A look at modern Asia
In ‘Go Asia...’, host Anita Kapoor explores how age-old Asian culture has stood the test of time, and yet adapted to modern times, notes Lakshmi Palecanda.
The very mention of Asian culture conjures up visions of joss sticks, golden Buddhas, stone temples and people in traditional clothing, be it silk saris or sarongs. Asia is also the home of widely varied practices that are rooted in antiquity.
No amount of colonisation has been able to drive age-old thoughts, beliefs and behaviour patterns, which survive almost untouched by the fingers of time. Whether it is Balinese dancers swaying gracefully to music, or Indian priests chanting sacred hymns on the overcrowded ghats of River Ganges, this is the face of Asia that we see most often on travel shows.
However, there is the other face of Asia. Buoyed by increasing numbers of educated and empowered people and a free global market, Asia is the where the world appears to be heading. India and China are heading economic growth, and Malaysia, Phillipines and Thailand are not far behind.
In these countries, do culture and modernisation exist as separate entities in the minds of the people, causing conflict? Or have money and exposure to the Western way of life caused them to blend to form a meaningless insipid mush that is less than interesting? This is what Go Asia, the TLC programme with Anita Kapoor seeks to explore.
Anita Kapoor is an articulate and vibrant TV host who was born in Mumbai, but was brought up in Singapore. Her urge to explore not the same-old, same-old exotic stories but focus on contemporary stories that are happening in Asian cities every day now is the USP of this series. Visiting Asian cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Manila, Kuala Lumpur, and Bangkok, she discovers how people are dealing with their culture in a modern perspective.
East meets West...
During a telephonic interview, Anita spoke about the pride that Asians appeared to have in their cultures. “They have no issue with their cultures. They have one foot firmly there, but they are also very able to keep one foot in the present with an eye on the future,” she says.
What they have is also a great entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to try different ways in which to change the status quo. Asians are no longer just about sensitivities of religion and culture, and their attitudes shed light on where their countries are at, when it comes to living in the contemporary world.
“East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” thought Rudyard Kipling. In the same vein, there is a huge dichotomy of thought and behaviour based on culture and modernisation in India, and people appear to struggle while trying to make their ideas meet. Anita agrees. “I think India is just one giant dichotomy to begin with. You have this rich, deep history and it has birthed an amazing country. At the same time, if any country can deal with the dichotomy, India can,” she says.
“I think that yeah, there is that side of things where people are afraid that things are changing too quickly and then there’s the other side where people can’t wait for it to change fast enough and there will be a collision, but there will also be a collusion. You have wide education, you have many experiences, you have more and more Indians travelling in and out of India.”
She feels that, though it may not be fair to take Mumbai and Delhi to represent the country entirely, they are leading cities where modernity of culture exists. “I never felt once that people (in these cities) were abandoning themselves or abandoning their culture,” she says, adding, “I felt a lot of the people I met had a beautiful duality and they were quite comfortable in both areas.”
The instances she cited were telling. In Delhi, she stayed at the Neemrana group of hotels that specialise in buying up and renovating old, decrepit properties across India. They create an understated experience, very unlike the stereotypical formal palace or haveli, where you can appreciate the architecture and beauty of the place while enjoying a modern level of service.
Similarly, she was able to take a bicycle tour of historical Mumbai at seven in the morning, a tour run by locals who were in their 30s and 40s, and very interested in the history of their city. These exotic experiences with a modern spin showcase hidden trends in cities, which may be unknown to Indians living abroad, or in other places in India, or even people who live in the same city.
Anita spoke of an actor who had lived in Mumbai for years, but had never known that the bicycle tour existed. As Anita puts it, “These are people who live in these cities. They’re showing you their city. At the same time, they’re often rediscovering their own city.” This was true of the other cities she visited too.
Simply put, Anita says, “Stories for Go Asia, they look like they’re travel stories, but they are actually much more subtle and elegant, telling cultural stories, modern cultural stories.” Make sure you catch Go Asia with Anita Kapoor on TLC, every Friday at 9 pm. It’s worth your while.