Inspirational Art in Provincial Culture
By Bijaya Jena
Booker Prize winning novelist Arvin Adiga wrote "Ignoring the cultural significance of our smaller towns will reduce the nation's diversity." I would like to elaborate on this statement. It is not the historical importance of these provincial towns alone which make them invaluable but their contribution to the nurturing of art and culture of the society. Very often artists, especially writers, lack an identity in a city where they are an outsider and write in a vacuum. Such writings do not have much depth, as a piece of good writing is not created in a vacuum.
Most cities have a metropolitan culture where many people from different parts of the world reside and adapt a new way of life, sometimes forgetting their own indigenous culture. They live in their own cocoons in a city and are alienated from the society; whereas in provincial towns, there is a feeling of brotherhood among the people and a sense of belonging. This feeling of unity helps to nurture the local culture and tradition - in USA, it exists among the Amish community. In India we have many tribes in different states and mostly they live in the villages and in smaller towns.
Such tribes believe in the age-old native intelligence of protecting their environment by worshipping the nature - the mountains, the ecosystem, the rivers. In spite of the 21st century scientific progress, the tribes retain their culture. It is interesting to see them talking on the cell phones but maintaining their cultural roots. This diversity is the premise of good literature, music, folk dance, folk art.
Most of literature has references of childhood memories of the writers or the provincial towns they grew up in. V.S. Naipaul's work has reference to Trinidad. Tolstoy's Anna is a girl from the province and Levin's character dreamt of managing his own estate and hospital in the countryside. Gabriel Garcia Marquez's most famous novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, is again set in a small town and its atmosphere creates magic realism.
In the 19th and 20th century most of the great authors have written about their own experiences of their provincial culture or about the horrors of the war. Annihilation of war or repression of a regime sometimes triggers oneʼs creativity but the alienation of a city does not. In developing countries, most migrants from the countryside feel a sense of alienation in the big cities. And so their literature has beautiful words but the characters are hollow and forgettable.
Now that the world has become smaller with easy transport and instant communication, every city in the world looks the same. For this reason the government should retain the unique culture of its smaller towns and patronize its art and culture and help to create great artistes like Tolstoy, Marquez, Salvador Dali and Federico Garcia Lorca. Buñuel was born in Calanda, a small town in the province of Teruel. He would later describe his birthplace by saying that in Calanda, "the Middle Ages lasted until World War I." And perhaps that was a blessing in disguise.
The article first appeared in Huffington Post and has been reproduced with special permission by the author-actor-director.