Cultural Freeze

On Thursday evening, I was walking with my two friends, Trisha and Aisha (names altered for privacy purposes) to the parking lot after a mundane lecture in our Web Technology class.  As we sauntered under the dark night sky enveloping over us, Trisha’s mobile phone rang.

Her mother was calling and before she answered, she instructed Aisha and me to stay quiet, adding “Especially you, Josh!”.

Aisha was puzzled and confused but I understood fully what Trisha meant.

We continued our route as Trisha conversed with her mother in Malayalam.  Aisha and I paid no attention as we discussed the ambiguous instructions for a project our instructor assigned us during class.  After Trisha hung up, she began a rant on the restrictions her parents have for her concerning her social life.  She clarified to Aisha that her parents did not allow to talk to boys, despite her presence in a prominently-male career field.

Trisha and I are currently studying in the same program.  We are the same age. We are members of the same parish (through our parents).  Our respective families are well-acquainted with each other.  However, according to her parents, we are not allowed to socially interact with each other.  The justification is “Malayali values”.

This is an example of a peculiar phenomenon known as ‘cultural freeze’.  When some immigrants arrive in their adopted country, they become religiously devoted in maintaining their native cultural traditions. Social isolation in a foreign country and negative perceptions of the surrounding culture leads these immigrants to be steadfast in preserving their heritage.

However, they are totally ignorant of the dynamics of culture.  For example, many NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) seem unaware that India has moved on without them.  Some of my relatives who migrated in the mid 1980’s envision their native homeland as it was in the mid-1980’s.  They are completely unaware of the social progress and cultural changes which occurred in India for the past thirty years!

There are very few difference between the cultural outlooks of Indians and Westerners.  The Indian youth, especially, are now as informed, progressive and liberated as their counterparts in Western Europe and North America.

“Love Marriages (as opposed to a traditional, “meet-the-bride-once” arranged marriage) are increasingly becoming the norm.  Casual dating is now commonplace.  Even casual sex is not unheard of ( the horror!).  Religion is becoming a historical relic as many have no use for pujas and scripture (well, except during exams :P).  A society which was prominently agricultural is now witnessing a surge in “smart cities” and urban development.  Neither I, nor my nadan cousins, have any use for our tharavad properties, which were once considered to be the pride of our clan.

We have simply moved on.

If we fixate ourselves toward an artificially-constructed identity, we lose sight of reality.  Society changes.  People change. And we must live in the present.  Those who refuse to evolve with the ever-changing social norms will prevent themselves from advancing