SONGSOPTOK: We would like to start this interview with your opinion on the theme of our current issue. Do you think that cultural heritage has a role to play in modern society? Why?

RIMI PATI: Some people may think cultural heritage is archaic and has  a  limited role in modern society. However, I feel exploring my heritage gives me an automatic sense of identity and belonging to a group. Without this sense of identity, it is easy to feel lost in the melting pot of today’s world.

SONGSOPTOK:  How would you define cultural heritage? In your opinion, is it something tangible or intangible? Or is it a combination of both? If so, in what way?

RIMI PATI: Cultural heritage has both tangible and intangible qualities. The sense of belonging is intangible while the benefits are tangible. We feel more inclined to help when a member of our own community is faced with hardship.  Our distinctive love of specific types of arts and crafts, drama and cinema are  examples of cultural heritage we can see, touch, or consume.

SONGSOPTOK:  In the country and the society you live in, do you think culture and cultural heritage are important? In what way?

RIMI PATI:  Culture and cultural heritage is important in every society but more so in a heterogeneous society I live in. Preservation of  cultural heritage  is firmly rooted in the national consciousness of United States.  Even minor artifacts of historical importance are  preserved and restored with great care. I have  attempted to emulate this by preserving personal cultural artifacts I consider important for the next generation. Silver ware, brass pots, hand stitched items, art work are examples of artifacts I try to preserve and attach special value.

SONGSOPTOK:  What, if any, are the outward manifestations of this heritage in the day to day life of the society you live in?

RIMI PATI:  Culture consists of patterns of learned behavior, skills, attitudes, motives and values.  In my daily life in United States, I marvel at the outward manifestation of this heritage in the form of their collective behavior. These manifestations may take the form of, love or adherence to particular symbols or signs. They may be negative or positive. For example, the Confederate flag is deeply abhorrent to everyone else but held in high esteem as a symbol of Southern cultural heritage.

SONGSOPTOK:  Is culture, in its different components, taught or learnt? Should it, for example, be taught to children? Or is there a different way of transmission of cultural values to future generations?

RIMI PATI:  Culture cannot be acquired in a vacuum so it is definitely learned.  Children acquire culture by observation or immersion. The essential core of our traditional culture, attached values, should be transmitted to the next generation by a manner that is acceptable to both parties.  I think our actions and how we conduct ourselves in our daily life speaks to the next generation much more than any formal teaching via books or digital media.  However, insisting on “our way” is best avoided when trying to impart culture based knowledge. 

SONGSOPTOK:  In your opinion, can culture be equated to tradition? Or do you believe culture is actually a living thing that tends to evolve over time?

RIMI PATI:  Arranged marriages, conservative attitude towards women, and deeply rooted family values are considered to be the tradition of people originating from the Indian subcontinent.  However, culture is a living thing that is never stagnant. It is healthy for traditions to evolve with time so future generations will not be alienated. 

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you think that the increasing importance of technology and mechanization of modern society play a significant role as far as cultural heritage is concerned? Does the word ‘heritage’ have any relevance to the society you live in? Can you please give us some examples to illustrate your answer?

RIMI PATI:  Technology and mechanization can hinder or accelerate cultural heritage. The demands of the individual become increasingly important and eventually replace the family or community.  A proud display of local heritage is often observed in the society I live in. For example, Southerners celebrate their heritage by playing country music, drinking sweet tea, and dancing the Shag.

SONGSOPTOK:  What, if any, are the impacts of your own cultural heritage in your very personal sphere? If you live in a multicultural society, how would you analyze the interaction between different cultures?

RIMI PATI:   My cultural heritage does have considerable impact on my personal life and how I choose to conduct my interpersonal relationships.  Even after quarter of a century of living in a Western culture, I am not comfortable when hugged or kissed by men or women with whom I have minimal acquaintance. I prefer to verbalize my greetings, smile and make eye contact.  However, there is no way I could make my preferences clear without offending members of the majority culture.  It is a strange paradox that Western societies value interpersonal space more than Asian or Latin Americans. What is considered polite also differs from culture to culture.  Asians often invite others for elaborate home cooked meals. Such activities are not a part of American culture. Yet Americans are very hospitable and accepting of other races and cultures. They choose to interact in other social spheres such as organized games, international festivals or cultural programs. 

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you believe that you have to stop being traditional – that is, give up some of your beliefs and practices in order to be ‘modern’? Or do you think that there is no incompatibility between the two? What is your personal experience?

RIMI PATI:  I live in a modern, multicultural society. It is not mandatory to give up my traditional garb or religious practices. I have made some compromises regarding my beliefs and practices. For example, a beef meat ball lovingly served by a local Christmas party host will be discarded discreetly because forcibly covering my plate would embarrass and bewilder the host. The red sindoor in my hair parting (mark of a Hindu married woman) has mostly been relegated to an annual occasion to avoid unwanted and misguided concern from local folks unaware of this custom. There is a degree of incompatibility between my beliefs of food preparation, religious observation, modesty and the dominant culture in USA.  Striking the right balance and accepting these differences is the key to success and happiness if your own culture is markedly different from the dominant culture.

SONGSOPTOK:  Do you believe in ‘cultural imperialism’? What is your personal experience? In this context, do you believe that the world is increasingly becoming mono cultural based on the principles of the modern society?

RIMI PATI:  I believe some degree of Cultural imperialism still has a stronghold in the  subconscious mind of minority cultures.  The western idea of beauty is a prime example.  Naturally full bodied, curvy Hispanics and African Americans feel compelled to live up to impossible super slim willowy body types. When asked to choose between dolls representing different races, African American and Asian children expressed a preference for white, blond haired dolls. I believe these preferences will persist for many years. The world is becoming more mono cultural due to increased travel opportunities, television and access to digital technology. Today, a teenager engrossed in his or her iPhone is a common sight from Berlin to Mumbai to Beijing. Across the world, more and more people are expressing their preference for American fast food, coffee and clothing. We may dislike the progression towards a single culture but it is inevitable. People everywhere have much in common when the exterior layers are peeled off.

We sincerely thank you for your time and hope we shall have your continued support.
Aparajita Sen

(Editor: Songsoptok)


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