My hometown Thanjavur is known for its landscapes, art, and architecture. Various dynasties enriched this land’s culture for two thousand years and made it as the cultural capital of South India. Its culture has customs and rituals closely associated with the cycles of nature, birth, growth, decay, and death. Observing and being with nature is nothing but knowing and being with the self.
The city I live in is culturally centuries ahead of my hometown, though it is just 400 km in distance. The work culture one needs to adapt to live in the metro looked like another circle, a vicious one. Work hard to earn, spend it to relax. Sign boards keep on saying life is not yet complete, to be happy you have to get this particular brand, if you lose it now, then it is never. So you have to run as much as you can, then come back and spend. In fact, people are willing to run faster than these ads ask them to. If you pause a bit to contemplate whether you should or not, there are thousands of others ready to do the same thing even for half of the deal. This competitive environment of excessive manpower creates psychological pressure for everyone. The frenzy of people who are ready to pledge their life for the game of pleasures frightened me. I felt the life is somewhere at a distant horizon, and the path is linear fragments of the vicious circle. You have to swim or run a long way without looking back. The more you run, the further the horizon. A society once known for its celebrations is slowly moving towards a state where it has to work hard for entertainment, and ironically it thinks that is enough.
At first, it was about adapting to an urban culture from the agricultural society of my hometown. Then I started to inquire about the work culture and the popular or consumer culture of this metro. That eventually led me to learn the cultural history of this country. In the West, these ‘cultural systems’ changed through the centuries and in poise, but in India, all these happened in a couple of decades for each movement, by the gateway of British colonialism. We had got modernisation before we got the industrialization. It was like gate-crashing within a few decades, across from feudal to colonial, to democratic to post-colonial to modern and now into globalisation. So the changes are abrupt and sparse. Even today we can see all these ‘systems’ alive across the country. So a move within a few hundred kilometers could feel like traversing between centuries. In the last two decades, for the first time, the country is upsurging into an economical spring and got a chance to splurge like once their rulers were. So there is no wonder in, a society that in deprive of even three times meal for four hundred years, now indulging in the consumerism vehemently, when it gets its chance.
For someone who doesn’t believe in running towards the unknown horizon, the issue is how to make the straight line into a circle again, against all the pressures from the undercurrents of the society.