“That’s a Western Concept” – Searching for Cultural Identity

“That’s a Western Concept” – Searching for Cultural Identity

Picture of Dilan Vithlani

Dilan Vithlani

Picture of Dilan Vithlani

Dilan Vithlani

“That’s a Western Concept” – Searching for Cultural Identity

In the backstreets of southern Mumbai, under the shadows of the iconic Taj Hotel and the Gateway of India, sits an unassuming club – Colaba Social. Inside its hidden recesses there’s a lively atmosphere. We join young Indian couples, groups of young men and women, a transgender woman, all escaping in their own way the confines of conventional middle-class Indian life, to enjoy a  glass of beer, a cocktail, and eat innovative street food together. Tonight though, all faces are glued to a huge overhead TV screen – it’s the semi-final of the Cricket World Cup. And India’s exceptionally talented team is anticipated to secure a glorious victory. Sitting opposite us are two friends, both British, one of Indian heritage with an East African history, a cricket afficionado. We fall into easy conversation. An hour later, we are in the midst of a fascinating exchange about the intertwining of nation, culture and identity, London and Mumbai, modernity, tradition and freedom, East and West. Dilan’s sparking enthusiasm and irreverent quixotic nature is a joy. Young, privileged, highly educated, he is a free thinker who it turns out has a soul that yearns for the depths of his own culture. Later he sent us some of his writings which we wanted to publish, as we all endeavour to come to terms with what it means to be who we are in this complicated, anxious, interpenetrated world.  

My girlfriend can attest to the fact I have become transfixed by a very strange idea. The notion that I am not a western man. If you really sat down with her and discussed the matter she may even admit I am slowly bordering on the obsessed. These days a conversation does not go by where I do not slip in my new favourite phrase ‘That’s a western concept’.

‘Waiting for the light to turn green before crossing the road…that’s a western concept’.

‘Splitting the bill…that’s a western concept’

It must be annoying for the recipient. Nonetheless I find it imperative to remind myself that this society I am in, that I have been moulded by, is not mine and was never designed by the ancestors I share my blood with.

More and more I have been questioning if I am meant to spend my conscious hours where I currently am. Is this the soil where I shall thrive, the air where I am meant to be? I fell into this country by happenstance. A privileged winner of a global lottery that not all are entered into. Eldest son of a family of successful settlers.

It seems all too easy. Purchase some property, go to the gym, balance the bank account, eat at nice restaurants, order wine. Book a flight, make a cocktail, watch sport. Go for a walk, live in harmony, celebrate a birthday. All very nice. All very well.

The spirit remains untested and called upon less and less. Conversations with God are short and inconsistent. Individualism trumps community and there is a certain lack of depth that the soul requires to blossom.

My major concern is the amount of rules we have. Who decided that there must be so many? I cannot get past how curtailed and jostled most of us are. Cattle, ear tagged and supervised. I have come to a very obvious conclusion. Everything is made up, always has been and always will be. One must break free, stretch the mind and contest the way things are done. I have done this and turned my back on any form of normality a long time ago. I enjoy sitting, doing nothing. I refuse to spend more than 10 hours a week working and will not work with someone unless I care for them deeply. Money doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as it has in the past. Money is a western concept.

My soul calls for the plains of Africa.

It sings for the instruments of India.

It begs for the reverence of the East.

It pleads to be removed from this structure of Western concepts and set free.

Fly my friend, fly even if its in the opposite direction to everyone else. Fly fast and fly hard. Tell your story and tell it with such passion and vigour that it become infectious. And always remember that this is all made up.

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Picture of Dilan Vithlani

Dilan Vithlani

Picture of Dilan Vithlani

Dilan Vithlani

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