Raigad Dairies III – Culture conflicts
Part III – In retrospect
He is quite a powerful man with political clout is this hinterland. The CM, they tell me and other state dignitaries, visit him when they are in these parts. It was disturbing, as I stood there with Laxman’s words reverberating in my ears. My breath quickened and I began to perspire profusely. I felt seething rage seep in, challenging my capability to maintain mental equanimity and objective distance. Was this just a human reaction? Was I now, one of them?
I was quite exited to experience the local culture and dance forms. So, after quite a bit of cajoling the locals agreed to ‘perform’ with the pre-condition that we take part in it. We gathered near the courtyard, surrounding it we waited in anticipation. They said that they would play the “banjo”. Now, I was curious!
A band with a synthesizer and orchestra drums, often seen in weddings, suddenly took form. A loud din of familiar pulsating tunes filled the air. The village men started gyrating to the rhythm al la Ganesha festival procession in Mumbai. I gasped at the vigorous and at times crass moves, an obvious external influence that was internalized.
Prabha Tirmare, the Nirmala Niketan professor traveling with us, explained. “We were shocked to see them…Their dance form was quite different sometime back. It was much more rural and poignant. The rustic art form seems to be lost…The women have started wearing relatively modern clothing and plucking their eyebrows…it is gradually changing”
The day before, I washed my face in a corner, by the roadside, in front of the temple we had slept in. In a stereotypical yuppie movie twist, the rock I thrust my head over turned out to be a tribal deity! I was grossly embarrassed and after apologizing profusely, I quietly walked ahead. It was genuine ignorance that made me commit this act. At this point I felt diminutive, a complete moron.
The students who took part in the ‘traditional dance’ were much more demure and ‘rural’ than the villagers. Was a tradition lost forever, diluted beyond recognition. Were we overtly romanticizing village life?
The visiting NGO’s and social groups, in a way introduce their own culture, assumptions and outlook towards life to once culturally pristine region. How much impact do these people have on the native culture? And how much of it is valid in the name of progress?
This brought me to the basic question, should we leave the tribes and in their untarnished land in a sanctum sanctorum state or should we try and change, influence and educate them for a “better” quality of life?
The other tribe
This visit would have been an ethnographer’s delight. This was a unique opportunity as two intrinsically related groups were juxtaposed with each other. This symbiotic mode of mutual necessity and understanding is something that has always fascinated me. The tribe in question, far less intriguing but equally mystifying, on this trip was the tribe of “social workers”!
For a long period of time I failed to understand why individuals who have no particular reason or an obvious logical motivation, become socially inclined. To work for the masses, to ascertain their rights and place in our feudal, hegemonic social order. These individuals, by a large majority, come from the upper crust of class-caste disparity, with nothing in common except for a red blooded heart.
Most of them on this trip could be defined as left/liberals in their political leanings, except for a few towards the extreme left. Largely there is a restrained disdain towards those who consider ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ or CSR as a viable option to achieve social justice. Yes, the cliché of a “cutting chai” with a cigarette in hand, vociferously debating the future of the masses and the destiny of our country holds true.
What most intrigues me is the focus on rhetoric rather than actual actions, which seems to be the rule rather than exception. Those motivated by real action and grass root level implementation are few and far between.
The similarities between the two, the locals and the social workers, are quite conspicuous. For instance both groups as a norm seem to be skeptical of the higher ups in government and the corporate businesses, to a point where it is almost perceived as an existential anathema. Also, the generous and expressive open faces and lots of smiles, is a striking similarity, which bring about an acute sense of camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Almost like a closely knit extended family, a tribe.
Amongst the differences, I would list the eternal angst that a social worker goes through. The conflict of belonging to places, regions, ideologies and people beguiles an individual. As opposed to the relative simplicity of rural life, a social worker is burdened with the prospect of reality, in comparison to his own. He/She bears the cross of knowing and the eventual realization that very little, if at all, can change.
Social groups like the ancient tribes before them, focus on the most humane and basic necessities as a means of creative sustenance. Singing, dancing, arranging skits and informative plays brings out the lighter side of these visits; these activities are not only highly recommended but a necessity.
Folk songs are an intrinsic part of their activities. Interspersed with socio-cultural messages meant to educate and motivate people, a reminder of their cause. These songs, sung in the local dialect preserve the essence of local culture. It integrates them, individuals coming from different parts of the country. Bound by rhythm, mesmerized by words which speak of deprivation, loss in a far of land, about atrocities and crime by people against their own, these songs leap out to tell forgotten tales.
Above all they speak of hope and restitution. They say, we too shall prevail, one day at a time. We too live under the solemn blue sky, with aspirations equal to your own. We too live in a time that refuses to acknowledge humanity, but not for long.
Next – Conclusion to the three part series