Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gandhi and Gorkhaland

Not unlike the realization that we all had that the Nepali pop article was dead on when we learned our first night in Kalimpong that popular “sentimental music” included bands like Metallica, I was surprised how many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies I caught without meaning to. Although we didn’t reach a unanimous decision about whether or not During’s formulaic approach to creating a global popular was valid or not, seeing Commando at the border station between West Bengal and Sikkim was again writing on the wall that the articles were leading us in the right direction. It’s not that I didn't like Metallica or Schwarzenegger movies at one point in my life and it’s not like I don’t like them now—I was just surprised to see them so far away from home. In the context of the other readings that we did, they both seem very contrary to traditional Indian ideals, most specifically Gandhi’s. Gandhi’s satyagrahas, the nonviolent protests that we read so much about, don’t fit with Arnie’s muscled body, nor do they fit with our understanding of the emotions reflected in all of the noise of Metallica’s music. I really see a contradiction of the two, and it made me wonder what triggered such a radical take-off for the ever-evolving Indian culture. And while many of the Ashram students weren’t familiar with who Arnold Schwarzenegger was, arguably his film career is a little dated at this point, it was clear that they did know Akon, Eminem and G-Unit, who clearly have not taken Gandhi’s passivity into their own lives. Arguably, popular music isn’t just about the lyrics, violent or otherwise, but it’s certainly a big part of the equation. I don’t know exactly what sort of music Gandhi would condone for modern day society, but rap music likely isn’t it. Similarly, he probably wouldn’t be a big fan of violent action blockbusters, yet they seem to be the archetype of During’s explanation of a global popular, with or without Arnie in the lead role. The most applicable parallel I saw to this was the whole Gorkhaland snafu as it is playing out now and as it played out in the past. From what I got talking to Ashram students and staff, Kalimpong and other northern towns want to split off from West Bengal because of the way their tax dollars seem to be benefitting the southern parts of the state, most specifically Calcutta, instead of their own infrastructure. The political movement in the eighties that they described to me gave way to extreme and horrific violence, much like the penultimate scene of a Schwarzenegger movie. Countless innocent civilians were killed for the cause, but no new state appeared, only a new party that twenty years later is again stirring up a potential schism. Now it seems that the same thing could happen again with a new party, along with the existing one, trying to guide the people, albeit by different means, toward a better tomorrow. We saw the flags and the graffiti and experienced the strike, and in talking to students and staff, it sounds like everyone is hopeful that this time the negotiations will happen in a more Gandhi-way, non-violently through diplomacy. But there were almost unanimous predictions that like in the past, violence will become a prominent part of what is to come. It’s an unfortunate reality, especially considering the respect that Gandhi receives in his country as a freedom fighter focused on participating only in non-violent forms of protest. But it makes me wonder if perhaps the violence often glorified in the global popular, be it music or film, is an example all too often followed. Schwarzenegger movies, like Commando and Total Recall were in their heyday at the time of the last revolution, but perhaps because they are not today, negotiations could go more smoothly. However in seeing that music has replaced film in some respects, perhaps this won’t be the case at all considering the connotation of much of popular Western music’s lyrics. Reflecting on it now, it was uncanny to see how often the examples offered in the articles were reflected in what we saw during our month in Kalimpong. Like another guide book to supplement the ones that some of us brought, they paved the way for just a little more understanding of Indian culture as it evolves away from much of what we considered it would be. I just hope that our Western influence, whatever it may ultimately be, doesn’t get in the way of a peaceful split for the Gorkhaland supporters.

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