It was in the book “Reading Lolita in Tehran” that I came across the word “decadence” one too many times. This is something that’s been working in my mind for quite some time and I’m writing in order to crystallize it for myself.
I’m one of those 90s kids when Middle class meant living in an outhouse in a good neighborhood. I’m of the Tam-brahm breed and my natural habitat was West Mambalam in Chennai. For those of you who can’t make sense of these lingo and places, Tam-brahm is Tamil Brahmin, one of the very popular class of people in memes and trolls in India, the south especially. So Brahmins had this practice of living in an exclusive ghetto(socially it is the contrary) called ‘agraharam’. It is still a very popular idea that Real estate magnates are actually launching such projects for Retirement living in a country where the right against discrimination is enshrined in the constitution. Coming back, Mylapore and West Mambalam are the neighborhoods of Chennai which more or less stay true to the agraharam concept. Coming back once again, living in the 90s also meant frugality, seriousness, striving to progress and a very modest expectation of it. It was an age where there was little money but immense sense of value. The dollar-rupee exchange rate was somewhere between 20 and 30. Back then, Uncle chips was the only form of packeted snack sold commercially. Most people would snack on the rice noodles(thenkuzhal) or the karasev made at home or bought at the local grocers. Family outing meant going to the park and having Kwality Walls Chocobar or cotton candy. The Masala Papads at the Home Life exhibitions were a popular hit too. At ten rupees, you would get a papad 4 times the size of your hands, beads of oil glistening on the surface with a sprinkling of masala. That would be the day’s dinner and you would ride home happily in a bus, loving the gentle wind on your face and watching the city prepare for its brief slumber. Respect and regard counted a lot. Frivolity was unknown. Children played innocent games with stones and sticks and marble. Life was delightfully slow paced. A respectable career meant working with the Government or the Banks.
My first acquaintance with words such as “cool”, “sucker”, “fuck” and local lingos such as “mokka” and “kalai” was sometime in early 2000. It was the same time when we got the inimitable Nokia 1100 and the SMS culture took birth. SMS language and the many many Good Morning and Good Night messages were as much a wonder to people as the electric bulb would have been to Match-stick men. It was also the same time when people started to indulge in frivolity and make a mockery of anything and everything with scant regard to sensibilities or sensitivities. It was when “intellectual” was ostracised and deemed unfit for communion. Slapstick comedy always in derogation of a person or a people took the place of wit and humor. This culture of “kalai” is the real malaise. It’s like the lantana of the forests which thrives while wiping out all other flora. The same way, “kalai” has made it impossible for any talk or discussion or conversation to take flight at all. It’s cut as soon as it sprouts. Another clarification in order here. For the non-Tamil readers, “mokka” is synonymous with dry and boring and, “kalai” can be said to mean mockery. Yes, it’s actually so common and flagrant to be an every-encounter affair. In tune with this social transformation, the public culture and art space has also changed to cater to mediocrity and shun excellence as not saleable. The Music scene particularly is very painful. (Disclaimer : The author restricts herself to Tamil cinema here). Songs are such that the not-trained hit the charts and the prolific and proficient have no presence. Unpolished dialogues become the lyrics and yelling at the top of your voice becomes the melody. Maybe this trend can be observed in other cultural domains too, I’m yet to verify. Good literature is becoming rare, that is a reflection of our decadent lives too, maybe there’s not so much good material to talk about. Maxim Gorky could pen such terrific sentences when the world was raging in Communism and struggles of the proletariat was real, imminent and relatable. Today when Facebook becomes the popular voice and its populace comes from key tapping service professionals, there’s no real struggle to talk about but for memes and caricatures such as the one here. There’s some revival on the Movie front. Amitav Ghosh in his book “The Great Derangement” draws a stunning analogy between the changing world and the changing landscape of Art and Literature. More about that in another post.
The point being that mediocrity is fed from all directions. My dad once told me I was missing out many good articles by not being in WhatsApp. I asked him what they were and he talks about what he had read that day- The ill-effects of social media. How ridiculous is that? Absurdity is reaching incomprehensible levels. Probably this is how the human race will die- from the mind!