Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cultural Images

Many of the stereotypes about India revolve around elephants, snakecharmers and monkeys. Modern India is quite different, particularly in the urban centers, home to millions, and often indistinguishable from their Western counterparts.

At the same time, India is a variegated whole, a cornucopia of visual and social richness. Pre-globalization, and before India defined it's brand identity, I remember trite slogans like "Unity In Diversity" and "We Two Ours Two" (a transliteration of a family planning slogan). Modern India prefers ad campaigns like "India Shining". It's technological and BPO spheres are world class, while industries like textiles and film-making are large, global phenomena. While still grappling with difficult social and economic issues, India has been able to come to terms for the most part with its sources of tradition and globalization. It embraced globalization and liberalization in the early 1990s and has not looked back since.

I strongly believe that place determines identity - my local context assimilates me, and I assimilate it. Wonsaponatime, as the poet said, my village defined me, then it was my tribe, then my state, then my country. In the impermanent global flux, does it matter any more where I'm from, where I'm going? As Cory Doctorow has it, do we belong to where we are, or do we belong to Eastern Standard Tribe? Nowadays, who I am is related to where I am. My identity is formed by the history of my place of birth, and where I grew up, but my current location creates an affinity that I must adhere to, often at the cost of my place of naissance. To be on the web further dislocates the identity from the location. Everyman is everyplace. The reader can be in the mind, and in the place of the writer. Transnational perspectives are the only ones that apply any more.

While I do not visit India often now, I look forward to visual reminders of its' identity, complexity, and well, wierdness. A few of these images were captured in a book, part of an excellent series I recently purchased. Street Graphics India, from Thames And Hudson joins their other volumes such as Street Graphics Tokyo, Cuba, London and New York. No other book however, provides such visual variety. While the book misses out much of the modern elements prevalent across India, choosing the oddball and unusual is part of its agenda indeed. A few images from the book with my comments, as well as a few others I have collected:

Pulp sci-fi, Indian style

Keeping in touch

What would he do?

A Claude Chabrol film, masked for local sensibilities

Local idioms

The future of technology

Sania Mirza, tennis Queen

Indian Industry, Shining

Note: This post was sparked in part by this blogcritics discussion on "24" and the young Turk who is more assimilated into the local culture than his parents.
Comment 4 posted by Aaman on January 25, 2005 04:25 PM:

Boy Turk's behavior reminds me of one of the questions on the Political Compass that I found disagreable personally - "First generation immigrants can never be fully integrated" - I see him as more of a first generation immigrant than his parents, and more assimilated or integrated.

Comment 5 posted by Eric Olsen on January 25, 2005 07:35 PM:

and that assimilation is conflicting hard with the ideology of his parents, who have done a very good job of pretending to be assimilated. Only in the boy's case, he is becoming what he has been pretending to be.

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader