Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Mixing of Culture

We who grew up with the Internet as a source of entertainment and communication barely acknowledge its outstanding achievements. If, by chance we do, it is only with an air of indifference. Yet, placed in the context of a small room designated the computer room at the Gandhi Ashram School, it becomes a completely different story. If any person were to walk into that room at any given moment during the afternoon they would witness a dozen or so kids glued to laptop screens. Some played an arcade game called Demos Arising, while others scenically flashed from yahoo email inboxes to the Windows media player application, which blasted out the sounds of 50 cent, Avril Lavigne, Rihanna, Enrique Inglesias and Shakira. What appeared most striking about this scene was all the kids’ energy was directly focused on westernized creations, even though they were located in a small region on the other side of the world. It is truly amazing to travel half way across the globe to hear and see images we commonly associate with here back in the States. The increasing access to the Internet is only speeding up the process on both sides. Some argue that this is an onslaught of western cultural imperialism; whish is single handedly stripping away the small but equally as diverse local cultures. Or as Chakrabarty would argue, make the study of their culture all the more difficult. Others would argue that, in fact, it is allowing those with the ability, motivation and more importantly the resources to broadcast their images and culture. I, myself, fall into the latter group. The Internet as a tool has given people around the world the ability and the means to communicate with any one else willing to listen. What is most important, while the barriers to entry are still relatively high they are systematically being broken down. When I say barriers to entry, I am referring to the cost of connecting to the Internet and/or buying a computer. While Colby donated the computers, among them was a new breed, which cost only $400. What is even more impressive was that the Internet connection at the school was through a cheap mobile phone with a Bluetooth adapter. Moreover, it appeared that every boarder and teacher had an email address. Even though restricted by a lack of computer availability and Internet access, each one still had an email address. This circumstance only proves that advances in technology are allowing those with lesser means to achieve just as much. I am sure, if given the chance to study and observe, Chakrabarty and Durning would have a field day. The situation, not only, exemplifies the perceived Eurocentric lens of history preached by Chakrabarty but also applies During’s example of what he considers the global popular. His examples include the popular names listed previously. Chakrabarty’s point can be applied even further to encompass the entire school, which is: 1) run by a Jesuit priest and 2) firmly structures its teaching schedules in a British fashion. If the study of subaltern cultures is truly structured under the umbrella of westernization, the Gandhi Ashram School is no doubt a scene of its practice. Yet, the cultural mix went both ways. The boarders played western music, and the Colby students played Nepali music. As if looking into a reflective mirror, we both enjoyed the other’s sounds but knew very little of its cultural context. It is only in the ideals of the Gandhi tradition that this transmission can be fully understood. It is when all doors and windows are open that we accept the breeze of different cultures and identities. As with the Internet, the Gandhi Ashram, true to its name embodies this.

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