I’ve been following some tumblrs done by Hindu-Americans, and lately there’s been a lot of talk about cultural appropriation of Indian culture by Westerners. Mostly it’s about the Orientalists at the turn of the 20th century, but I think it’s referencing modern cultural appropriation as well.
So then I got all self-conscious and sent a question to one of them, asking “how do you feel about indophiles?”
The response I got back was that it’s cool, as long as you are well-informed. And then I felt very proud of myself because I do a lot of research. This feeling was followed immediately by the feeling that doing a lot of research may not actually make me a more legitimate indophile, mostly because I’m not interacting with people as much as I should. And then came the back-and-forth of “well, I’m not Britney Spears, but I pick and choose, but I’m a Hindu, but I don’t go to temple regularly” and so on.
A month or so ago, when I did go to temple last, with a friend who is Indian but grew up in Africa, I explained my home mandir and described the gods and goddesses who occupy it. He commented, “those are very North Indian gods.” I suppose I hadn’t thought of it a lot, but all my reference to that point, and all my cultural exposure had been to North Indian culture. My few Indian friends and acquaintances had been Gujarati, Punjabi or Uttar Pradeshi, almost exclusively. I have been researching Rajasthan for years. And while I considered myself a connoiseur of Indian cuisine, being able to tell South from North in flavors and foods, the rest of the culture was still a wide unexplored world.
Now, I haven’t explored it yet. Not even close. However, I am much better educated about Bengal, as my grandfather was stationed there during World War II. I feel reasonably well-educated about the geography of India and its languages.
And then there was this great realization that came today: I can tell the difference between a Hindi and a Tamil accent in spoken English! I kind of adore Tamil-accented English. It’s lovely.
Don’t believe me? Here’s a great conversational Tamil YouTube series:
(Learning Tamil! Haven’t made progress on learning Hindi! Will probably become very confused!)
I realize that there’s still much to learn and explore and understand. I will probably go back to the temple that’s more South Indian, because I feel it’s very important to understand and appreciate all parts of India, not just the Northern parts (even if that part of India makes me terribly, inexplicably homesick).
While I’m still guilty of a little cultural appropriation, I think I’m going about this the right way. Hooray for India.