Monday, June 11, 2007

The Indian Bin

One of my pet peeves about ethnic Chinese Singaporeans (those born and bred here) is their frighteningly oversimplified categorization of all non-East Asian languages and cultures. There is this overwhelming tendency to think of any language/culture one is unfamiliar with as "Indian". It makes any discussion of music and the performing arts of various cultures extremely difficult on my end.

These languages have all been identified as "Indian" by friends/classmates:
* Arabic
* Armenian
* Chechen
* Farsi (Persian)
* French (yes, FRENCH)
* Georgian
* Greek
* Mongolian
* Romanian
* Russian
* Serbo-Croat
* Ukrainian

Just look at the list. Are any of the languages listed even remotely close to any of the myriad Indian tongues?

One can only wonder how the thought process actually plays out:
1) Hears unfamiliar music Constantine is playing
2) Music is unfamiliar, then language must be unfamiliar too
3) Unfamiliar = Indian
4) Therefore, music/language must be Indian

First of all, the Indian language does not exist! There are well over 20 official languages in India, ranging from Hindi to Malayalam to Urdu. The languages of the India are as diverse as the geography and people of the land.

It is not so much not being able to identify languages that bugs me, but the derogatory use of the "Indian" description. Anything strange and unfamiliar is automatically tossed into the "Indian bin". Nobody wants to hear strange, unfamiliar Indian music. Nobody wants to watch strange, unfamiliar Indian videos. Nobody wants anything to do with strange, unfamiliar Indian things.

We like to think ourselves as a cosmopolitan city-state - but what does it matter if the majority of the population (over 75%) think of a minority group as merely a synonym for all things bizarre and outlandish?

Are they so culturally illiterate that they can't tell Romanian (a LATIN language, closest to Italian) from Tamil (the most widely-spoken language by local Indians)? Even the well-read among us disappoint me sometimes - Kenny of the Sleepless Eye once mistook Russian and Persian for "Indian".

This habit has absolutely NOTHING to do with one's knowledge/education. It is rooted in the individual mindset. We must change this if we are truly to become a cosmopolitan state.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

hehe --dunno about the french, keval hindi aur rusi bhay hay :P

Fri Jun 15, 07:40:00 am 2007  

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