having escaped the crisis, it is very easy to pontificate of 'our great cultural heritage'. Something was obviously amiss in this culture for us to be wanting to try all avenues of escape from the scene of conflict.

For a clear definition of highest in Tamil culture refer to a line from Sangam ' The good and bad DOES NOT COME FROM OTHERS (but of themselves), So is disease and death; Therefore I neither laugh at the'small people' nor venerate the 'Great ones' '.

The poet obviously takes responsibility on himself for everything based on deep understanding. If he were to 'see' a White man, he does not see instantly with the prejudice of superiority tinged with inferiority and all the mixed up train of thoughts... but just sees a man without screen of prejudice. Thirumoolar, Sivavakiyar are some other examples. I would add respectfully: Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Ramana Maha Rishi, Yogar are recent examples.

A Zen saying that is relevant here: The wise man points the fingers at the moon; The fool looks at the fingers.

We all fall into this trap, if not always, but at least some times. Do not trust everything that is written here. Use it only as a counter point to move forward. The real question is: How do we learn to unlearn the past and the art of learning how to learn?

(Articles abstracted from Soc.Culture 1996 and now n Tamil Nation Website. Down loaded curtsey TamilNation  ) 16.jpg (1075 bytes)


" Wise man points his fingers at the moon and the fool looks at the finger "- Zen saying

Mail Author: C Kumara Bharathy