Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Culture conscious

What is our culture?

This is the question that I posed to my students some time back.

To understand this question, it is very important to understand what culture actually means. Among the many definitions I found in the Oxford Dictionary, the one most applicable to my question is; 'the customs, civilization, and achievements of a particular time or people'.

Culture can also be defined as a set of shared attitudes, values, and practices that characterize an institution, organization or group. (Wikipedia)

Now, coming to the input from my students on the Pakistani culture. It is interesting how we, in casual conversation, tend to refer to certain things as being (or not being) a part of our culture. What are those things, I had asked, which we can proudly (or simply) claim to be part of our culture? This is what they said.

1. Weddings & dowry

2. Ramazan & Eid-ul Fitr

3. Joint family system/ values/ respect for elders

4. Collectivist culture

5. Male dominated society

6. Handicrafts

7. Tea drinking ritual

Out of all these, I found the last one most amusing. Japan is known for its tea drinking ceremony but from the responses of the students it seems we have adopted it also, minus the kimonos. (But somehow, our tea-drinking isn't as glamorous as the Japs so you might not find any result when you Google - tea drinking culture in Pakistan). Drinking tea in the office with colleagues, or coming home in the evening and having a cup of tea with the family are things which the tea brands in our country have highlighted through a lot of song and dance jingles. Advertising can create trends and most tea brands have just taken an ordinary situation (like evening tea or serving tea to guests) and turned it into an occasion for quality family time and in some cases, collective decision making. Which brings us to another aspect of our culture, collectivism. In some cases more like butting into situations which are none of our business! Living in a joint family system where there is collective decision making on major matters at evening tea is one aspect of the Pakistani culture. Another aspect of our culture, male dominance, is also apparent in these ads. Usually the mother, wife or daughter are making or serving tea. Our tea adverts sure are reflective of our culture!

As far as handicrafts are concerned, we do a lot of empty talk but we have no idea of what constitutes the 'handicrafts' of our country. Our culture can only be accepted by others and become our identity when we adopt it. Look around you - do you find anything that is representative of our local crafts? (Don't feel too bad - you are not alone!).

Weddings are a part of every culture in the world. What was interesting in almost all the students' answers was the fact that lavish wedding ceremonies have become a part of our culture. Dowry remains there and it won't go away unless people like you change yourself. Why does a girl have to bring things with her? Was your son without a bed before she came or did you not have a refrigerator? The worst part is some electronic appliances brands have actually started special promotions catering to dowry requirements. Sort of a 'dowry package deal'. Disgusting!

In all honesty, we have lost sight of our culture (if we ever had our eyes on one!). We've adopted some things from the west and others are being thrust upon us from religious extremists. Our culture, which was a part of the culture of the subcontinent as a whole, has become a fusion of the north, south, east and west. The worst part is the fact that the majority of the world just recognizes us as belonging to one culture - terrorism.

The search for the Pakistani culture continues. All else said and done, I would like to add my two penny's worth on Paki culture also. Pakola!