Monday, May 01, 2006

First Month in India

Today marks the end of my first month in India since I arrived here. I had a first-hand experience today of something absolutely shocking, and to some real extent, very ominous. I went out to watch a movie with an old friend of mine. We decided to watch Aeon Flux, at a downtown movie theater. We sat in the very large, double level auditorium theater, watched the previews (which I very much enjoy watching, in anticipation of movies I’d like to see next), I sipped on my Mangola while my friend munched on some salted popcorns from a ridiculously tiny but exorbitantly pricey paper bag. Suddenly, I was caught unawares by the entire auditorium crowd rising up to their feet; at the same instant I heard the swelling sound of a familiar musical piece. It had bellowing sounds of horns and trumpets – in a funny staccato rhythm. I had not heard this particular piece of orchestration in a long while, so it took me a few moments to register. I had not even noticed that I was already standing up on my feet, though still quite confused. It finally hit me hard as to the nature of what was going on when I saw on the large silver screen of the theater, the flag of India being projected across the entire length of the screen, and the people around me, in low, respectful voices, were singing the Indian National Anthem! I was shocked! Truly! Beyond words! This never used to happen in India before. I’m not sure when and why this sudden tradition started, but I asked my friend why this was happening, and he seemed confused by my question, as if it should be clearly self-evident that this is a normal and desirable activity. He asked me in return, “Doesn’t this happen in America?” I said, “No, not in a movie theater!” Anyway, this experience stuck in my head. The experience had the photographic resemblance of an Orwellian “utopia” of mind-controlled citizens, singing in robotic unison their national anthem, facing a large silver screen that projected the mighty, towering, over-powering, national flag. Collectivism is in every fiber of this nation’s consciousness. Even the mere entertainment of a “selfish”, individualistic argument is met with incredulity and disbelief, as if one couldn’t possibly be serious about it, and if one were – then that is purely their naiveté. The person just needs some time to mature, they say. I am bombarded with collectivist, altruistic statements everyday – in my home, from my friends, the newspapers and the media, the church that I am forced to visit every Sunday, the Indian corporate culture, etc. Mom has a staple line that she keeps repeating to me: “What will society think? We will lose our dignity in front of their eyes. People must respect us, only then will there be a value in living.” The pastor at the Church said: “The prisoners in jail need our help and support. We are collecting money for their rehabilitation. They are in prison for minor offenses like robbing and stealing. They commit those crimes because they are poor, and in need. We must treat their poverty, not punish their crime. Give with open hearts, for God will give you abundantly in return.” My friend and I were discussing the Danish cartoon incident and the Muslim brouhaha. He agreed that the Muslims should not have acted violently, but he said: “I disagree with you to the core that freedom of speech comes with no responsibilities. The Danish newspaper was very insensitive and offensive in their insults. They should have atleast apologized!” The newspaper editorial section runs a column everyday that talks about the mystical benefits of being “One” with our inner consciousness, of the spiritual benefits of altruism and self-sacrifice, written by some Maharishi or Yogi or Guru or some such thing. Yuck. This first month in India has already seemed like a year. I spend my days usually being quiet and unargumentative with my family and friends. I try to keep to myself mostly, on the computer, or reading a book. I try not to go out during the day so I can avoid the heavy pollution, heat, and humidity. The other day, at church, I came across a priest from whom I picked up a definite gay vibe - and a disgusting one at that. He eyed me knowingly, and I think my expression clearly showed my disgust for him. I am desperately looking for a job here. I'm currently in an interview process, infact. I hope it works out. Staying home without a job is utterly damning to my sense of purpose. I don't want to become of those that wait for hours to pass, wait for the sun to set and then rise again, wait for their hair to grow, wait for their life to end. Yet, that is how I feel my life is right now. I detest it fully. I have been immersing my mind in music and books. I sometimes close my eyes and drown the reality of my surroundings in my familiar musical favorites. It reminds me the days I lived, and the times I enjoyed, and the life I had. I try to re-live them again for some moments in my head. In the dismal reality that I am surrounded with, I have come to understand and appreciate even more the importance of works of Art - the spiritual fuel of man's consciousness - that is exalting, romantic, proud, and ideal.

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