Vidya Josephs Blog

A shift in attitudes

Posted on: ಜೂನ್ 30, 2009

A friend, who is now in the USA, commented on my posts and said that she was shocked at the changes in her beloved Shimoga. Much as I would like to alleviate her fears, I realise I cannot. Not because Shimoga has changed all that much, but because I can see where it is heading and this alarms me. Shimoga, being a hub of culture, literature, art and music, and of course education, had retained its unique small-town charm against all odds. Somehow Shimoga was the place where one could feel the real pulse of the Kannada heartland. All those aspects of the Kannada lifestyle that we love so much, an attitude which symbolised everything good about the Kannada world – a soft spoken, well-mannered, welcoming attitude – was found in this sprawling semi-Malnad town. Shimoga always prided itself about its citizenry and rightly so, since some of the most well known faces in the field of Kannada culture, literature and politics have hailed from this part of the world. So what has changed? Is it the language that jars? There is no doubt that the lilting and lovely sounding Kannada cadence has changed drastically – apart from the filmy influence, a rapid hybridisation has taken place wherein Hindi, Tamil, English and Kannada are all mixed up in a street language which bears no resemblance to the language that we spoke in our homes not so long ago. What seems stylish to our teenagers seems horrifying to me.

Meanwhile, the Bangalore English is also rapidly making inroads into Shimoga with young parents desperately trying to speak only in English at home so that their kids will not have problems later. I hope this fad will die a quick death and people will realise that speaking a particular language need not necessarily mean adopting a culture so totally alien to ones own.
But what seems sinister to me is not just a fascination with the language – but a deeper change in attitudes which is pushing this tradition-bound society into a tail spin.
Recently, more than four hundred massive trees were cut down on the Shimoga-Bhadravathi road to make way for a four-lane super-fast highway. Shimoga, which has the distinction of being the hometown of the most important environment protection activity in recent years (the Tunga-Bhadra Ulisi Horata not only managed to make the entire nation sit up and take notice but also resulted in the literal closure of mining activities by the KIOCL in the Sahyadri hills), remained quiet and unruffled at this massive tree felling. In fact, a majority of the people supported the tree felling because it served the bigger cause of better roads.
Shimoga was the place where the Dalit protest movement, the farmers agitation by means of the famous Kagodu Satyagraha, the socialist movement and recently the environment movement came to fruition. All this was made possible because of an aware, educated and committed community of people for whom Shimoga and Kannada Nadu were realities beyond which no other reality existed. It is this belief which has now been eroded. Shimoga, for its people, is just one rung in the ladder. Their world has expanded and the horizon reaches to the heavens.
However, I should not sound too pessimistic. Recently, a mall opened shop near the Vinobanagar Police Chowki. The Chowki was till then home to hundreds of small vegetable vendors who would bring farm fresh vegetables to be sold at the pavements to middle class households. Since most middle class women are also working women, they prefer to buy vegetables in the evening and ready them for the next days early morning cooking. The Mall, like all Malls announced that it would sell fresh vegetables at affordable and real prices and deliberately tried to undersell the vendors. Within a few weeks, one could count the number of vendors left on the pavements of Vinobanagar since a majority of their customers had decided to shop in air conditioned comfort at the Mall. I thought this was another nail on the proverbial coffin. However, a few weeks later when I passed that way I could see a teeming pavement full of vegetable vendors. The reason: after a month or so of underselling, the Mall had started to increase prices thinking that the petty vendors had been driven out. Also, the comfort of shopping for everything-right-here was outweighed by the cumbersome billing process where one had to wait and wait to get a computerised bill for two bunches of coriander. And last but not the least, the average consumer had realised that Malls create needs where none exist and that one tends to buy far more than one requires when one goes to a mall. So the end-note – the vendor with whom one can quarrel, bargain and still come away smiling is very much back, at least in Shimoga!!


1 Response to "A shift in attitudes"

Well, I think there is certainly a kind of backward shift going on in small towns… I know that this is true in Bangalore and Mysore where after the western modernisation period of the 90s and the early part of the millenia, there is a quiet shift backwards towards our own heritage and culture.. The problem as I see it is the equating of culture/tradition with far right attitudes….

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