Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Monday, January 20, 2003  

So Bina has had her first good rant, and as a friend and fellow blogger, I am duty-bound to reply.

Bina's rather unhappy with the magazine Asian Woman and others like it, which she says "try to make you believe that while your culture can be cool, it can only be cool when it is reworked into something Western and palatable to white people. They give you the message that you can love your culture but you'd be crazy to love the place where it comes from or the people that are its original members."

Now I know little of this magazine, but I'm assuming that it's a British publication, intended primarily for the British market and specifically, British Asians. My guess then would be that what is presented in it is British Asian culture. (Calling the magazine British Asian Woman just wouldn't have had the same ring to it.) And as the name suggests, such a culture is a hybrid, partaking of both British culture (however you define it) and South Asian culture (however you define that). And naturally such a culture would be different - not better, not worse, just different - from what Bina, living in Pakistan, lays claim to.

Undoubtedly there are Asians living in Britain and the US and elsewhere in the West who feel a sense of superiority to their kin in the Subcontinent, like the ones who tell Bina she should get out of Pakistan and join them in Paradise. But to ascribe such a philosophy to a magazine, to me, is rather strange. So what if the fashions are different to how Bina's accustomed to them? What's the big deal with Meera Syal (who I also think is pretty talented, and downright funny) getting a huge chunk of celebrity? What's the matter with a short story about a promiscuous woman who settles down? (What would she have rathered, a story about a virtuous woman who morphs into the Whore of Jullundur, or, er, Brick Lane?)

As for the porn star... if she won't say anything about that, neither will I. And Bombay Dreams? Well, it's Andrew Lloyd-Webber. Enough said. If there are people out there who actually believe the world of Bombay Dreams is the real world as Indians/South Asians know it, that's unfortunate, but ultimately no great catastrophe.

My point is, if this isn't "real" South Asian culture, well, no one said it was (I don't think). This is what, in part, the coming together of cultures produces. Not everyone will like it, some will outright loathe it, others just won't get it. But it exists. It's nascent, evolving, fed by various positive (and negative) sources of energy, and in the end gives us something totally new - not one, or the other, but both, and neither. We see it in the music, film and literature (to name just three aspects of British Asian culture) which are all as complex and varied as the artists who create them. To say one source (Britain, or the West) calls the shots, and ensures that the end-product is a "sanitised" thing palatable to its tastes is to imply that Asians are guilty of prostituting themselves and their heritage for Western approbation (not to mention money), a charge that while true in some instances, certainly is the exception rather than the rule.

As for "real" South Asian culture, well, you're only going to find that in South Asia itself. That's not British Asian, or American Asian, or Caribbean Asian culture. It's Bina's reality, which, of course, is of prime concern to her, and I am honoured to say that through knowing Bina and reading her work I have come to a much greater understanding of it than I probably ever would have. But there are many other realities, including the reality of Asian Woman magazine; why should Bina being "the real thing" make them any less valid?

Just my opinion, as a Trinidadian man.

posted by Jonathan | 11:45 PM 0 comments


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