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Art and commerce are strange bedfellows. And in India during the nineties, there was a sudden awakening. To put India on the world map of wealth and prosperity, we thought that we had to opt for gigantic consumerism that would be possible only as in the rich western nations, especially the US, only if we were to try aping their corporate cultural values and norms.
Narasimha Rao, the former PM in the nineties conceived the idea of free market-oriented economy and Man Mohan Singh, the then Finance Minister delivered it and it was baptised the Corporate Moguls. And there was this technological boom when every young person became a whizz kid, whose short and long-range vision was money and making more money. Love for Art and aesthetics for their own sake became the casualty. Every aspect of our living became related to the value of money. It was a free-for-all kind of economy with buyers and sellers, conditioned by bulls and bears, with very little breathing space for art and culture. Corporate czars took over this business of art. Literature, theatre, cinema and fine arts acquired values determined by their market worth in terms of money. No other critical yardstick as has been handed down to us by our traditional concepts of culture became necessary. In such an unhealthy environment of such cultural confusion and decay, how can one expect the youth of the country to be aware of his past heritage and withstand the onslaught of the contemporary trend.
Look at our cultural institutions like the Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academy, Lalith Kala Academy, the National School of Drama and the various zonal cultural centres. Though they were established to integrate the various cultural aspects of this great country, the SA, SNA, and LKA, though they are headquartered in the same building they have no correspondence with each other in organising integrated cultural festivals and seminars.
India is a synthetic fabric of many coloured threads with different regional cultural forms with one well-defined fabric of what we know from time immemorial, as ‘Indian’ (and not ‘Hindu’ as the RSS chief would like to have it) as the bottom line of this great concept.
Have these cultural institutions (Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academy, Lalit Kala Academy and National School of Drama), which have been in existence for several decades succeeded in carrying this message to the youth of this country? They have so far only succeeded in dividing this country further and further into various claustrophobic cultural pockets distanced from each other.
Ramayana and Mahabharata, though they were written in a language which is not the mother tongue of any single community in India, how come these stories became the intrinsic part of the national and cultural psyche of all the regions in this country, and every region in India had adopted the stories befitting its own cultural genius but retaining the spirit and soul of the epics as a whole? There was no Sahitya Academy or National Book Trust at that time to organise translations and conduct seminars, which they are now doing as a ritual, an exercise in futility.
The reason is not far to seek. There was a free interaction between the people of various regions in this country in the form of pilgrimages, temple festivals, cultural and philosophical debates, and music and dance melas, without the interference of a political Government. This was happening till the thirties and forties of the last century. There were individual patrons of art and culture, who promoted a national art consciousness among the various sections of the people transcending the caste and linguistic barriers.
Secondly, the concept of classical and popular art never existed in those days. This division is an imported idea from the West, which, during the period of industrialization.
The rich, having lost the feudatory privileges, created this division to distinguish between elitism and populism. The famous literary critic Leslie Fielder asks, ‘Between elitism and populism, how would you rate Shakespeare? A classical poet or popular poet? The illiterate Elizabethan masses loved him as their ‘darling’. In the same way, we can also ask ‘Was Valmiki or Vyasa or Tulsidas or Kamban’ an elitist or popular poet? The young people of today having surrendered their taste to the worship of Mammon do not ask themselves these questions and have become the children of a bastardized culture.
Each region in India with its distinctive cultural identity must get its due in the context of a pan-Indian vision.