(This is an article I wrote for a local newspaper in October of 1989)
What is true entertainment? MTV? Rock Music? Arcade machines? I do not want to sound like a prophet of doom but the way things are it will not be too long before our children weened on MTV will say yes this is true entertainment.
Nothing pains me more than seeing a young child sitting passively in front of a television, oblivious to his surroundings, eyes glued to the screen watching some stupid sitcom, letting those unrealistic people acting in unrealistic situations live his life for him. I feel sad and wonder if they would have the ability to appreciate the arts if tomorrow they came face to face with them. They are so wooed by electronic media, watching science fiction movies and listening to blasting, blaring amplified sounds of rock music, that it gives me the reason to believe that if not channeled properly at a proper time they would lose the ability to see, understand and truly enjoy the beauty of the arts. All art forms are known to be helpful in developing a person’s powers of perception and appreciation and making him understand and analyze life situations. In the world of the arts a person is not just a passive viewer but he grows and grooms a sense of aesthetic appreciation too. Every time we read a book or see a play and identify ourselves or recognize someone else in a character we come closer to understanding life.
Music and the visual arts work on us in ways that are not concrete but are powerful, giving us a feeling of well being. We feel them stretching our minds and expanding our imaginations and emotions. Plays, paintings and music have the power to make us laugh and cry. They are definitely a better form of entertainment then video games and MTV. In today’s world of entertainment there are many other options too. However, the arts are a far healthier way of enjoying life. They can entertain us and our children and help us cope with the stress and tedium of everyday life; they help develop a sense of aesthetic perception within ourselves.
I am not concerned just with the ability of today’s youth to understand the value of the arts. There are other things too that make me feel uneasy. Although America is called the melting pot of all races and nationalities from all over the world that share, give and take whatever customs and traditions they bring along; it does not mean that in the process of being mixed, shaped and moulded in the new environment we should lose our identity.
It is often said about Asians that they tend to form and live in their own ethnic groups. I do not see any harm in that, provided they do not totally alienate themselves. When we give up one country for another country for miscellaneous reasons we make a conscious decision, and know that it is just not possible for us to carry everything with ourselves to our new destination. We must leave some things behind and go with an open mind, willing to learn to live in a world different in many ways from the one we came from.
There is nothing wrong in having poetry recitals once in a while, in the old traditions of a mushaira (a literary sit together), a Sham-e-Ghazal or just plain old ‘Bait Bazi’.
Before I came to the United States, I never thought life could ever be miserable for me, but it was – at least for the first couple of years. Here was a person associated with various literary groups, all of a sudden in the midst of an altogather different culture. Its not that I expect someone to hand me my dreams. I know one has to work for ones dreams to come true. But, at the same time – as it goes – you need to have two hands to clap, likewise you need to have like minded, fine arts loving people to make a statement of a kind. I have yet to find a like minded person here in Casselberry, FL. after more than three years. Either everybody is very materialistic, or I have lost the pizzaz!
Meanwhile I think I can take my children to visit a museum. We can go to theaters, listen to symphony orchestras, read and discuss fiction (modern and classic) and at the same time make them desire to know and appreciate a heritage their parents left behind but still carry in their genes. My heart aches when I think they will never appreciate Ghalib the way their cousins back home do. They will never know what it is like to sleep on the roof-top on a very clean and still moonlit night in summer and listen to their grandmother’s endless stories rife with “djins” and “Parees” and “Shahzadahs” and “Shahzadis”. They will never know what it is like to hear the crickets chirping in the wet bushes on a warm and vaporous “Barsat” night, when we used to wind a “chambeli” garland around “surahi’s” slender neck. They will never hear the QulQul while pouring the water in a “mati ka Katora” and not just drink the most refreshingly cold water but the “Sondhi Khushbu” along with it.
When I talk about all these beautiful memories, they listen as if hearing some enchanted story, and laugh in the end and say I still believe in fairy tales. Yes, for me my childhood is a fairyland and I still get my strength from that far away land. Maybe when my children are old, they will talk in the same nostalgic way with their children about MTV. Maybe at that time they will also tell them about my fairyland. So, before it happens I will do my best to give them a piece of this land. The time is too precious to lose.