Diversity in Diversity

Of late, I have employed a major portion of my free time sifting through some of the most admired and creatively endowed creations of American cultural history and there is something that strikes me as very odd vis-a-vis the same scenario in the Indian context. It seems that the regional/social/economical diversity that permeates the very air that we breathe as Indians has had delitereous effects on the national consciousness as a whole.

The effect I am talking about here is a lack of a unified national cultural history in the Indian context. The lack of marker points down the memory lane of the 60 years we have been independent. These marker points ought to have been produced on the artistic radar had we not been such a hugely divided society. Subjectively speaking, the only field which does tie the Indians together and makes them forget the petty divides of religion or economic status seems to be cricket. And as expected, the silent jubilation, the subdued enthusiasm which wells up the eyes of my father when he talks about the 1983 victory is the same with any person who had the fortune of being a part of history at that time. It does not matter for him if he is from Southern India or Northern India or Eastern or Western. These are the marker points I am talking about. Events in the history of national consciousness which make its citizens feel a greater sense of bonding among themselves. Sadly for a country as diverse as India, we as a population have proven to be woefully inadequate at identifying/producing those unifying experiences.

America, even though its a relativey young society, nevertheless boasts of a strong artistic tradition (atleast in the 20th century) which is shared evenly among its people. Experiences ranging from the rocknroll era of the 60s to the advent of blues and jazz and rock and others. A rich Television culture which seems to have deteriorated now but which used to be much more intelligent and informative and humurous back in the 60s to the 80s (I have been watching reruns of the great Johnny Carson, letterman, family sitcoms like Bewitched etc.). A tradition of various sports (the choice of the sport notwithstanding). A movie industry which produced some really great works before it got infested with talelntless freaks. A decent tradition of literature and a brilliant culture of science and technology. The achievement of America does not necessarily lie in reaching these milestones but it lies in building a national character which identifies and takes pride in all this. Not as segregated people but as citizens of the same country.

It must be noted that I am not demeaning any culture, far less pitting Indian against American. If anything, I have always maintained that Indian culture has had far more depth and beauty than its American counterpart. But I feel sad if I have to think of 5 events in Indian history when I felt sort of proud and happy at being a citizen of India rather than being a Northie or a UPite (the wars not counting) and I find difficulty stating even 2. Its both sad and amusing at the same time when I read the comments on a Johnny Carson video. People from remote areas of the country, in their 50s and 60s, share a collective nostalgia about him starting back in 1962 all the way upto 1992. Its refreshing to read the sentiments of the middle class, middle aged Americans on the video of Don Mclean singing about the Chevy. I wonder if there is anything we as Indians can remember so fondly.

To wrap it up, I understand that language is but one of the most important factors involved here. I understand that diversity has played its part here but thats not the point. There has to be a set of causes to any effect. What I am sad about is the effect.

Letterman's best videos

As most of you might already know, David Letterman has been one of the most proficient late night talk show hosts during the last 2 and a half decades. He hosts the late show on CBS nowadays but prior to 1993 he used to be the host of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC. I just love his earlier shows from 1983 to 93. I love his act more for mindless and often very innocent entertainment than for any intelligent humor. Of late he seems to have become more politically angry and has stopped doing the antics which made him cutting edge during the start of his career. Anyways, here is an incomplete list of the letterman clips I could find on Youtube. As I said, its mostly just mindless innocent humor. If you are looking for something more intelligent, Dave is not the way to go:

1. Dispensing hot towels at a bus station - Larry 'Bud' Melman

2. Rena Smaha and her monkeys

3. Dave visits Taco Bell

4. Excursions

5. Dave interrupts the Today's Show

6. Letterman visits the GE building

Passion

Its one of those perfectly fine days when your time is passing by without too much of a hassle, when nothing particularly startling happens to break the pleasing monotonicity. Its one of those days when you suddenly ask yourself a very simple question. Or atleast I sometimes do: Is there anything 'really' worth spending my life for ? Its obviously one of those tantalizing questions which prod you to think a little deeper but which, at the same time, make you vaguely aware of the fact that if you still do not have the answer to this question somewhere in your gut, you might never really be able to find it. It makes you painfully cognizant of the truth that if you have still had to ask this question to yourself, you might probably just have followed the tide till now. As painful as this knowledge might be, it certainly doesn't stop one from asking the question itself. If only for a purely academic, even futile purpose, nobody should be unfortunate enough to lead a life without ever being courageous enough to stare the stark truth in the eye.

So here I am once again musing over this conundrum. Not that I think I can find an answer. Just because sometimes it feels nice to think that while everyone seems to be passing another day, another week, another year trying to meet the deadlines, shaping their future, climbing up the ladder, I am somehow vaguely aware of the futility of it all. If I remember correctly, Watterson, through his mouthpiece Calvin, once said:

"The problem with people is that they don't look at the big picture. Eventually, we're each going to die, our species will go extinct, the sun will explode, and the universe will collapse. Existence isn't only temporary, it's pointless! We're all doomed, and worse, nothing matters!"

As painfully vestigial life is, it no doubt has to be led. Thats not the worst part. The worst part is that most of us lead hating it. Not hating in the 'I am suicidal' kind of way. But just in the 'It sucks' kind of way. And this is where the question rears its ugly head. There is only so far you can go pretending to be happy before you are forced to verify the authenticity of the facade.

Frankly speaking, I have only met one person in my life who was definitively able to answer this question for himself and I did learn something very important there. Its called passion. Not in the Orkut Profile sense of 'I am passionate about reading and hiking and sports and movies........'. But in the more muted sense of way. Such a passion becomes something so personal that it seems kind of vulgar sharing it with the society on as futile a stage as a social networking site.

Anyways, being a graduate student I often come across people who are constantly bargaining away their time for meeting deadlines and studying hard. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. I just hope they find the effort worth the investment of something as precious as life and that they seriously enjoy doing what they do. If thats not the case, I hope that they are atleast trying to do something which makes them happy for a considerable portion of their day.

As far as I am concerned, I must say I cannot pinpoint one single thing I could devote my life to. I envy those who have an answer. I am just trying to find it for myself. It might be music (even though I suck and it doesn't matter). It might be Physics. It might be something entirely unrelated. Or it might just be the fun of exploring uncharted waters. Its certainly not money. Its certainly not a lot of scientific publications. Its certainly not a plum job. Life is too priceless to be wasted on things so ephemeral. And its too worthless to be spent doing something "meaningful".