A participant from the popular show 'American Idol' had flown down to the city some time back. Some of my friends are really into English music. They were quite enthusiastic about attending this performance and had even purchased passes for the front row to enjoy their favourite music from close quarters! The music performance was quite enchanting and as the evening progressed, the participation from the audience grew. The singer started asking all of us to clap to his beats or even sing along with him. It was all going fine - till he actually swung the mike in my direction - hoping that I would sing a few lines of his song. I was shocked. I did not know the song at all! Of course, my friends sitting next to me started singing along and I was saved from the embarrassment.
After the concert, one of my friends asked me 'How come you did not know that song? It is one of the most famous songs from the popular American music band U2! I hope you at least know who U2 is!! Duh - Kanan!!'
My friend would not have realized but at that very moment - that very statement brought back so many memories from my past. I felt as if I was not good enough just because I did not know that particular song. Growing up in a traditional Gujarati household and going to a vernacular medium school were not exactly helpful when it came to gaining exposure to certain aspects of Western culture.
Honestly, this was a major handicap even when I went to Britain to pursue higher studies. In Britain, I felt as if I stood at crossroads between two diverse cultures, not knowing where my identity lay. I remember one evening very clearly. A group of us were playing the game of 16 questions in the bus on our way back to London from a conference in a nearby town. The group consisted of people from many different countries. It initially started with guessing names of ex-presidents of USA, Hollywood actors, famous sports players etc. Then it was my turn to guess an important personality. I wanted to make the game interesting and therefore, I thought of the name of the Prime Minister of Pakistan at that time, Mr. Shaukat Aziz. Question after question but nobody could guess. Finally, there was a student from Pakistan in the group as well, who could make the right guess. Although, the moment he discovered that, he reacted: 'How can you guess someone from our countries? Obviously, the students from abroad will never know our leaders. Bad Guess.'
In the days that followed, I used to find myself at a loss. I was never into Hollywood movies or English music that much. Unfortunately, I was almost expected to know all the big music bands, all the great Hollywood movies, all the major American/British writers, all the important details about the American politics as well as all the good-looking football players in UK! Even the professors in the class would expect some of these details which I really had no idea about. Many of the Indians around me, were well equipped with these insights and somehow were baffled about my ignorance.
As if, they all expected me to know 'at least the basics' - a certain culture, a certain knowledge 'everyone knows or should know'! I somehow never figured what made this information so different?! If someone actually took interest, even I was capable of sharing so much about the kind of music I grew up with, the kind of politicians whose heroic tales excite me even till date, the kind of movies I laughed at and the kind of cricketers I got fascinated with. I was saddened why all that was now considered 'a different category'.
I always questioned if this was 'my' kind of globalization? The insecurity being reflected in my Pakistani friend's statement kept coming back to me. "Kanan - how can you expect those from abroad to know what we are all about?" I almost felt as if I was being converted into something I was not. Things which were so alien to me so far, were those I had no option but to adopt. Of course, that which is powerful prevails but I have gone through the pains of letting go of the beauty of the 'not-so-powerful'.
Perhaps not anymore. Technology is increasingly creating a level playing field and enhancing equal access in every possible way. Culture is no longer an exception to this. As a young global citizen, I feel tremendously excited to see that the world, more than ever before, is open to creating wonderful fusions between the unique facets of different traditions. I believe a lot still remains to be done, especially in creating the kind of globalization where the 'not-so-powerful' cultures don't feel threatened or intimidated. The softer voices need conviction and it is the responsibility of the younger generation to be rooted themselves and to instill the same confidence in others in their communities. These youngsters will have to stand up not only for their ideas and innovations but also for the unique cultural identity they represent. This is imperative otherwise, you might never know when the mike may be thrown in front of you and you may not have the choice but to hold on to it and sing along.
(This article was first posted on globalshapers website: http://www.globalshapers.org/news/mistaken-identity)