Postcolonialism as Culture: Some Notes on Syncretism in Light of a Music Video
From the music video of 'Pasoori'
Coke Studio Pakistan’s new single, “Pasoori”, translating roughly to “haste”, sparked a vibrant conversation on multiple platforms, specifically with regard to the music video. The four-and-a-half minute long video shows a sizable diversity of people— from a woman clad in a saree, performing classical dance to teenagers in western casual wear, while the music itself bristles with numerous influences from different regions. A Twitter user, Abdullah Ali Khan, tweeted, taking cognizance of the various fusions the music video accomplishes,
“Only in retrospect does one realize that the soaring idea(l)s #Pasoori traverses--a postcolonial yearning for a syncretic identity, the aesthetics of form & fluidity as an entry-point for understanding the self, spaces beyond binaries--are all right there in the very first frame.”
While this remark is well-taken, it has to be wondered whether such a representation of syncretism is a triumphalist claim, unanchored in political realities. It has to be questioned whether the harmony of this syncretism is putative and overlooks power structures that underline the troubled social and political contexts these aesthetic pursuits germinate in.
The music video, when viewed from this standpoint, arguably, unintentionally turns out to play into the hands of the universalism the First World promotes to keep its leadership intact, reducing postcolonialism to what R. Radhakrishnan calls a purely “cultural conjecture”. To this extent, as he remarks in an issue of Callaloo,
“The implication is that whatever distances, differences, and boundaries cannot be transcended or broken down politically can in fact be deconstructed through the universalist agency of Culture and Cultural Theory. […]Culture is set up as a non-organic, free floating ambience that frees intellectuals and theorists from their solidarities to their regional modes of being. […] a genuine and substantive transcendence of nationalism needs to be differentiated from an elitist transnationalist configuration.”
A post-national approach of transcending territorial and national imaginaries to emphasise the fluidity of identity in a globalized world cannot tide over the history of colonialism and the after-effects of it. Syncretism and tolerance or indifference towards varying identities is increasingly under threat in a polarised South Asia, with the rise of strident regimes and increased anti-minoritarianism across the region. Represented harmonies, even when they attempt to articulate a “postcolonial” yearning towards fluidity and cultural intermingling stand problematized against these events.
Controversies have routinely erupted against such post-national premises. In 2016, the cover of Conde Nast Traveller featured actress Priyanka Chopra, freshly after her debut in the West, wearing a top with the words migrant", "refugee" and "outsider" struckthrough with the word "traveller" emphasised. This manoeuvre drew considerable amounts of criticism, leading the publication and the actress to issue clarifications regarding the purported message behind the magazine cover. What was supposed to be a statement against xenophobia and labels translated into an almost-denial of the excesses of an iniquitous world order and the difficulties inherent in the process of migration.
This is not to say that there is no possibility of hybridity, or existing diversity in the subcontinent. Indeed, the cultural histories of the region will contradict such a claim. What has to be questioned is the glorification of an assemblage of unequally loud voices, and who gets to self-style, aestheticise and enjoy a seemingly ‘natural’ multiculturalism.
By Abhinav Bharadwaj (Columnist)
Abhinav is a postgraduate student of English literature at University of Delhi. A published poet and an independent researcher, he has been a longlist awardee of the Wingword Poetry Prize and his works have been published by journals such as English Studies in Latin America, Contemporary Literary Review India and media portals like Feminism in India. His areas of interest include world literatures, gender and sexuality studies, modernisms and media and culture studies.