by: Dr. Jaspal Singh
South Asia Post: Issue 35 Vol II, March 15, 2007
Culture is usually juxtaposed with nature or the physical world which includes both the organic and inorganic modes of existence. In fact human intervention into the processes of nature produces culture which usually manifests in the form of material achievements or acquisitions and the different symbolic modes of communication. Material achievements are often designated as civilisation and the symbolic expressions are simply called culture. So culture can be material attainment as well as symbolic manifestations. But in common parlance culture is differentiated from civilisation and it usually stands for the symbolic (semiotic) systems of communication which include custom, traditions, conventions, rites rituals, ceremonies, myths, folktales, proverbs, totems, taboos, music, abuses, riddles, folk songs, sculpture, painting, architecture, dances, literature, entertainment performances, manners, etiquettes, sports, ways of cooking and serving of food, utensils, dress designs, hair styles, ornaments, ethical patterns, modes of worship and so on. All these symbolic cultural activities are conceptualised and regulated in and through language. In fact entire cognitive process is possible only in social mechanism which is already steeped in a language that takes care of all the communicative needs of the community.
Now against this theoretical framework Punjabi culture finds itself at a crossroads. The division of the Indian subcontinent in 1947 was the first blow to the homogeneously synthesized Punjabi culture as it existed before partition. Then after this event Punjabis had a large scale diasporic dispersal in many countries of the world. In the wake of this communitarian fragmentation the Punjabis had to face many cultural problems that left a lasting imprint on their psychic structure as well as their behavioural articulations. As a globally wondering community Punjabis are a divided lot, with a schizoid personality, absorbing all the disparate influences without systematically conceptualising them so that they can be integrated with the core formulations of the Punjabi culture.
The old cultural artefacts no longer exist even in the Punjabi heartland. Their place has been usurped by the kitsch mechanical devices. Similarly the wholesome and robust folk forms have been substituted for kitsch pop culture. Folk songs and vulgarised beyond recognition. Hordes of Punjabi singers surrounded by scores of semi-nude gyrating and gosping damsels send the unruly crowds of tipplers in a frenzy. There is abounding balle balle. A great victory for the Punjabi culture that has already abdicated its worth to the cultural lumpens and louts.
There is hardly any cultural show where Heer, Mirza, Sohini, Sassi or Puran are sung. In fact these classics are despised. Occasionally in university youth festivals, sometimes the girls while performing the giddha, sing some traditional ceremonial songs. But the public entertainments by well-paid singers are distinctly devoid of them. Leaving aside a couple of performers, all others have been commercialised and hence are wallowing in the vulgar slush of popism. Of course there are a few nostalgic voices in the din who occasionally let out a whimper at the loss of the cultural moorings of the whole community. But these voices are too weak to be heard.
The Punjabi language too faces the same fate. In a globalised situation middle classes have shunned reading and writing of their mother tongue. Even the most committed champion of Punjabi does not send his children to a Punjabi medium school. Such schools now are an exclusive presence of the poor scheduled caste children with a small sprinkling of the words of marginalised farmers. The successive governments have ignored village school with an insidious design. The ruling classes require a large suppy of cheep semi-literate man power so that they can reap bumper profits from the production and distribution chain. Even elections for the mainstream political parties have become an industry. The candidates from such parties are always winners even if they lose the election. There is hardly a candidate from the main parties who does not save millions of bucks after having spent lavishly on the elections. The winner takes all so does the loser. People are drugged for a few weeks to be easily seduced by the farce enacted by scores of political environment art, literature and culture are nothing but meaningless hullabaloo. The vacuum created by the demise of traditional cultural mores has been filled by adultrated categories recklessly borrowed from outlandish peoples and places. The entire scene is turning absurd by the day. Culture vultures are smugly perched on the high pedestals looking more comical and casual than the real practitioners in the arena. Even god may not help in this situation.