The following book review appeared in VIDURA
JOURNAL OF PII
COMMUNICATION PROCESSES VOLUME – 3
COMMUNICATION, CULTURE and CONFRONTATION
SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd.
The book under review on Communication Processes specifically focuses on symbolic forms that tend to shape the dialectics, that is to say, the dialogue, interaction, links, rapports, osmosis, encounters between human beings under the spell of the systems of domination and /or appropriation that control them. The editors in their introduction to this volume aver that much in the same way that symbols cannot be reduced to bytes and pixels, cultures cannot be reduced to sets of items traded in the hegemonic space of global communication.This is despite the fact that this new space of communication has produced its own ideological pitfall by introducing itself as the end of a historical process whose ultimate “show” must have been the battle won by capitalism over socialism. In her pioneering work, Warring(1988,1999) brilliantly pointed out the fallacy of thinking in terms of global economics,when the system has become so selective of its gain /loss categories that it denies the “reckonability”—hence, any sort of recognition –of such vital human activities as household work, child education, care of the environment etc.
The book which is divided into four parts has an introduction to each of them and the contributors who range from academic scholars to grass roots social animators have given a fresh approach to the subject and have included a number of case studies.
Part 1, titled “Conflicting Stakes” has three contributors, Guy Poitevin, Vinodh Parthasarathi and Karine Bates. Guy Poitevin, a Ph.D from Paris university who had settled in Pune and was the Director of the CCRSS, Pune till his demise in 2004, in his chapter “ From the Popular to the People discusses how culture struggle starts with the very definition of the concepts of “culture” and “popular culture.” For instance the identification of “highbrow” or “classical” and “normative” as “written”, opposed to “popular” or “folk” and “unruly” as “oral” is a simplistic categorization leading to wrong stereotyped classifications, feels he. His down to earth approach conforms to empirical observations which maintain that oral and written communication are not two separate and opposite extremes, but two poles of a magnetic field. Poitevin continues with this thread of argument in his essay citing examples and quoting extensively to reinforce his point.
Vibodh Parthasarathi, Associate Professor, Centre for Culture, Media and Governance, JMI, New Delhi, in his essay “Interventionist Tendencies in Popular Culture” traces the term “popular culture” to having been initially used by European social historians to indicate the history of the “inarticulate.” He adds that in the last decade the term has gone through various redefinitions, been the subject of critique and has benefited by conceptual clarity and expansion. In his theoretical essay he talks of the media and its culture and makes use of the term “alternative communication” with reference to “media processes arising from and associated with counter cultural politics.”
Karine Bates, an Assistant Professor in the field of Anthropology at Montreal University in her essay The Indian Legal System: A Unique Combination of Traditions, Practices And Modern Values traces the legal history of India, discusses the Legal System in Post-Colonial India and throws light on Womens’ Rights in general with particular emphasis on Local variations of Widows’ understanding of their rights and community norms in rural Maharashtra.
Part 2 titled Power of Orality consists of three chapters: Terrains of Rejuvenation; Memory and Social Protest and Say it in Singing! Prosodic Patterns and Rhetorics in the Performance of Grindmill Songs.
In the first chapter,The Donkey: A Mirror of Self-Indentification which runs over 40 pages, Guy Poitevin takes the mythical story of The Donkey from the Vaar community in Maharashtra for a minute study of three narratives collected from this marginalized community, the Vaars who are traditionally earth diggers, stone breakers and stone cutters in central India and this state. He proceeds with the assumption that a myth is an oral narrative, a social form of symbolic communication.
The first among the three narratives begins with the jump of Hanuman, son of Vayu, to swallow Surya, the sun, and ends up with an account of the relentless plight of the donkey, the Vaadars’ faithful carrier whose life of toil is explained as a curse, a result of its self conceit and breaking its word. Table 4.1 on pages 120-21 beautifully delineates the sequential form of this mythical story. The reason for the unsightly flat nostrils of the Donkey are explained in the second story but the third narrative that the donkey is an incarnation of Hanuman, as reported by an old man seems to have no basis and hence appears rather farfetched.
