[Reader-list] reader-list Digest, Vol 57, Issue 55 (on bicycle dreams)

Tapas Ray tapasrayx at gmail.com
Sun Apr 27 00:07:51 IST 2008


Not obtuse at all, and even if you were, so what? What is obtuse for one 
could well be acute for another ;)

Jokes apart, if I understand you correctly, you are in good company (or 
bad, if you ask some mainstream "Marxists"): Baudrillard has remarked 
somewhere ... I am trying to remember where, and hoping I am not making 
this up ... that in this phase of modernity, it is really signs that one 
consumes, not commodities. He was talking about the West, of course. The 
thing about us postcolonials (who are like that only) is that we have 
appropriated THEIR signs. Now that's not embarrassing in itself, because 
they are known to appropriate OUR signs, too - look at the "Eastern 
spiritualism" of hippies and their various mutants, and paraphernalia to 
be found in the possession of even some fairly mainstream people in the 
West today. But it all leads to a terribly confused state of affairs. 
Which can be fun.

Anyway, the thing is that the part-pre-modern postcolonial world is 
trying to turn part-post/late-Western-modern. Trying very hard. Even 
getting cheerleaders for cricket matches. Now cheerleading itself is a 
sign today - while watching some November 2006 US TV broadcasts in the 
last few days, I have seen commercials from companies that coach school 
students in cheerleading and for playing in school bands. So you 
purchase cheer ... or the sign of it. Just as in Japan, the elderly can 
purchase the services of folks who visit them and act like children, 
grandchildren, etc. Quite a witch's brew, right? No wonder our BPO kids 
are so mixed up, and not just about night and day.

(Talking about BPOs, the last item in one of the old broadcasts I was 
watching was about a film about an American falling in love with a 
beautiful Indian BPO worker. After they showed clips from the film, when 
the anchors were engaged in chitchat, the sports anchor joked about 
Indian BPO workers not "understanding us". So there's confusion not only 
about day/night but also accents.)

So, we need those cars and highways and computers and fibre-optic 
internet backbones and things, so that signs can circulate faster and 
faster, in a blur. But then "over there", the signs are changing - 
somewhat like traffic lights. They are changing to "Sustainable". That's 
the mantra today. So you have oil companies spending millions of dollars 
on "green" ad campaigns - what Greenpeace calls "greenwash". And then 
you have cities like Berlin pushing high-tech public bicycle programmes. 
Through all this, what remains constant, not negotiable, is the 
commitment to "development" and "growth" in a totally early-modern 
sense, and all that this implies for human life, both spiritual and 
physical, for non-human life, and for the earth as a whole.

Just a few random thoughts, for whatever they are worth.


atreyee majumder wrote:
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> From: atreyee majumder <atreyee.m at gmail.com>
> Date: Wed, Apr 23, 2008 at 10:51 AM
> Subject: Re: reader-list Digest, Vol 57, Issue 55 (on bicycle dreams)
> To: reader-list at sarai.net
> Dear all,
> When I first came to Delhi a few years back, to visit a friend, I remember
> that it struck me to be most curious that kids drove their parents' spare
> cars to college/shopping malls/pubs etc. Sort of like teenie-bopper
> Hollywood movies. This was the beginning of the automobile explosion in the
> big cities of India. Kids in the National Law School campus increasingly
> came back from summer breaks with car keys in their pockets. Postcolonial
> Big Cities which form the crucial nerve-centres in our not-so-networked
> parts of the world, as points of contact with the networked worlds, so as to
> appropriate whatever comes our way- money, download speeds, BPO jobs, jazz
> bars, intellectual stimulation, Iron Maiden, Russell Peters and what have
> you. It is naive then to imagine that in our parts of the world jazz bars
> and download speeds will remain satisfactory- within cycling distance.
> Of course, with the caveat of some fairly self-sufficient microcosms- like
> some universities- I know for a fact, cycling lifestyles are common at the
> Indian Institute of Sciences, Bangalore and the Indian Statistical
> Institute, Delhi. But I must go back to my primary argument-  that the
> euphoria of appropriating one's personal share of the modern pie, is
> inevitably  a reality in our parts of the world. The automobile euphoria
> being one more manifestation of the same. Where your car is bound to
> symbolise not just your tax returns, but also your ability to penetrate the
> modern world, a little deeper. That you can stay till the last drink at the
> jazz bar, not worrying about having missed the last trip on the metro.
> My take would be that euphoria over the automobile is not much different
> from the euphoria over one's own portable computer, one's own source of
> portable telecommunication,  one's  own  portable music system.  Similarly,
> the Nano appeals to the  just-about-income-tax-bracket-person's ticket to
> mobility/modernity. Just like affordable air tickets. This is a euphoria
> that we probably can't wish away with bicycle daydreams. As we don't live in
> Western Europe, where a Jazz Bar is bicycling distance away. And we need our
> BPO jobs to pay up laptop instalments.  Like the  power-hungry Reva, our
> network fantasies also have considerable hidden costs in terms of jacking up
> demands for key, manufacturing industries. Which, in turn, claim land, air,
> water, minerals, traditional livelihoods. And we rise up in leftist outrage.
> Rarely reflecting that these industries expand to feed our modern hungers.
> Not to say that our modern hungers are immoral or anything( I am neither
> moral, nor Gandhian).
> But, admitting to the very real titillations of modernities sort of rudely
> shake me out of bicycle daydreams. Hence, this post.
> Apologies for sounding obtuse.
> Atreyee
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