When east meets west

A pendulum of sunshine flickers through coach C as the Himalayan Queen emerges from a petite tunnel and enters another. The train bravely chugs its way into the altitudinal panorama overlooking Solan hill-station, as a waft of spicy aubergine radiating from a passenger’s loosely fastened lunch tiffin battles with the fresh mountain air.

Himalayas (786)The 96km Kalka to Shimla railway mirrors the India surrounding it. Renowned for the steepest incline over such a distance; India too has risen from the plains to the lofty global heights in an incredibly short span.

The train pulls into Shimla while the sun settles behind the rolling peaks, turning the sky a dramatic orangey-pink hue. The ensuing mist-ridden milieu and peachy skyline befit the hundreds of Bollywood films set in the former British ‘summer capital’: Chori-Chori (1956), Kudrat (1981), Black (2005) and Bang Bang (2014), to name a few.

The transition of film titles in this chronological short-list alone echoes the dynamic India, and the world, is attempting to balance. The flattening and fusion of the world into a global community has brought cultural spheres of influences closer together. It has ignited the debate between whether these fresh cultures bring dilution or enrichment to our own.

Now a billion dollar industry, Indian cinema has transitioned from the Ramayana epics to western MTV culture in 100 years. In 1954, then Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru received a petition from women who wanted to limit certain corrupting influences from films. 50 years on, item songs promoting a westernised portrayal of women have become a mainstay, and in attempting to modernise India’s image, the country in part is left with a crisis of identity.

With the largest youth population in the world, exposure to western influences has come at odds in an India which battles between retaining traditional values and the supposed ‘vogue’ imprinted in its media. Indian cinema may soon begin, if not already, to redefine the Indian psyche to Hollywood ideals, in order to fill film-makers’ coffers more rapidly.

In the middle-east the status quo appears to be treating different cultural influences with paranoia and subordination, avoiding any form of assimilation altogether. In Israel there is an inability to harmonize Palestinian and Jewish lifestyles, to the extent that absolute separation is sought. The Christian minority in the middle-east is also finding itself persecuted in the crossfire of sectarian violence.

In the modern world where connectivity is king, it seems that there is an equilibrium to reach, where we appreciate and accommodate the diversity of cultures around us, whilst remaining aware of how they influence our own values.

Deep in the Basacarsija bazaar in Sarajevo, ‘Europe’s Jerusalem’, a handful of moustachioed men sip their Turkish coffees and smoke hookah in the converted Morica Han, a 16th century Bosnian roadside inn originally built as a caravanserai. The noon prayer echoes through the courtyard from the nearby Gazi-Husrevbey mosque, whilst a Jewish man wearing a kippah saunters past toward the SarajevoHimalayas (819) synagogue. Here there is a striking synergy; Ottoman, Jewish and Christian influences have blended into a united Bosnian pace of life, where cross-cultural influences are adopted by others whilst preserving and enriching their own.

In the clamour at Shimla station, two refreshing Indian origin students emerge en route to the ‘Life and thought of Gandhi’ conference at the Indian institute for advanced studies.  With their fervour to learn the philosophies of India’s father set among their own international ambitions, they symbolise how the we must all adapt in the connected age. To embrace diversity, while remembering to champion our own heritage and identities.

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