Wednesday, October 27, 2010

O Korea Re...

Korean sitcoms are a hit in Manipur
I just came across this story in the magazine Caravan about Korean "invasion" of  Manipur. Published in the October issue, the story narrates how the vacuum created by a ban on Hindi-Bollywood TV/Cinema in Manipur is being filled by DVDs of Korean sitcoms and serials. KoreansSouth Koreans, that isare not really surprised about this. Korean popular culture has already made way into countries across Asia, from China to Iran. This success is because Korean movies, serials, etc., are able to combine entertainment with traditional values that are shared by many Asian societies. Now this is quite an intriguing piece in itself. But I perhaps wouldn't have blogged about it if I didn't have another Korea story ruffling in my mind.

We, the FORWARD Press magazine, have just gone to press with our November issue and in it we are carrying an article by Vishal Mangalwadi titled "Moving Forward: Korean Style". It is a short study of a village called Yong Am in South Korea and the spiritual-cultural forces that transformed this impoverished village "hidden in a mountain and covered by snow for more than three months in a year" into one of the richest rural communities where the average annual income of a small farmer is Rs 28 lakh! This Korea story also has an India connection, the people (and the NGO) that brought about this transformation in Yong Am, and many a Korean wasteland, are helping the people in Bihar improve their farming.

When it  comes to Asia, people world over are talking about China and India, but Korea might be the dark horse that will perhaps lead the way in this part of the world. The former two countries have the size and political clout. Korea seems to have the confidence and capability to more than compensate for these pluses its two continental cousins have.

And yes, Korea has been inspiring talented Indian musicians too. Take a look at this song.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ten. X. 10

It has to be a perfect day. The eldest son of my eldest sister turns 11 on this 10th — the first of the third generation in our immediate family. And even though he is now living thousands of miles away, it didn't stop his nani to cook some gurh wale chawal. He is supposed to be getting some kind of a video game but I am sure he will miss this grandma special for the dessert.

I could not cook up something as original or delicious as this. But at the back of my mind were some verses by Nissim Ezekiel. He wrote 14 short "blessings" that I wanted this growing boy now living in England to read.

One my most favourites from among the 14 is this one:

Be drunk, occasionally,
but not with gin
or whiskey. May the Lord
use you up for ends
beyond your means,
so you know what drunkenness
really means. 

And it is also a Sunday. The day of rest. The day of meditating on being "drunk". The day of the dessert. It is 10/10/10.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Some Post-seminar Thoughts

The magnificent IIAS at Shimla. 
In a recently concluded seminar in the Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, I caught on to two remarks that continue to resonate in my mind. The first remark was made almost unconsciously when AGR started reading her paper. As she read out her seminal thoughts, from the lectern, she could see that people were not really with her. In that moment, which could well be termed epiphanic, she said she could see people yawning at the postcolonial jargon that her paper doled out so generously. I said to myself, we are supposed to be a "postcolonial" society and the postcolonial theory has been with us for about three decades. Some of the best-known postcolonial critics and writers are Indians. Why do we still yawn at, and yet yearn for, the theorizing postcolonial. It seemed that a language that is fashioned in the academic-culture factories of Europe and America will not help us in a meaningful way to discuss our own problems. Is it possible that our critics, teachers, researchers are lost in academic navel-gazing without having much to say to people outside the universities and academic institutions? They make fine start, their awe-inspiring verbal acrobatics do give the impression of something profound being said and performed. But then why does a well-respected, and well-published scholar, end up saying what AGR said above?

The second comment was in some ways related to the one above. In the evening as we were winding up the seminar, participants and observers began sharing their thoughts. Professor GS said one thing very categorically  — along with theoretical work our researches should be based on empirical data. And, for me what was more important, was his later assertion that this balance, or amalgamation, of theory and factual data is what will lead to "social transformation". All fields of knowledge  natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities  must be geared towards this. Not many people want to use this term social transformation. For that one has to make value judgements, seek fundamental changes and propose radical alternatives, and our current academic stances are ill equipped for this. And thus if our academic discussions only result in audience yawning should we not become suspect of our "scholarly" enterprises?

A South Asian Taxi Driver in New York
I might add one more thing. There is this general tendency in human beings to blame the other for all their maladies, which, unfortunately, spills over into our academic enterprises too. Yes, there is inequality in this world and consequently oppression and dominance but should this make us communally paranoid? Does that absolve one from any kind of introspection? For example, there was a presentation on the behalf of a group that is spreading awareness about dangers of illegal emigration. Hundreds and thousands of Punjabi youth endanger their lives when they tie up with these emigration racketeers. Now the presentation was about how this group reaches out to the young and explain to them the dangers of such enterprises through lectures, songs, skits, etc. In the ensuing discussion one participant mentioned that the host countries leave certain loopholes in their immigration laws and thus encourage such practices because they want cheap labour from the so-called Third World. The idea was clear, it is "they" who are to be blamed. There would have been a consensus on this but for the interjection by RH. He immediately intervened and said that it is our own people there who are responsible for pitiable condition of many of the immigrant labourers. It is not the host country that exploits them. They have their adequate laws in place. They pay adequately. It's their fellow-countrymen who swindle the immigrants' hard-earned salary. Now this was an argument no one could challenge.