Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Reflections on the Month

During our last week at Gandhi Ashram, Megan and I had the privilege of walking 2 of my class 2 girls and one of her class 3 girls home. The walk took about 45 minutes, going down through fields and people’s backyards to take a “shorter” way to their village which was around 3rd or 4th mile. The girls chattered away in somewhat broken English, throwing different Nepali terms at us for everything we were seeing. For awhile the girls were content tugging on our hands and chatting away, but soon they wanted us all to sing an English song that the music department boys had taught all the kids. The song is a silly camp song about a moose, which I don’t think they have any idea what a moose is, but they really love the song, that’s for sure. It was amazing to me how the girls kind of slurred the words together, probably not really thinking about what they were saying or what it meant to be singing about a moose drinking juice. I wonder if they just love the tune of the song, or love that it is an English song, or what the appeal is. There could, I’m sure, be some intellectual commentary on how they gravitate towards an English-language song due to its connotations of Western modernity and some kind of superiority (Chakrabarty would probably agree here). But isn’t it true that across the world, kids are just kids who like to be silly and sing funny songs? The tune implies a frivolity that even if you don’t understand the words makes the kids laugh. Though I definitely agree that many of my encounters in India can be looked out from an academic standpoint and studied as examples of different historical and globalizing movements, one thing that I really saw from the kids at Gandhi Ashram is that people across the globe are a lot more similar that we tend to think. The kids we taught may have completely different backgrounds, lifestyles, and perspectives from anything I have ever encountered before, but there are some attitudes and ideas that are absolutely basic to humanity. Laughing at a silly song, in whatever language it may be, seems quite universal to me. Continuing on our walk, almost as we got to Prashanta’s house, Megan and I ran into Allie and Cassie who were walking home with Bipana, Srishana, Asha, and Neema. They invited us to come with them down the hill to a small Buddhist temple. We all jumped in the back of a goods carrier truck and headed down. The temple was hidden back through paths of beautiful greenery, a place of wonderful peace and tranquility. The temple was more of a shrine, with a small cave connected to it. We all explored the inside of the cave, finding offerings of bangles, candles, food, and fabric. The girls led us all around for about an hour before we realized that it was getting dark and time to try and hail a taxi for 6th Mile. Two things struck me about the visit. First of all, though the girls (and Neema) took us to the site and showed us everything, they didn’t seem to have much more knowledge or understanding of the significance of the site, offerings, and shrines than we did. Srishana attends Gandhi Ashram and Bipana attended there and now is a boarder, so they have grown up with Christian influence from the school. Is that why they were so surprisingly ignorant of the customs and beliefs of such a prevalently Indian religion? Perhaps, as Chakrabarty would argue, they see the kind of Western Christianity that is taught at the Jesuit Gandhi Ashram as more appealing. He might argue that with British imperialism’s emphasis that anything Western is synonymous with modernity and is therefore superior, these children have come so far as to, consciously or subconsciously, subtly identify even Western religion as superior. On the other hand, During would no doubt argue that this encounter is not necessarily an example of lingering British imperial influence, but instead it is an example of just how far globalization or transnationalization has gone in creating a global popular that somewhat alienates people from their own, traditional cultures. Christianity is a much more widely popular religion than Buddhism and it has been a large part of globalization, as I would argue that most globalization stems from if not the United States, the West in general, and the West is heavily influenced by Christianity. The second thing that jumped out at me was that as we were leaving the site to get a taxi, the group starting singing Avril Lavigne. We all joined in, singing an awful American pop song as we left that ancient place. The juxtaposition of modern American culture and ancient traditional culture was a bit jarring. Some people would perhaps be alarmed at this, saying that we should work to preserve ancient culture and traditions with no outside influences or attempts to mesh old culture with new. During would probably say that that is not possible, that a new global popular that meshes old and new is inevitable. Globalization, especially through technology, has created a common global culture that is unlike anything seen before. If we don’t go too far and only latch on to what is new and popular, but instead try to integrate the old with the new, then perhaps we can take the best of both old and new cultures. From what I understand of Gandhi, this is precisely what he advocated when he borrowed ideas from ancient wisdoms but played those ideas out in new forms. Going to one extreme or the other means giving up quite a deal, so finding a medium of acceptance and understanding of both old and new, whether the old or new is Western or not, is what seems to be the inevitably best way.