Sunday, November 13, 2005

Countering the Counterculture

Yesterday, I saw this punk with a spectacular mohawk. I know punks can't live on anarchy, three chords and safety pins alone, but watching this thin, white figure covered in black leather and metal shopping in the cereal aisle at the supermarket and then ducking into the organic foods section was more than just a little funny. Did I mention there was Elton John playing on the PA system? Fuckin' A for Irony.

Standby for the segue, please.

Saw this post by the chart-bustin' toppermost of the poppermost, aka Amitbhai, who points us to a post by Prufrock The Second. They both wonder why there isn't a counterculture in India. Prufrock does list some important Indian counterculture movements (like the one led by this uber-punk or that other one), but that doesn't quite feel like a counterculture movement, does it?

Really, why don't we have a counterculture? Answers like "we are like this only" and "but that's Hinduism, stupid" sound glib (and sometimes, true.) As far as I remember, Indian teenagers also feel disenchanted, angry and helpless like teenagers do, all over the world. But only a tiny fraction of them get to sublimate that energy through rock music, blogging, film, literature and humor. What do the rest of them do? Does anyone know?

There is another level of difficulty to this debate. When we say India lacks a counterculture, are we really complaining about the absence of a western-style counterculture? Did that sound like western-style toilets? OK, so we never had Greenwich Village poets, no Mods and Rockers, no mohawk-sporting punks and no fists-in-the-air-Hell-no-we-won't-go marches. But what is India if not paradoxes. After all, are we not a nation of laid-back counterculturists who learnt learned learnt to chant Mr. Leary's mantra way, way before the Summer of Love. And wasn't India the destination of choice for these rebels once? Woah, counterculture for the counterculturists!

I think the discussion is pointless without us asking this question: is there a monolithic entity called "Indian culture" and can there possibly be a single counterculture in response to it? This title by Mr. Naipaul comes to mind.

There are as many Indian countercultures as there are Indian cultures. You hate the culture of conspicuous consumption? There's a counterculture for that. You hate the counterculturists opposed to the flashy, material consumers? There's a contra-counterculture for that one. Loathe the mixing of politics and religion? Welcome to the counterculture of secularism. Can't stand the yellow-bellied, English-speaking, fence-sitting secularists? Join the orange fringe. And so on.

It may or may not match the romantic picture of the western counterculture that we carry around in our heads, so what, it's still a culture.


BangaloreGuy said...

Great points! Love the way you've brought it all up, and the reference to the "punk"! :-P

km said...

From a "Mysore guy" to a "Bangaloreguy": thanks for the comment!


neha vish said...

Thanks km! You made my life easier ... I don't have to respond to that anymore!

Do you think we are looking at ourselves with Jack Kerouac eyes? And then looking about to see the other Beat-Agers? Hoping to coin something similar. Hoping to be the first ones to spot it.

Without realizing that there are just too many Indian cultures? That there is no anti-thesis to the non-existent thesis. Blah Blah!

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