Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Hot Nepali Pop

One night, after our nightly routine of doing dishes, some girls (who will remain anonymous for confidentiality) and I went down to the music hall to listen to some “Hot Nepali Pop” CDs we had bought earlier in the afternoon. The boarders came along to inform us what was actually “hot” and what we had simply been conned into purchasing. However, after a couple minutes of listening to terribly recorded and bootlegged Nepali tunes, the boarders broke off into their own Nepali singing and dance routine. Impressed by their performance but in no way willing to let them steal the show, the girls and I quickly gathered our forces and countered their act with a stunning show of Spice Girls’s classic, “Stop.” All of a sudden we found ourselves in a sort of sing-off/dance-off, where the boys would start singing a Nepali classic and we would try to overpower them with an American one. Being a Colby student, I of course pointed out the symbolism in our activity- we were having a cultural face-off. It didn’t take us long to realize that they knew many more songs and dances than we did, and sang them with more fervor and passion. When they saw us huddling in a desperate attempt to come up with another song we all knew the lyrics to, they just began to sing louder and dance in a circle around us. As you can imagine, we were surrounded and had no choice but to surrender. I remember one girl looking at me and saying, “Wow, their culture just owned our culture.” But wait, their culture is the one that Chakrabarty claims bases itself on Western standards and ideals. Weren’t we the West in this situation? Didn’t they just blow us away by being non- Western? Certainly this couldn’t be what Chakrabarty was referring to when he claims in his Subaltern Studies that India is a “historic failure of a nation to come to its own” (5)! If this cultural showcase, which literally “owned” our Western customs, is the result of a “historic failure,” then I’m not sure where that puts the US. And that night of rich cultural exhibition wasn’t just an outlier in a mainly subdued and ambiguous society- it happened again a couple nights later at a bonfire attended by both Colby students and Gandhi boarders. The boarders once again dominated the entertainment (other than Menya jumping over the fire, clearly), while our one attempt to start, “Girls just want to have fun,” was terribly unsuccessful. No, these kids weren’t trying to imitate our culture at all; they were caught up in the music, the dance, and the traditions of their own culture. My campfires at home are usually relaxing moments of quiet singing, reflection and marshmallow roasting, while here I was amidst a rowdy group of Indian teenagers clapping my hands, singing to the point of losing my voice and skipping. At a time when they could have easily joined us in an acoustic ballad of “Stairway to Heaven,” the boarders took pride in their independence from the West and embraced the cultural glue that holds Kalimpong together. So what’s the difference between globalization and Westernization? I don’t think that by wearing a Yankees sweatshirt a boy is giving up his Indian culture, and I don’t think that by listening to Avril Lavigne an Indian girl is losing her identity. I think that with the Internet, TV and overall better networking around the world today, there just happen to be more external similarities between cultures that are internally very different. That boy will still go home (where three generations probably live together) and take off his shoes before entering the door, and that girl will still know every move in traditional Nepali dance by the time she’s ten. The similarities we saw between our culture and the Nepali culture aren’t a result of British Imperialism; they are inevitable consequences of globalization. That girl isn’t listening to Western music because she thinks its superior to Nepali music; she’s listening to it because it’s now available to her (not to mention Avril Lavigne has really catchy tunes).

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