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Our Many Worlds!

By Parthiv N. Parekh Email By Parthiv N. Parekh
June 2014
Our Many Worlds!

We switch from the qawwalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and from the bhajans of Anup Jalota to the racy gyrations of Beyoncé with hardly a thought!

Thanks to a global radio app on my smart phone, while stuck in Atlanta traffic, I tuned into a live and very lively discussion on CNN-IBN, moderated by the overbearing Sagarika Ghose. Her motley group of equally opinionated pundits were heatedly discussing Narendra Modi’s just-announced sweep of 282 seats in India’s Lok Sabha elections. After listening to it for about three minutes, I had had enough of the dramabaazi, and was motivated enough to pull out into an office park to see if I could tune into a saner synthesis of the big election story.

I landed on Doordarshan News right when Sonia Gandhi, the humbled doyenne of Congress Party, was offering her concession speech. Both the pure Hindi of this one-time Italian woman and her candid acceptance that the voters had roundly rejected her party struck a chord. Curious to get a sense of the prevailing mood across India, I switched to an English language Chennai station. It turned out to be a music station … and airing on it was what seemed like an American soul and rap song. In jarring contrast, this was followed by a commercial for a Chennai jewelry store—its rather long name escaped me, but I did learn that it has been around since the year 1900!

Next, while waiting to pick up my son from swimming, I took up my copy of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and plunged into the great American gun debate being played out in Georgia. While the sane voices across the table may keep changing, GeorgiaCarry. org continues to maintain its insane “safe societies through gun proliferation” line with bulldog tenacity.

The drive home with my 12-year-old saw us updating and playing our playlist in Saavn. His interest in Indian music is a pleasant surprise.

Where am I going with all this? Well, it is so commonplace now that we virtually take it for granted, but it is fascinating and energizing that our times allow us to traverse so many diverse worlds in our daily lives. Thanks to a mix of globalization, technology, and an abundance of media, from hour to hour we are exposed to a multitude of worlds and experiences that were denied to generations past.

Take just one element of our modern lives—the prolific amount of videos that come our way through YouTube links and Facebook posts. Through this single phenomenon we are able to see so much: an elephant painting an elephant; a gazillion antics of cute animals; daredevil stunts; an armless man playing table tennis; the audacious dancing of a one-legged woman; unbelievable magic tricks where people switch right in front of our eyes and birds appear from thin air; sports bloopers; political debates; social documentaries; inspiring TED talks; life hacks such as how to cut a pineapple; outrageous marriage proposals, and on and on…

And it’s not just the media consumption that offers us front row seats to a world of experiences. Even in our lived lives we are exposed to so many more worlds than were available to prior generations. We attend more events, eat out more, and travel more. My five-year-old has had a couple of dozen encounters with commercial flying—that’s a couple of dozen more than I had in my first 20 years of life.

In terms of the diversity and the volume of experiences, it’s quite possible that one year of our modern lives may be equivalent to a couple of decades of a life from the generation before ours. And quite possibly, a whole lifetime from a century back.

What is true for the world in general is doubly true for immigrant communities like ours, thanks to our dual heritage. We switch from baseball to cricket and from tandoori chicken to mac and cheese without batting an eye. We live in multiple worlds and merrily fuse and overlap them in one uninterrupted hybrid life. I know of an uncle who enjoys his grits only when it is colored red with mango pickle. We switch from the qawwalis of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and from the bhajans of Anup Jalota to the racy gyrations of Beyoncé with hardly a thought!

My day capped up neatly with an episode of “The Andy Griffith Show” on Netflix. This was the one where the character of Ellie Walker, Andy’s love interest, almost causes a civil war in Mayberry by announcing that she—a woman (!)—was going to run for city council. I marveled at the contrast, having just read that Smriti Irani, a novice woman political candidate was giving Rahul Gandhi, the Congress “shahzada,” the scare of his life at the time of this writing in their battleground of Amethi, and was only one of the many powerful women politicians in India. Different era, different place, but a snapshot nevertheless of the many worlds that we are now at liberty to indulge in—on the turn of a dime!

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