Towards A ‘DESI’ GOSPEL

By samthambu

May 10, 2007

Category: Uncategorized

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Glocalization is the new buzz-word. It represents an ingenious mix of the ‘Global’ and the ‘local’. Without a doubt, we are in an era of Glocalization. Step out of your ‘ghettos’ and you will feel the change. The comfort level with our own culture and identity is at an all time high in India. Socio-cultural expressions across India are fast changing, driven by this renewed sense of cultural identity. If ‘ad-speak’ and ‘movie trends’ are any indication of the direction of change, then the Glocalization bug is for REAL: Verna-culture is adored, there’s a sudden upsurge in the use of regional languages and ethnic clothes have become ‘chic’, ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’.

The trend started in the 1990’s with the use of ‘Maha’ – Maha sale, Maha cola etc.  And then, ads, movie music, and not to mention ‘indi’ pop remixes have slowly lent a ‘desi’ twist to our ‘copy-cat’ westernism. In fact, they have not merely driven the engines of change but have also added a certain legitimacy and acceptability to going ‘glocal’. Strap lines spiced with Indian flavor such as Yeh Dil Mange More, Thanda Matlab Coca Cola have struck a magical chord with Indian audiences. A.R Rahman, Shankar-Eshan-Loy, Mani Ratnam, Karan Johar, Amitabh Bachan, Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Preity Zinta and others have accorded ‘global’ respectability to Indian cinema. Today, an Indian movie boasts an intelligible storyline, masti music, photo-shoots in foreign locales and global faces – What more can you ask for? The image of the hip and happening generation is no longer defined purely by ‘English’ tastes. Urban youth need not hide behind the façade of speaking in up-market slang English, watching Hollywood movies and listening to ‘heavy duty’ Rock music to be considered ‘hip’ and ‘happening’. The Mcdonaldization of culture – ‘sameness everywhere’ – has been totally rejected. Most Indians still find it difficult to give up local ‘flavors’ and their language entirely. They have glocalized life – Indian ‘Ishtyle’

The question is: Has the church read the pulse of India? What is worrisome is the uncritical ‘Americanization of the gospel’. Most religious content – books, television programming, music tapes, meetings – come with a ‘Made in America’ tag. We consider this to be in step with the times -‘trendy’ and ‘suitable’ for a ‘shining’ India. And yet, we have miserably failed to follow the zeitgeist. Besides some soul-searching, we need to engage in brain-mapping to know how the chilled-out generation ‘thinks’ and ‘feels’. The modernity and change that has dawned in India is not necessarily ‘western’ but a strange mix of tradition, technology and consumerism. Economic liberalization in the 1990’s may have changed the kernel but the core remains intact. Tradition runs through the heart of India and any failure to recognize this is a suicidal point. We have no one but ourselves to blame. We have never given a serious thought to a ‘desi’ gospel. What is holding us back– middle class mindset, paucity of ideas or is it cultural insensitivity?

Christianity continues to be identified with colonialism and imperialism. To many, Indian Christianity is a cultural prescription of westernism rather than a description of what Indian-ness is, as it encounters the gospel. This is re-enforced through our worship practices, cultural expressions and Mission engagement. Till date, this remains a roadblock to reach the heart of India. The uncritical ‘Americanization of the gospel’ would be yet another ‘unnecessary’ hurdle. We must learn lessons from history rather than bury them. It’s time we give rise to a ‘desi’ gospel in keeping with the real India. The necessity for change is urgent. If ignored today, it may prove costly tomorrow.

The primary call for the church is to make the gospel relevant to India. The gospel needs to be ‘situated’ in our language and culture if it has to be ‘acceptable’ to Indians. What is worrisome is the uncritical ‘Americanization’ of the gospel if not the McDonaldization of the gospel – ‘same gospel everywhere’. We trust the ‘tried’ and ‘tested’ American gospel to work a miracle in India. Do not get me wrong. This is no smear campaign. There’s nothing wrong with American Christianity itself. It is its uncritical application in the Indian context that causes me to raise the alarm. The point I am making is that ‘localized’ flavor is essential to reach out to a larger audience. It is important to be sensitive to local ‘tastes’ and ‘preferences’ and serve local needs. Indian curry is popular in England but one finds curry served in London ‘less-Indian’ than what is normally served in India. It is cooked to ‘please’ British taste buds. Chinese food served in India is less-Chinese too. In our recent visit to a North Indian restaurant in Chennai, I was surprised when rasam was served along with Punjabi thali meals. Since when did rasam, a regular in any south Indian menu list, become a part of North Indian food?

There is a need to ‘glocalize’ the gospel. Have you heard that Spiderman has now gone ‘desi’? Mumbai replaces New York; Peter Parker becomes Pavitr Prabhakar, Uncle Ben will become Uncle Bhim, Aunt May will become Maya and Norman Osborne will become Nalin oberoi.  Local customs and culture have been woven to make Spiderman tales relevant to the Indian audience. Even Hollywood recognizes the significance of ‘localizing’. Financial common-sense has helped it to re-invent itself in local languages. There is a glocalization of culture in our midst.

The Church displays a concern for contextualization but much of it is either ‘misplaced’ or it just goes nowhere. Areas of concern remain but sadly the prevailing logic is to see the glass half-full. We continue in our errors and almost certainly take for granted that India is ready to welcome anything Indian Christians choose to call ‘awesome’ or ‘feel good’. The ‘Americanization of the gospel’ may not be an ideal way to creep into Indian consciousness. Indians are deeply spiritual and most Indians can never identify with all our ‘oh-so-rocking – and cool’ worship concerts, ‘This-is-your-day’ style televised religious discourse or for that matter our own religious programming loaded with Christian jargons. We need to take a serious note of culture. Indian sensibilities are deeply rooted in culture, particularly in matters of spirituality. Glocalization of the gospel is loaded with possibilities of reaching the heart of India. Let’s think glocally! and act glocally! In any case, sooner or later we need to deal with common sense or lack of it.  – Samuel Thambusamy

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