Artist, singer, home maker, an aspiring writer of art and culture, and my friend, Bhoomika Jain from Gurgaon asks me this question: How do you address a generation that is totally disconnected from the rich heritage of this country called India? What is that particular point where they get a revelation about their own socio-cultural and historical heritage? How does one address the very aspect of this disconnect and connect at all?’ I don’t know whether I am qualified enough to speak on this particular topic of cultural disconnect or not. However, the rider Bhoomika attaches with these questions gives me a relief; she has asked me to speak from the point of view of a parent who understands this cultural disconnect of his own kids.
I have written thirty chapters titled, ‘To My Children Series’. When I started writing that series a year back, my idea was to address this very same disconnect that my children would develop with my life mainly because of the difference between our mother tongues. I started off from a purely linguistic angle thinking that disparity in languages must be one reason that makes children to develop an aversion for their parents’ past. But as the series was developing and almost turning into an ‘autobiography of an unknown Indian’, I realized that it was not just linguistic disparity that caused cultural disconnects. I understood, while I was tracing the relationship that existed between my father and myself, that there was an innate tendency in every human being to go back like an investigator and find forensic evidences that connected himself with a larger context and continuity of events.
I am not a Darwinian and I do not agree with the notions of natural selection and survival of the fittest. Nor do I believe that talents are genetic in nature that gets perpetuated from generation to generation. In this sense I am closer to the Marxian theories that argue man as a product of his materialistic circumstances. We often see the children of singers becoming singers or showing a talent to sing. We see doctors’ kids turning into doctors as they grow up. We see children of actors and actresses becoming well known actors and actresses of their own merit. And we decide that talent is genetic and is passed from one generation to another. Interestingly, while we make this generalization, we don’t see the fact that thousands of kids born to singers, actors, dancers and so on do not follow their parents’ paths nor even show their talents, and opt for a totally different life. What do we say about them? That’s why I like to believe in what A.R.Rahman said about his formative years as a musician.
A.R.Rahman was born to a R.K.Sekhar, a music arranger of yester years and a good music composer. Sekhar was one of the best arrangers of the South Indian music industry so that he was always in demand by the famous music composers. They devised the tunes and handed over it to Sekhar. He did the rest of the magic. Result was that Sekhar could not compose much of his own compositions. Hectic schedules affected his health and he died young leaving a family of small kids behind. A.R.Rahman was interested in Harmonium and keyboard as a child. He was a like a fish swimming in water. A fish does not know that it is swimming. It is just being. Rahman was like this fish. He grew up amongst these instruments and when he touched them they gave him music in return. I could site people like Dr.Balamuralikrishna, Kunnukudi Vaidyanathan, L.Subramanyan, Sivamani and so on who grew up in music and could handle most of the instruments without training. (I remember knowing a friend in my pre-university classes who could play any musical instrument with flair and ease while I was struggling with Tabla for years). Once his father was dead and gone, to support the family, Rahman started playing key board for orchestras of famous musicians. Ilayaraja, the famous music composer was the one who took Rahman into his fold when he was just thirteen years old. And Rahman says, one has to practice for ten thousand hours to become proficient in any (musical) instrument.
(Young A.R.Rahman with his keyboard)
Ten thousand hours. When I was reading his biography, this mention of ten thousand hours caught me by force. I thought it was easy to practice daily two hours rigorously and it would take around seven to eight years to become a good player. But do we have that kind of time with us? That’s why we say we should start learning things when we are kids. Kids are not preoccupied with too many things. They can find two hours to practice anything. But ten thousand hours of practice is a real thing and my argument is anybody could become anything if one could practice it for ten thousand hours with total devotion and inclination. Hence, it is not just about genetics. Talent is not just a genetic code passed from a parent to child. But I am sure at some level, the talents are present in the genes. It manifests at some stage in the lineage; that’s why a totally dumb pair of parents could produce children with exceptional skills for acquiring knowledge and implementing it in various field. Milieu shapes children and makes men and women of talent out of them.
Though I argued my case about children becoming talented, my idea was to find their connection with their past and heritage. I am always amused when I look at dogs. Even if they are on a marble floor they make a few rounds as if they were trying to catch their tails before they lie down for a good nap. I made some studies on this dog behaviour and found out that the dogs were originally from grassy lands in the forest areas. Before they were domesticated, they used to live inside the thick fields of grass. They wanted to make it sure that their area was clear of enemies. To keep a watch on the approaching enemies they made a few rounds on the grass so that the grass got compressed and a crater like area was formed. From this crater he could see enemies approaching through the tall grass around. This movement has been coded in the dog genes. That’s why, the scientists say that they move a few rounds before they sleep even today even if they are in their cosy dog houses.
Hence my argument is that in every human being there are some past codes stored. At some stage these codes are activated and that drive the human beings to go out in search of their past. Though many do not set out for a journey to make a deliberate connection with their past or the rich heritage of their country, there are some junctures that make them aware of their past heritage. Today’s kids are brought up in a different milieu. They are connected to the world in a different way through internet and other communication devices. When they are exposed to a variety of cultures and forms, they do not take any particular interest in the so called authentic culture or life style. If somebody imposes these things on them, they just rebel and refuse to take in the arguments for cultural heritage. I would say, in our cultural context also (just as in the politico-economic contexts) our children live in a conflict zone. They are taught about the cultural heritage in the school level, through books, television programs, from grandparents and so on. But out there, they are exposed to a totally different corporatized culture. When you are young there is a tendency to embrace the new and vibrant. Youth like to be in Today. And often ‘today’ is presented as a zero-conflict zone. Hence you take everything unquestioningly.
There would be a snapping point at some stage when the children (they could be now forty years old) realize the need for their cultural heritage and past. Then they become dogs in a steppe. They start moving round and round. Their journey starts then and there of that snapping moment. There are a few reasons that cause a thought process in a human being in order to remove the cultural disconnect and activate the process of getting connected to the cultural heritage. The reasons could be the following: Love, Accident, Death, War, Pestilence, Injustice and Migration. If you look at all these ‘occurrences’ in your life, you could see that there happens a sudden jolt, a rupture and a tendency to connect with something ‘different/new’. That’s why when you are in love you feel disconnected to the present and crave for a past that was golden and less of conflicts.
A child becomes a man or woman when he/she faces birth or death. I always wonder, especially when I go to the Parents Teacher Meetings in my son’s school, why the parents are over concerned about their kids’ education. I have come to the conclusion that when a parent is over concerned about the general knowledge of his/her child, I am sure, during his/her youthful days this parent was not giving a damn to general knowledge or rocket science. The birth of their children has changed them. Their journey starts then and there. Hence, I am sure that at some stage, these kids are going to go back and learn about their cultural heritage and learn a few things about that. And above all they would be proud of their past not in a fanatical way. Then we cannot say it for sure that every human being who faces a rupture in life starts the journey and finds it. No, there is no democracy, fraternity and equality in intimately private experiences.