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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What does it mean to be a rural Tibetan youth in modern India?

The picture many of us have of what it means to be part of a rural community is fast changing in India. As the picture above shows, it is no longer necessarily incongruous to be a farmer living an essentially ancient lifestyle while also using a smart phone on India's incredibly widespread 3G network.

How has this affected the community in Bylakuppe? As the existence of the Protected Area Permit attests (any person wanting to stay in Bylakuppe for more than a day trip is required to get what amounts to another visa specific to the place), the Tibetan community there is purposely protecting themselves from the negative effects of globalization. However, the Dalai Lama is nothing if not forward thinking, as much as he cherishes the rich traditions and religion of Tibet. His encouragement for all Tibetans to become fluent in English, the training of Tibetans in new technologies for text preservation, and the emphasis on updating government to a more democratic model all support this modernization.

The funny thing about kids, I think, is that, for the most part, they/we (I'm not stuck up enough to think I'm more than "one of those dumb kids!") don't care too much about preservation efforts. Depending on access of the youth to internet, I would not be surprised to find Tibetan kids with MP3 players rockin' and hip-hoppin' to everything kids in the states listen to, and thinking of Tibetan music as "stuff for old people and monks."

The thing is, though, that I am also not stuck up enough to assume that all kids all over the world have the same self-centered worldview that plagues and empowers my generation in the US. Perhaps, as is the case in Bali, there is no problem in maintaining musical heritage while still venturing into new, primarily Western territory. Or perhaps there is a stigma against Western forms of musical expression.

Though I doubt there are very many "rich kids," such as those described in this week's annotated source, I wonder to what degree the Bangalori attitude of the Third World being the "other" and the Western world being the "inside" has affected the Tibetan kids. Where do the Tibetan kids in Bylakuppe identify themselves? Do many live in a translocal paradigm that is perpetually and adamantly "the in-between," or is there a close identification with Tibetan tradition? How do kids define "Tibetan-ness?" Perhaps the question "what does it mean to you to be Tibetan" could be slipped into conversation here and there with people of all the strata found in Bylakuppe.
I love these pictures!


  1. All good, good, good, good - a lot of the things you discuss I know will be important with everything I'm doing.

  2. Okay, sorry for blogstalking, but just a few things I thought of also. There are more options in India besides just the traditional/western view point. Bollywood, Tollywood (referring in this case to Telugu, not Bengali), and Kollywood all have a fairly large influence in India. Karnataka is interesting in that even though Kannada is a major language, it is under attack culturally from the huge influence of Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, and Malayalam which all surround it physically and culturally. Uh, where am I going with this, oh, so when considering this idea of traditional Tibetan culture, it may not be under attack strictly just from Brittany Spears, but also Aishwarya Rai as well. Indians from other states are sometimes as sensitive (and actually in some cases more sensitive) about the cultural influence of Hindi as they are about the cultural influence of the West. You may want to pay attention to how much it is Hindi Filmi songs as well as when it is Western music.

    Another thing, Bangalore is, or at least was, the fastest growing city in the world. In fact it is growing so fast that there are rolling power cuts because they cannot build power plants at the same rate they build everything else. There are a huge number of major major major corporations headquartered there. I saw more ferraris, porches, mercedes, and bmws there than I have anywhere except orange county. So actually there may be a lot of rich kids with that kind of mindset in Bangalore. Granted you would probably have to go to the malls to find them, they wouldn't jut be walking around in the hot sun. The Tibetans may feel under attack from Indian culture as much as they do from Western culture. Maybe I am just misreading and this isn't what you mean at all. Ignore me if it is so.

    1. No misreading - you're absolutely right! In Diehl's book "Echoes from Dharamsala" she goes into this issue precisely. One of the dangers/opportunities for Tibetans, especially younger ones, is the ambiguity of living right in the intersection of this crazy traffic jam of culture. There are about a billion and nine places, cultures, and ideas that, for good, bad, and all the places in between, influence the Tibetan diaspora.

      Another issue is that when a country is un-invaded, un-divided, and relatively un-compromised, there is no need or tendency to define "____"-ness (insert country name here). That country simply is what it is. When crazy things happen like what happened to Tibet, then there is a push to define what it means to be a member of that country so that culture isn't lost. In a lot of ways, a whole new culture is created because of the preservation efforts. So Tibetan youth have the Western world to deal with, the Indian world, Chinese influence (and, to a lesser degree, a general pan-Asian influence), and influence from a world that might be called the "new tradition," all informing identity in a different way. Then there is what might be called easy, natural culture - Tibetans being Tibetans without trying to be, enjoying tsampa and butter tea, whistling shepherd songs on the way to work, consulting a lama in preference to a doctor when illness strikes, etc.

      I think I'm going to make my next blog post about this very topic. :)