By Neaz Subhan
DURING one of our Melas to commemorate Indian Arrival in Guyana, an elderly man elegantly decked in a Kurta and Pyjama with a matching scarf around his neck, approached me to register his commendation for the efforts of the IAC (Indian Arrival Committee) in helping to promote Indian culture and made suggestions in this regard.
Before we parted company, he took the opportunity to xventx vociferously his utmost dissatisfaction at, what he described as, the total disregard and disrespect by some for the cultural values our ancestors struggled to instil.
Being curious, I asked him to elaborate. He cited the avoidance by some Indians to outfit themselves with Indian wear, the type of music they are attracted to and their absence from the Mandirs, Mosques and Churches. I countered by saying that an absence of the deficiencies he mentioned doesnxt necessarily mean that one is disrespectful or has disregard for the culture.
I explained that not being outfitted in an Indian costume, listening to non-Indian music and not being in a house of worship doesnxt make one less Indian. He became more agitated and asked many questions including, xWhat makes us Indians?x and xWhy is the IAC putting emphasis on promoting the culture?x
Not wanting to increase his agitation, I asked him to explain in addition to what he had already noted, what is so different now. His eyes sparkled at such a request. I sensed that he longed for such an opportunity, or maybe another one, to relate in his way, what he believed to be a decline in the adherence to the Indian culture and values.
He forcefully and confidently said xBeta, (the Hindi word for son) yuh young and the world you know different from the world me know when I was youngx. Of course I canxt contemplate disputing that given the vast difference in our age and my understanding of the basic meaning of evolution, which states that things change with time. Obviously there were numerous changes from his time to my time. I got a lesson on those changes.
In his zeal to convince me, he emphasised by saying xBeta, dis time nah lang time. Lang time we had to help our parents before we go to school and after we come from school. We had to help them in the farm, in the rice fields, with the cows and house wuk and still had to go to church. We used to learn Hindi and Urdu plus we school wuk. We had to respect people. When we behave bad in the street, Uncle Baba, Uncle Ramdass, Aunty Latchmin and neighbour Clementine would cut we tail good good and when we go home we got another one from Mataji or Pitaji. Look how dem young people behaving today and nobody can talk to them, not even dem own parents sometimesx.
I wanted to interrupt to attend to the pressing needs of the Mela, but didnxt. I realised the points he raised have relevance. I asked if he wanted to sit, but he answered in the negative and indicated that he didnxt want to take up much more of my time. He continued by expressing his disdain at the clothing of many young Indian boys and girls. His description of them wearing xlessx clothes which show more skin, and which costs more money still resonates with me. He questioned the authority of the parents in allowing their children to dress the way they do. He didnxt spare the type of music some listen to. As a matter of fact he refused to classify what they listen to as music.
He boasted about the unmatchable qualities of the late Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore, Talat Mahmood and a host of others too numerous to mention. I injected that while I acknowledged that there has been a decline in what xwex accept as music, some are as melodious as those he mentioned. I noted songs from xSawan Ko Anne Dox, xKuch Kuch Hota Haix, xKoi Aap Sax, xKya Dil Ne Kahax, xChalte Chaltex, xTere Naamx, xKhabi Khushi Khabi Ghamx and many others. He adamantly dismissed my suggestion as support for what he termed as the xnow-a-daysx culture. Not wanting to argue, I politely conceded.
He said, xYou got to xgree. The way some young people behave today embarrassing we culture. How many does throw xdhaarx and go to the altar in the mornings? How many does go Masjid when is not Ramadan? How many does go to churches? Look at the kind of movies dem making now; almost naked people kissing up and carrying on.x
I was now forced to bring this conversation to an end since it was time for the official programme to commence. He expressed hope on seeing the many who were in attendance decked in Indian outfits and satisfaction and delight on being able to witness the visiting Indian troupe group that was scheduled to perform. He wished me and the IAC all the best and challenged us to continue our efforts.
To this day, that conversation still echo in my head. His story represents that of many, some of whom are not from his generation. I have asked myself xWhat makes us Indians?x I would like to ask all of you the same question. Maybe in answering, or in trying to find answers, the culture would benefit. Since that day, I made it my duty to quietly observe people in the context he described. I have to admit, that based on what I have, and am still seeing by some, that seventy year-old be-spectacled man in his white Kurta was right, xdis time is indeed nah lang timex.
(First published in IAC Magazine, 2008)