Monday, February 11, 2008

Modernity and the Subaltern

I went into town a couple of times a week during my stay at the Gandhi Ashram and the most interesting times in town were when I would go out to a restaurant (King Thai), sit back and relax. I was in a different world in there, a world that reminded me a lot of New York City. There was a dance floor in King Thai’s, the set up looked just like a high class restaurant in my neighborhood so every time I stepped into King Thai’s it was as if I was still in New York City just enjoying my night. The people in King Thai’s did not look like the people that I usually see around 6th mile, no these people were a lot more modern, a lot more British/American in their behavior, they had their cigarette, their meal and would dance the night away. These people reminded me a lot of the New Yorkers I meet and know so seeing them there did not make me think “Hey, I’m in India” I just thought I was in New York City all a long. The manager, the waiters, majority of the people there all spoke English, the music played was only American, and the drinks of course were not Indian but once you stepped out of King Thai and walked to get that cab back to the Gandhi Ashram, it hits you that you are in India.

I remember one day I was in King Thai’s, there was a family there sitting eating dinner I noticed the clothing they were wearing, they weren’t the typical Kalimpong family that I saw in 6th mile these people were obviously more modern. The woman there was wearing American/ Western clothing there was no glimpse of Indian culture with her clothing, the husband was busy smoking his cigarette and having his gin while the sons were busy dancing on the dance floor to techno and singing a long to some other Western music. Such experiences like these were prominent in restaurants like King Thai’s, the fact that I saw the modernizing elite described in Chakrabartys’ article. However, once I got back to campus and the Gandhi Ashram students surrounded me the next day, I noticed how they were not modern in the sense that they were Western but rather they had their own unique culture and traditions that were passed on from their parents. The children were not much influenced by the global popular but rather displayed the influences of the local popular, while the people I met and saw at King Thai’s represented the influences of the global popular. The global popular did reach the children of the Gandhi Ashram but I felt as if the local popular was displayed more.

What I don’t understand is why the elite are eager to modernize themselves to become more “Western,” why their own culture is swept aside and they appropriate to a Western culture because it is the fashionable thing to do. I would love to see a Kalimpong in which the town is rich of only its own culture, which is not influenced by British colonialism ranging from influences on relationships, education, and clothing. I would like to see the bazaars in Kalimpong filled with people who are just trying to be themselves and not trying to be something else, in essence a town that resembles the culture and traditions that I was exposed to by some of the children at Gandhi Ashram, which is unique to that region and not a rip off of American/Western culture.

No comments: