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Indian children - modern denizens of an advanced society or ignorant heirs of a forgotten past?
- Ranjana Dave, Mumbai

June 4, 2005
Today, India prides itself on being a 'modern' nation. Globalization has opened up seemingly impenetrable barriers. Let us take a look at the effects of globalization on India's youth.

Western influences have seeped into the lives of Indian children to a great extent. Nowadays, an average Indian kid wears Western clothes and guzzles colas. He listens to Michael Jackson, Eminem and Sting. He knows his jazz, salsa, tango and jive well. For this kid, all things Indian are passé, or as the kids themselves would put it, these things are 'uncool'. Western influences in our Indian lifestyle are not harmful in any way, but sometimes, when the gravity of this situation reinforces itself through small incidents, it makes you do a rethink.

Does adopting western culture mean that you have to forget the roots of your own rich culture? This question cried out in my mind recently. While conversing with a friend of mine, I told her that I wanted to learn Odissi. That flummoxed her to such a great extent. She asked me, "What is that? Is it some kind of paper craft (origami)?" This incident shocked me no end. Here was a girl who had spent the entire 18 years of her short life in India, and not once, not once did she realize that Odissi is an Indian classical dance!

Then I have another friend, who swears that she will endure the worst of filmi music, but will never ever listen to any classical rendition. This girl was crazy about the violin, and was very enthusiastic about learning it, till she heard that this would require a base of Carnatic music.

You also have people who have experienced the beauty of Indian art at some point of their lives. Yet, many of them never mention it, for the fear of being 'uncool'.

Why and when did Indian classical music and dance become ‘uncool'?

Nowadays, many children associate these arts with outdated customs and traditions, with orthodoxy, and try to eliminate Indian art from their lives. At the same time, if you look at the scenario abroad, everything Indian is 'hot', it's the 'in' thing.

Most Indian children try to create a conscious Western image and they feel this will make them 'stick out' conspicuously, in a negative light. As my friend once tried to justify this by saying, "We live in a modern world, all this Bharatanatyam and Kathakali stuff makes us look like old-fashioned and uneducated villagers." I tried to probe further by asking her what was 'old-fashioned' and what did 'uneducated villager' symbolize. Here are first-hand replies from this 16-year-old girl who claims to be a modern and 'normal' girl at that, where 'normal' signifies your average Indian teen.

"First of all, the costume is so heavy, and it's just not happening, it is not Western. The jewellery is also cumbersome, especially those awful ghunghroos. The make-up a dancer has to apply makes her/him look very funny. The steps are so slow and dance pieces are accompanied by slow 'classical' music. The singers either scream at the top of their voices, or else, they sound as if they are mourning for somebody. To add to all this, we cannot understand the meaning of any dance gesture or movement."

THIS perception of Indian music and dance reeks of ignorance. It proves that in this era of modernity, Indian children have lost out on the real picture. They have retained stereotypical images of ‘boring' dance recitals and 'bawling' singers. The entire vastness and beauty of Indian dance is compressed into a single image of a dancer in a traditional costume. Their starkly ignorant minds demolish and reduce Indian classical music to a series of tortuous aaaaas and ooooos.

What can we do to change the situation?

One concrete idea would be - introduce dance in any form as a compulsory subject in all schools, at least for a period of seven to eight years. Of course, this will require proper planning, and most importantly, support from the government.

What if we have classical 'item' numbers? If teenagers see their favorite movie stars performing classical pieces, it will definitely make them look at classical dance in a positive manner. But if these movie stars end up showcasing half-baked fare in the name of classical dance, it may do more harm than good. This would require dedication and a desire to learn sincerely on the part of the actor/actress.

The third option is - groups dedicated to popularizing Indian art, for example, SPIC-MACAY. Currently, these groups do not have a wide reach. Also, the cost factor proves to be a disadvantage in many ways. Many dance and music performances have ridiculously high price tags attached, which acts as a deterrent when you really want teenagers to notice the art and appreciate it. Most music and dance institutes literally extort money by charging exorbitant fees. Rs.1000 per month for two hours of dance training every week, Rs.100 for a one-hour session of music coaching - a large section of Indian society cannot afford this or will definitely feel that blowing the same amount of money on a rock concert would be a better idea. This mindset can be changed only if every artist changes his mission. An artist should endeavour to propagate his art by making it accessible. Art should NOT be turned into a money-spinning operation. The right attitude will lead to the formation and widespread success of many more SPIC-MACAYs.

I would end by echoing the thoughts of John Devaraj, in his recent article - The Ten Commandments of Art. He says, "Art is prophetic and the artist the prophet. It brings into this world all that is new and noble." Hence the task before artists in India would be to make Indian children realize that Indian music and dance is a continuous process of evolution and rediscovery. It can never be 'old-fashioned'.

Ranjana Dave plans to pursue a degree in mass media from Mumbai University. She also learns Odissi, Hindustani classical music and the flute.

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