“Commercialism is a modern sociological phenomenon; one might almost say, that is the whole phenomenon of modern society.” (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, vol 25, p. 485)
We live in an age dictated by commerce, flashy commercials, and consumerist mindset. Companies are busy not only producing and selling products but also producing and selling desires. And so many of us are busy buying all that is being sold, from electric fryers to iPods, from LEDs to SUVs, from stocks to first-six-month-interest-free consumer loans. All in the pursuit of happiness.
The newly emerging identity of ‘consumer’ is indeed egalitarian because the urge to enjoy and possess as many ‘products’ as possible is above and beyond any caste, creed or religion. So in a certain strange way, the shopping malls of today help us get rid of some of our social divisions and prejudices, of course at the same time creating new divisions (e.g. between those who own a designer brand limited edition wrist watch and those who don’t.)
If the outside is a reflection of what we are on the inside, then perhaps this age and time is a reflection of the level of vital and mental consciousness of present humanity. In today’s middle-class India when we look around us, we see people chasing after newer models of cell phones, branded jeans, designer saris, and all the luxuries of material life. We see people glued to TV advertisements to stay up to date with new marketing gimmicks and sales. These middle-class and upper-class lifestyle aspirations create a whole other set of problems for very large sections of Indian society which are unable to afford these comforts of life. Inequality of a different hue is born every time a new mall opens its doors to the gullible people chasing happiness in newer and more things.
Commercialization is running rampant. Capitalism and all its attendants – social, economic, cultural, political — are coming in from every open door and window they can find in the modern-day, liberal, open-economy India.
Most of our political leadership is driven almost exclusively by economic interests. Our education system at every level is strongly guided by the changing career markets. The “elite” stature of our premier institutions of higher education is ranked according to the number of industry leaders, successful entrepreneurs, or high-level executives they have produced. Newspapers and television with their glossy and eye-catching commercials are the primary instruments for promoting a consumption oriented lifestyle. Big money is spent for figuring out innovative ways to advertise for products in films, television dramas and musical shows (and now on social media, including blogs). Pretty much all aspects of culture—from films, theater, performing arts, creative and visual arts—bear strong impact of commercialism. While there are a few efforts going on in some corners suggesting some movement away from this through and through commercial mindset, the collective outlook is still predominantly based on an economic view of life.
Is this the Modern Indian Dream? Is this the dream we want to ‘sell’ to our future generations? Is an alternative modernity possible? What can you and I do to dream a different dream?
These are the questions we must ask. These are the questions I must ask. Of myself, first and foremost. Am I ready to dream a different dream?
These questions become more relevant as the biggest shopping season of the year approaches fast, with Diwali just around the corner and Christmas/New Year soon after that. Do we want to add to the consumerist culture? Or are we ready to walk away and say – NO, time to dream a different dream?
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