What follows is derived and modified from my comments at various blog posts (written by me as well as by others). As those comments were in different contexts and not in continuity, some of the points have got repeated.
I do not understand why should I feel proud of something which was developed without my own individual involvement much before I was even born? Can we Indians feel proud of Australia winning the Cricket World Cup? Yes, it sounds ridiculous for simple reason that Australians live in a different continent, but they are our contemporaries and thus belong to the *same* generation. Likewise, I find it equally ridiculous to feel proud of things done and traditions developed by a different generation in a different time, and still worse, blindly follow them. Everyone forgets one simple thing – none of the prior generations have actually tried to preserve their traditions, at least, not successfully so. Otherwise, how did we turn from stone wielding cavemen into spacesuit clad astronauts?
Every generation makes modifications in their daily practices conducive to their survival and comfort. When we try to pass those practices on dogmatically to the next generation, they outlive their practical utility. Saree and dhoti, if you look at carefully, are reminiscent of times when needles where not used in India! Blouse was a later addition only when the art of stitching with needles was brought to India by Muslim rulers. [The assertion in last sentence, very likely is incorrect, as I discovered after some queries over twitter. I was under this false impression because one of my school teachers had told me the same and I had believed her as it did not sound an extraordinary claim. So currently I tend to think that the art of stitching was already practiced in India even before the Muslim invasions. But the basic point that influences ‘external’ to a civilization could also have perceptibly ‘positive’ impact, I believe, still stands].
But, the issue I am trying to get at is much broader. Why by default, someone’s unquestioningly imbibing old practices is looked at as a *virtue*? How is it (unquestioningly imbibing old practices) virtuous, e.g., like being helpful, courteous, honest, morally upright?
I am not implying that we should discard certain practices only because they would be legacies of older generations, but nor should we hold onto them for precisely the same reason. Most important thing is to use our discretion. Most of the etiquette (of mind you, ALL the cultures ALL OVER the globe) are based in better social interactions as an end, so if we find such etiquette and basic manners like courtesy, helpfulness, mutual respect tasteful and conducive to our society, we must certainly retain them in our daily conduct. Just that our judgement of certain practices should not be preloaded with obligation to preserve them.
You are right about pointing out how some of the traditions might die out if people do not take pride in them. But, I would like to point out a few prejudices we hold in that regard.
First, we take it a default position that ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ need to be preserved. And that something grossly unfortunate will happen if they are somehow “lost”. Is there any basis to have that as our default position? Eventually, those elements of our culture persist that are conducive to our better survival. And where does one draw line as to what is our tradition and culture? In most of the colleges, we wear pajama-kurta and Saree on traditional days. But honestly, those kind of sarees and pajama-kurta had hardly been in vogue ever in the past! Culture was: (1) what our ancestors used to wear during British rule, (2) during Mughal rule, (3) Gupta dynasty’s rule, (4) during Harappan civillization or (5) during prehistoric ages when presumably, our ancestors used to roam about wearing hides of other animals?
So the problem with this position (of obligatorily preserving one’s culture) is what is ‘culture’ itself is not well defined. Today, we consider movies like Mughal-E-Aazam to be masterpieces, but believe me, in those times, there must have been sizeable majority who must have felt that that movie was crass, and that it encouraged youngsters to go against their parents’ wishes!
Also, I do not feel, any of the generations have tried hard enough to preserve their culture, otherwise cultures would not have evolved so much. But the greater problem with what you suggest (the concern that our traditional practices would die out if we do not take pride in them) is that it seems to bring an element of obligation on individuals to carry on their culture. You, by your confession, like a lot of (movies and music) what we could call ‘Western’. Do you watch those movies and listen to that music out of sense of duty? No, you do so because you *LIKE* it. My (despite not ‘trying’ to preserve my culture) favorite music is old Hindi songs – as old as of 1950′s and 60′s. Mughal-E-Aazam would be an example, and so would be songs from movies like Baiju Bawra. But on the other hand, I also like music of The Prodigy and Orbital (both are electronic rock/techno bands) as much passionately. I had very much liked Premchand’s stories and Harivanshray Bachchan’s Hindi poems, and would certainly read them later in life when I find time. I know of a brother-sister duo, who had been forced by their dad to learn Hindustani classical music, but none of them actually remotely likes it! The only thing I am trying to suggest is culture evolves, and elements of it also survive if they find favor among people, and not because people would take pride in them. I will give another example. I very much like the title song of ‘Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram’, but cannot bring myself to like ‘Jai-jai Shiv Shankar’ the same way. But both kind of songs will find followers well into next 50 years at least. And yes, I have absolutely not learned any kind of music.
