Understanding Culture

Prem Khatry


Often it is said culture is man’s supreme creation – the one and only characteristic that separates him from other culturally low beings such as his nearest ‘uncles’ – the chimpanzee and gorilla who possess lots of wit and a limited sense of good and bad –the sense of ‘consciousness’ human possesses due to his long and arduous journey along the evolutionary road stretching millions of years in a linear way from hunting-gathering to farming and living in villages and finally cities – using rough stones to refined ones and ultimately using bronze, copper, iron, steel, fibre and what not.

This has been hard, indeed to ‘preach’ the authenticity of one’s culture in shaping one’s attitude, behaviour and skill of inter-personal communication and relationship in a prescribed frame of one’s store knowledge. It all counts only if you have ever sat in a mood of reflection of what you think, do and demonstrate in your communication and behaviour with others in front of you, around you and behind you. This is crucial to tell how ‘cultured’ you are and how much effort has been spared to shape your personality from those who you grew up with.
This is not to preach what culture is or what it does to an individual. But culture comes handy while dealing with some ‘special’ person in society with authority and with clout of different hues and dimension. How much could an aged professor do to make the term familiar to a host of people in his list of ‘must visit’ persons across the society – from the mountains to the hills and, most recently, the Terai/Madhes? But it has been fun and people have been funny. They give maximum to keep the writer or his team of ‘culture’ class laughing and rejoicing through their answers, and often times, questions. The recent question was: why should we study culture? Or, for that reason, why should we need museum? What does it do for the people (in reference to the people of Pradesh Two) who need something else to survive?
In the person of this writer, a group of elites coming from the Other Backward Communities (aka OBC) of this province have found an easy partner – alias facilitator, alias culture ‘expert’. This is a title bestowed by themselves on this writer so the person or persons on the other side of the spectrum could offer time to listen to the current plan of having a multi dimension culture center (MDC) with few facilities to promote and preserve culture of the OBC. This facility, once created, could have a good size museum representing cultures of at least 30-35 individual communities listed as ‘Pichhada’ or ‘Backward’. The term itself is derogative in its meaning and content yet has its legal status in the current laws of the land.
For over nine month, scores of OBC leaders are seeking material and emotional support to have this MDC in Ward Three of Mithila Municipality, Pradesh Two. The Mayor Hari Narayan Mahato with the MDC team is all excited and energetic to have this centre as an identity of the OBCs and an icon of the Pradesh as a whole. He plans to have few features such as a live museum for the promotion and preservation of their culture, a unit of Open University, a child development centre, a big sports complex and an old age club as day care and creativity center. The museum and culture centre would promote research and education in the field of language and literature in Magahi, Maithili, Nepali, Bhojpuri, Vajji and others spoken in the Pradesh and region.
This far, all respondents visited and informed have shown their heartfelt support for the cause of the Terai-Madhes population deprived of clear-cut development agenda. Culture could be a venue to ventilate their concern and focus on the importance of their intangible heritage that not only shone bright in the long past but also made them proud descendants of the great, famous and glorious Mithila land and Mithila culture of the Upanishadic and Puranic ages. The glory can and must be revived through efforts such as the MDC team and the elites as well as politicians at the local and province level show their care and concerns.
The advisor of the team, former minister and VC of Lumbini Development Trust, Dr Keshab Man Shakya opines that there is an urgent need now to have minimum physical facilities on the ground as a point of reference and a platform to plan and implement further activities outlined in the MDC constitution. The team thus is on the move to make it known to the Pradesh leaders and elites. Prof Ram Swartha Roy, formerly a professor at TU like this scribe and now a member of the Education Commission, is working hard to bring about change in the status of public education of the Pradesh and the entire plains region.
Despite all these, positive developments, there are potholes and hurdles along the way of making culture understand to responsible leaders with powers vested on them. The Chief Minister of the Pradesh Lalbabu Raut offered his support and could see the future of the project to uphold the Mithila culture and its glory through a research centre. As a former lecturer of TU, the CM took all reporting seriously and in a mood of satisfaction that something is likely to happen at Haripur Village in the Mithila Municipality, just a few minute east-south drive from the Dhalkebar junction.
For one central level, powerful minister ‘culture’ was not a cup of his tea and he didn’t hide his feeling. Question: What is culture and what does it do to the poor who need food and house? What does a museum do to people? Nothing. Only those who first possess the basic necessity, will think of their language and (or for that matter) culture. That is – prosperity first.

Finally, the sambriddhi (prosperity) bound minister’s strangest ideas and moves didn’t end there – the minister was swinging like a pro on his bigger-than-life cozy chair as if he was just put on it and enjoying the ride way too much as if he was on his own balcony. He didn’t care his CCTV right above his head was recording his funny and fast movement almost risking potential head injury. Luckily, the MDC team didn’t have to be witness to this. The incessant swing lasted the entire time of the team’s visit and reporting along with this writer’s rather uncomfortable gesture and sense of rejection of his knowledge and understanding of culture.

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