Sunday, February 10, 2008

Billboards, pop and Christianity

I hesitated a bit the second week at the Ashram when Rebecca invited me over to her house for the next afternoon. She was quiet and with only a few precious afternoons to go over to students’ houses I wanted an experience where she could answer my questions, and hold a conversation. Despite my second guessing, I agreed to accompany her home. Yes, the afternoon we spent together was very quiet. But what I found most rewarding was not what she said but what she was able to show me. I found this to be true in all of my home visits. We headed down hill, her family house was maybe a 20 minute walk down, 5 minutes on the road. We passed the smoking, smoldering tar waiting to be hand spread by the workmen. We passed more workers sharing shovels, in that crafty way we all saw them work in tandem. I noted the types of billboards that we, as Americans, were used to back at home. Advertisements for computers and cell phones. One incongruous billboard with the happy white western faces of college-students smiling down at Rebecca and I promoting education. I had seen it before, but the faces looked especially mocking this time as we walked by. Who was that billboard aimed toward? How could Indian’s find commonality with white faces, the indulged looking group of friends smiling without cares? I was brought back to Stephanie Kang’s newspaper article concerning Indian advertisements. She argues, “Today you have to create an ad which is tailor-made and designed for the audience in this country [India], otherwise they will reject it.” I completely disagree. While I was in India, Indians were hungry to accept American culture. The students strove to be like us, they were willing to accept many aspects of the dissimilar culture we represented. Kang continues her argument that this new feeling of Indian independence and identity is a clear sign of their growing, “confidence in their own identity, in their own language and their own food.” How can this be so is many of the children sing the pop songs we know? When I got to Rebecca’s house she fondly showed me a decrepit tape player that her family cherished. It was covered in stickers and half of the front protection was gone. She showed me their minimal tape collection – all modern western tunes. We couldn’t get any of the tapes to play. She informed me that the player didn’t always work. I was upset that so many of the Indian children were proud to accept our culture so readily. From my experiences in Delhi, visiting homes, and getting to know the kids and the community I found that, contrary to Kang’s argument, their was a lack of confidence in their Indian culture. When I went over to Sita’s house (a driven 17 year old border studying English and literature), she explained to me her reasoning to convert to Christianity. She wanted to be different from her parents – taking an active step towards becoming more western. I wonder, was her decision as informed as it could be? Was she fully aware of the richness of her history that she had decided to leave behind? I think that the tendency to so readily accept and believe in Western “superiority” and “preeminence” in the mind of Indians is thanks to, in large part, the legacy of British colonization. Can Indian’s truly represent themselves and their complex cultural society when they are so influenced by their past and drawn toward other highly advertised cultures and convictions?

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