The dichotomy of the Modern and the Traditional

I have pondered too much on the future possibilities of my time on earth. One of the possibilities that I have considered – besides of course fulfilling my duty as a reproductive member of the society – is the great and grand academia. Considering that it is a happy soft bubble for The Economist-readers like me, I find it indeed alluring. But then I happily pondered: What use being a self-engulfing narcissist academician? And then came Edward Said to my rescue, straight from the very lovely: Orientalism! Of course with all the belly-dancers’ charms that his theory has, I began to put the puzzles together for the case of India. Okay, let us just consider the little streets of Ahmedabad that I take the illusionary pride in knowing.

I have already offered, here on my blog, enough disgust that I feel for the new traditional-liberals of my generation that I have to encounter every summer as I pack my suitcase from some strange part of the world and head of to dust off my memories, nostalgia and exaggerated ideas about India. And every summer, to my disgust, I find out that my generation suffers from the very disease that our Said had the honor of creating. I have observed it in multiple places, but I shall concentrate to what I consider I know the best: the stories from the streets selling chai (tea) in Ahmedabad.

Talk about identity! Identity-crisis, identity-loss, identity-gain: it comes in multiple recipes. Every year, I get accused of non-patriotism, considering that I am learning the harami (sinful) language of Arabic or moving around with French boys. Since it gets painful, I confront the question of how much effect the academia can have on the very base of the human-pyramid structure. That the ideas created in some isolated think-tank can seep through the packed structure of our social pyramid until it is talked over a cup of chai in some isolated part of India. Now, that my assumption that the academia is a useless set of soft-bubbled people who live in a world away from reality with no relation to the reality, can indeed be deduced as untrue. Now that gets me all excited about my future prospects, but considering I am here having a conversation with our Said, I wonder if the ideas that do move down have to be so drastic (in a negative way) and capitalistically sellable to be able to create such an effect.

Now coming back to the question of identity, do we really need an identity – for to realize oneself as embodying certain labels also requires that there exist the other. But why create such a dichotomy on first place: why define me as too modern and your family as too traditional while you try to boat around yourself between the two continents you have created for yourself. Now labels are nothing but a metaphysical construct. And, both you and I, don’t need the umbrella of the definitions of either “Modern” or “Tradition” to survive, or do we? Now I am going to leave that to the shisha-smoking charms of Edward Said!

On my defense, I teach Hindi to a Turk student in a combination of Arabic and English. Now does that make me patriotic or not, I will leave it to the chai-drinkers of Ahmedabad!


About Shreya Parikh

I am Shreya. Project Rethought is my attempt to rethink my own observations as a brown woman of Indian origin. I currently live in Paris where I teach at Sciences Po Paris and Parsons Paris-The New School.
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