In the chapter Memory and Social Protest, Badri Narayan, a lecturer in Social Cultural Anthropology, G.B.Pant Social Sciences Institute, (Allahabad) through the popular myth of Chuharmal of the Mokama and Bhojpur region of Bihar tells us how this folk memory is still kept alive by certain communities, social protests notwithstanding.
The subsequent chapter is shared by three contributors: Bernard Bel, a computer scientist, Genevieve Caelen-Haumont, a linguist and specialist of speech prosody, and Hema Rairkar, an economics graduate actively associated with action groups of peasant women in villages of Pune district. They bring out the significance of the tradition of singing at the grindmill, as a mode of expression by peasant women in Maharashtra. This medium of oral communication with complete involvement of the illiterate singers is in no way inferior to the written word –this message comes out loud and clear in this very informative essay.
Part 3, Contours of Creativity is divided into two sections. In the first, Scenarios of Stress, P.J.Amala Dos, a Therukoothu Folk Artist, in his short article talks about his plight as a folk artist as well as how this traditional medium has been neglected due to the technological advancements in the media. To add to this marginalization, there exists rampant discrimination in their remuneration as well, he says. As evidence of this exploitation he mentions the name of a female artist who is paid rs.33,000/ for a show, where artists like him are paid a mere rs.3,000/ for the same.
The second section, Scenarios of Appropriation has three chapters. Shashi Bhushan Upadyaya, a Reader in History at IGNOU discusses in his essay on Resisting Colonial Modernity the powerful theme of Premchand’s RangaBhoomi, written in the aftermath of the withdrawal of the Non cooperation Movement.
The other two chapters, Street Theatre in Maharashtra by Hema Raikar and Action Theatre in Belgium by Paul Biot, co-founder and manager of the Centre du Theatre Action in Belgium are almost similar but the latter has an edge as the very name suggests.
Part 4 is divided into two sections: Intruding Orders and Contending Idioms. The first is titled Ephemera, Communication and the Quest for Power: Hindutva in UttarPradesh. The authors, Jayathi Chaturvedi and Gyaneswar Chadurvedi, both political scientists approach their paper from a political perspective and includes a lot of illustrations. The second essay, The Ritual Management of Desire in Indian Bazaar Art by Kajri Jain, who teaches in The Centre for Visual and Media Culture, Toronto explores how pictures of Gods and Goddesses are turned into objects for using in calendars by companies to promote products of diversified nature. The names of some of these companies are mentioned and also the visuals used on calendars which appear in no way connected to the product used or consumed!
On the way to Pandhari by Jitendra Maid, (involved in VCDA) and Guy Poitevin like the earlier chapter on Donkey….. again stands out for its rich narrative technique and vivid description of the pilgrimage undertaken by the devout not only from Maharashtra but the rest of India.
As a school boy, Poitevin says he was fascinated watching people walking in great numbers while proclaiming the names of Jnanadev and Tukaram and he had wondered what was so great about this pilgrimage that they call vari? Subsequently he visited Pandharpur twelve times, four times with his parents, twice on school excursions and six times for research purposes. Twice he had a chance to go as a pilgrim accompanying a palanquin, in the month of Asadh (approximately in july). He takes you along on this pilgrimage narrated in 40 odd pages and by the time you come to its end ,you get to know all about the religious significance of undertaking this arduous journey and what terms such as Varkari and Dindi mean.
The volume concludes with the chapter, The Famous Invincible Darkies by Denis-Constant Martin, a Ph.D. from Sorbonne. His essay about the New Year Festival among the coloured in Cape Town, an occasion that is religiously celebrated despite opposition from the white rulers in Pretoria touches your heart.
This well researched and well got up third volume in the series coming after the first two whose focus has been on the Media, technique and technology of communication and Relations of Communication is a good reference book for not only students pursuing disciplines of sociology, communication Arts and Culture but to the faculty involved in teaching these subjects.
N.Meera Raghavendra Rao
The writer is a freelance writer based in Chennai.