Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You jogging, Miss?

Every morning in Kalimpong (except the days I was sick) I rose early before breakfast and made my way around the hairpin turns jogging to town and back. I enjoyed discovering new Gorkhaland banners painted along the road, observing the locals beginning their daily chores and catching the first glimpse of Kanchenjunga at eighth mile if the fog had lifted. Based on the response I got from the locals the first few mornings I went out I could tell it was a foreign concept seeing someone running for fun to expend extra energy. Many people I passed were already washing clothing, carrying a massive load of firewood on their back, shoveling piles of gravel, boiling drums of oil for road repairs or sometimes just brushing their teeth. In most cases it appeared that they neither possessed the time nor the energy to run twelve kilometers first thing in the morning. Nevertheless, I greeted everyone I passed with a cheerful “good morning” or “namaste” and continued on my way. In the article, “Popular Culture on a Global Scale: A Challenge for Cultural Studies?” the author, Simon During, identifies Arnold Schwarzenegger as a global popular or an element of the media that transcends and is popular in markets spanning cultural boundaries. The article was written ten years ago and is largely outdated considering many of the Gandhi Ashram boarders didn’t recognize the name Schwarzenegger when I asked them. However, the defined cuts and unparalleled mass of his body became popular via the blockbuster sensation Total Recall in the early nineties. According to During, the male built body has an element of appeal on various levels. Schwarzenegger’s figure is in many regards unnatural but suggests the rigorous routine of transforming the body. The male built body reflects a relentless work regimen and that particular aspect is relatable on a private and personal level. It is apparent that the sculpting of the body is not possible without conspicuous leisure time to do so, a privilege enjoyed mostly by the upper class, also the same group that is the most consumed by the concept of body image. During argues that the male built body attempts to achieve the classical Greek ideal but interestingly enough, “workouts mime and personalize labor, especially the kind of (Fordist) labor that is exported in the global economy” (818). Therefore it has its roots in the image of a working class laborer such as those found in “subaltern” communities in the hills of West Bengal (even if the Nepali villagers are not exact replicas of Schwarzenegger due to various other factors including heritage, a compromised diet or lack of steroids.) My morning experience in Kalimpong illuminated socioeconomic class differences quite apparently for me. But nothing spoke to me about the receptiveness of the culture like the second morning when I passed an older man lugging pails of water, who gave me the thumbs up and told me I was doing a great job or the random woman who leaned out of a passing taxi our final Friday to ask if that was in fact my final day in Kalimpong. Before the end of our first week the locals were greeting me first with a pleasant “morning” or “hello”. And the best part, of course, was my students. There was nothing like finding Prayash waiting for me at six and half mile to run down to Gandhi Ashram, Subash joining us and dropping his marbles or carrying Anil and Syrup’s bags as we flew down the hill doing airplanes all the way to school. Even the road repairmen operating their steamrollers got amusement out of that sight. As teachers we don’t always realize the immediate impact we’ve had on our students but I did my best this past month to make virtuosic violinists and track stars out of them.

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