You will find many people who would feel offended to hear someone criticize Indian classical music, but actually would have themselves never liked it much! Does that make sense? That is the irrationality I am trying to point out.
The problem is not so much with believing oneself to be best. The problem is with believing that we are as good as our community is, and that is unfortunate because one never gets to CHOOSE one’s community! Had you been born in Sweden, would you have ever said that India is the ‘best’ country?
What is so virtuous about trying to preserve one’s culture? How does it in any way contribute to our becoming a good human being? A person wearing dhoti and khadi clothes can commit a cold blooded murder, whereas a guy wearing low waist jeans and black T-shirt with logo of some rock band printed on it may risk his life to save a stranger. Also, there is needless paranoia that if one does not try to preserve one’s culture, it will get destroyed. Cultural practices came in vogue because they suited the generations that inducted them into their daily lives because of limited availability of resources/technology, etc. – best example being clothes. Sarees were worn in the past not because wearing them made anyone any more pious, but because that was the only technology available. No one knew how to make jeans 200 years back.
Also, those aspects of cultural heritage that suit the contemporary generation are bound to be retained. There are countless youngsters that listen to old Hindi music because they appreciate and like it. Same holds true for poetry of Harivanshray Bachchan and stories of Premchand. But what is found crass would be rejected by the contemporary and future generations alike. So, merely forcing down our culture on the subsequent generations is not going to make them any more receptive to it. What deserves merit will definitely find favor with a niche within any generation depending upon their taste and ability to appreciate it.
One more issue – who defines what is our culture? Outside of northern India, wearing salwar-kameez would be taken as ‘loose character’ in villages.
And the most important point – none of the generations across any of the civillizations have actually tried to ‘preserve’ their culture, otherwise how has, for instance, Indian culture evolved so much that while studying history we have to divide it into ‘Harappan civillization’, ‘Ancient’, ‘Medieval’ and ‘Modern’ India? And yet, we say Indian culture is ‘alive’ and has not got destroyed? This only proves that even the prior generations were sensible enough to ‘change’ with times. We have become culturally more refined with time rather than more savage. And the current trend should not frighten us. It is nothing different than how humans have behaved in the past. So, at least parents must stop forcing their kids to ‘preserve’ culture and tradition.
Just a small side-note from personal experience: My paternal grandfather used to be disapproving of my mother wearing salwar-kameez, whereas, my sister hardly ever wears salwar-kameez and instead wears ‘tops’ and jeans, and my mother has no objections to it. But I am also sure, that there would be a certain kind of dressing that my mother would be disapproving of (say, short skirts, half pants, excessively cleavage-revealing clothes or something that would be too transparent [see-through]). Also in most of India, a girl wearing a salwar-kameez would be looked at as more susheel (well-behaved) than one wearing what my sister usually wears. What this proves is salwar-kameez has now almost become a ‘benchmark’ of sorts for one’s ‘rootedness’ to the India culture in even those parts of the country where it was not accepted just one or two generations back.
And unlike what most traditionalists might be tempted to suggest that it is simply ‘foreign’/’western’ influences that ‘contaminate’ the Indian culture, salwar-kameez which is largely a North Indian phenomenon was also seen as a threat to the culture (by my grandfather). Which means my grandfather was not afraid of something ‘foreign’, but he was afraid of any kind of change. In other words, he favored stagnation, which may or may not be harmful depending on the context, but in no way, would I accept it as something ‘desirable’ or ‘ideal’.