Monday, February 06, 2006

Cultural Travesty

First off, I don't profess to be a connoisseur of Bharatnatyam. However, I have seen quite a few recitals by dancers of repute to be able to discern the difference between a class act and a below par performance.

This year on the occasion of Diwali, the Desis at work got together to present to a company-wide audience an afternoon of Indian music and dance. The main draw was of course the free Indian food. As we sat there working our way through viscous dal makhni and the de rigueur tandoori chicken and nan, a thirty-ish desi woman in full Bharatnatyam regalia took the stage. Even the most jaded in the audience looked up from their food to watch.

Watching her perform made me wince with embarrassment - identifying myself as I did with the culture she purported to represent to a crowd of foreigners in a foreign land. The other desis in the audience did not seem visibly perturbed. I have in the past had Desis hold forth on Hinduism and specially religious symbolism (replete with inaccuracies) to a clueless American with the same chutzpah as this woman displayed in her mangling of Bharatnatyam.

My sense of identification with the Desi brethren seems to peak at inopportune moments such as these. I wish I could apologize on their behalf and undo some of the damage they were wrecking. When we take upon ourselves the considerable burden of representing our culture, we should perhaps curb our enthusiasm a little and assess if indeed we are up to the task at hand.