What is my culture?

Recently while eating spicy Thai (and not even a coconut base) chicken and a bowlful of sticky, shinning rice, in a half Deutsch-half Vietnamese (?) restaurant named Panda ( there’s enough Chinese as well), I had one of those culture moments. What is my culture?

Growing up, my idea of home has increasingly got clearer in fact. I recently decided home is: sector 50. Home is where Gudiya and I have massive fights on which TV programmes to watch. Home is where on terrible nights, I get out of bed and sleep on the couch in the living room. Home exists within the kitchen and dinning table boundaries of my daily stories shared with my mother in the backdrop of my father’s radio tunes. Home is where we compete in Hindi antakshari competitions. Home is the backdrop of all my dreams, irrespective of which people show up in those dreams. I do not have debates on that any longer, and yet it is my mother’s.

In Orkut times (at this point, I allow myself to feel old) I had joined an Orkut community of Kashmiris (I can’t recall why) perhaps because I do not have Kashmiri friends (in fact a photographer and his fancy wife are amongst the few I have genuinely enjoy interacting with). Kashmiris in general (I’m not sure if that’s true now) used to be very vocal about culture protection and home. Growing up with the belief (or reality) of lost homes, it wasn’t surprising. As a 21 year old, I remember commenting very vaguely and in most cliched ways that, the more tightly we hold on, the faster it slips by, like sand. I regretted it much later once another (perhaps, wiser) person commented saying, for whom had I dished out that grandmotherly advice. At that time, I thought it were rude. I even complained to mother. And maybe today I should say it. The advice was for me.

From India, looking at my Indian friends abroad involving themselves in Indian cultural activities would make me feel cynical. Why would they not just be in Indian then, I’d ask. I would strongly feel my future existed (eventually) at home. My logic was that my culture existed at home.

And then one day, my definition was being challenged. I tried using language as a connector.

What is my culture?
Definitions: What is my culture? 

I understand Marathi songs better than Kashmiri ones, and yet my stress moments and curses exist in Kashmiri. When writing or at work, I can only imagine English. I find it weird that people wouldn’t think that I am a ‘native’ English speaker. At times these days I have German dreams. Gudiya and I speak in Delhi Hindi. Pradnya and I speak in Pune Hindi. On whatsapp I generally ask mother to translate Urdu words for me. If culture really is a thing, which one was I preserving for me at home?

I find the German obsession with “language leads to kultur” overbearing (like their rules), of course there’s merit in it, but real connect rarely depends on spoken language. I like the culture of making chai in the evening and finishing it while talking in the kitchen. Maybe that’s all that it is.

(Bharat was a senior and had the best sense on language in all the people I remember from school)

5 comments
  1. Interesting.

    Culture is where everyone is included and all things are acceptable. Culture is what feels ‘right’. That’s the simplest definition I have managed to come up with for myself.

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