Culture, without borders

“Culture without borders, now that seems like a good title”; someone yelled from inside our classroom followed by numerous nods and sounds of agreement. That is a good title, I thought, a phrase that opens up countless new perspectives of looking at ‘culture and heritage’.
I sat there wondering how my own experience of learning about culture had evolved up to that point.

In the 15 or so years of staying in Pune, 5 years of my education was at a school where all my fellow students were from various parts of India. As such, through all these years I was often exposed to a few international cultures due to short trips abroad. Exposure to such from an younger age changes one’ s viewpoint as well as their frame of mind. But the most drastic change in my standpoint towards the same, happened when I left home to attend an international boarding school in England. A school where I lived with students and staff from 26 different countries for three years. Living in such a culturally diverse environment changed me for good.

There are numerous different realities about the entire concept of culture that I grasped. Whatever I thought I knew about culture wasn’t actually a whole lot. The kind of systematic lessons we learn at our school don’t entirely sum up the beauty of multifarious traditions, languages, food , clothing , festivals, rituals and much more of people from all over the world. The very first change in me, I realised, was the openness towards people , wherever they might be from. I did always think of myself as an open minded person, but I guess this is a quality in one’s personality that is ever growing.

Slowly some tremendously interesting things started coming into light. In reality , maybe subconsciously, most of us fall into the trap of comparing cultures. We think certain cultures have a greater value, some have better standards, some with stronger connections to their roots or even a wider variety of traditions and rituals. Nevertheless what holds foremost importance is the quality of not having any such comparisons. There are a great many similarities as well as differences between cultures but that is what make diversity, culture and heritage as captivating of concepts as they are. For example the closeness of languages , the alikeness of festivals and yet the different ways of celebrating them. One such would be Christmas. Christmas is a festival with utmost importance in several countries but each has a unique way of celebrating it.

Today it seems that some of my most memorable conversations with friends were related to cultural differences and few obvious stereotypes that, regardless of globalisation and technology have stayed with us. Along with this, one other thought hit me hard when it came to learning about culture. We are taught culture by referring to different countries and respective political borders. Sitting and chatting with 6 friends, all from a different country, brought up the question ‘ political borders remain to be dynamic; hence when we are referring to the matter of culture, how can such dynamic borders be relevant other than for the convenience of learning by separation’. Let us take an example for the simplicity of understanding this. Punjab : the culture of Punjabis in India and of the ones in Pakistan is almost identical irrespective of the political division between the two countries. This plainly tracks back to the two countries being one. Thus, ‘Culture without borders’ is a phrase that stays with me.

When we ponder upon something as glamorous as culture, we picture the colourful festivals, we remember the smell and taste of traditional food, miss and crave the comfort of our favourite festivals. Culture, regardless of its varying capacity, remains to stand as the force keeping us all connected.

— Janhavee Belvalkar

Leave a Reply