Benefits of Cultural Literacy

In “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (1987)”, Hirsch (1928) introduced the concept of cultural literacy “referring to the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture.” Dictionary.com defines cultural literacy as “the knowledge of history, contributions, and perspectives of different cultural groups, including one’s own group, necessary for understanding of reading, writing, and other media.” To be culturally literate is to understand the history and concepts that underline a culture, and to be able to converse fluently in the allusions and informal content of that culture.

Cultural literacy is not only an academic topic rather it is related with our daily lives. Let us see how cultural literacy is significance from an illiterate layman? Mrigendra Bahadur Karki, a researcher with Center for Nepal and Asian Studies, makes the concept clear by explaining the concept for a lay man. “For a lay man, it is the basic information needed to make reasonable conversation with the people associated with him or her”, Karki says, “the more culturally literate you are, the more conversations you’re able to participate in with more people.” He further explains that there is also an element of being able to interact with others.

According to E.D. Hirsch, to be culturally literate is to possess the basic information to thrive in the modern world. It is the “grasp on the background information that writers and speakers assume their audience already has.” In his book, ‘Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know’, Hirsch sets forth 5,000 essential words and phrases of which each person should be knowledgeable. The list ranges from idioms to mythology, from science to fairy tales.

Culturally literate people feel easy in social gathering and some other kind of political, social or ideological debates. ‘It is expected that you have at least basic knowledge in certain topics when you are hanging out with friends or any other group’, says Narendra Jung Peter, a columnist, ‘If you are not culturally literate and the topic may hinder your functional conversation.’ How does cultural literacy come from? ‘From reading’, says Peter.

Reading does not necessarily mean the formal education. Since cultural literacy is the way we look at social and cultural issues–especially issues of change and mobility–it comes from our personal reading of different issues in society.  These issues or objects can be categorized in major six type; literature, history, art and music, science, logic and Mathematics and rhetoric. First, literature is read for pleasure and taught analytically in historic and artistic context. Second, it is the history through which one can increase culturally literacy. History encompass all the aspects of human civilizations up to date and including the present including politics, culture, religion, science, arts and many other disciplines. Third major area through which one can improve cultural literacy is art and music which has both the quality; applied experience and foundation of art history and appreciation. Fourth is science, the foundation of knowledge of scientific history. Fifth is Logic and Mathematics built on a solid foundation of arithmetic? The final area to improve cultural literacy is rhetoric, debate based on principles of logic, and including appropriate allusions to content from the other disciplines.

Moreover, the benefit of being culturally literate is a chance to get better opportunity. According to Paras Kharel, Managing Director at Rolling Plans Pvt. Ltd., a Human Resource Consulting Firm based in Kathmandu, being culturally literate simply opens up doors and opportunities for everyone. ‘We always haunt person with rich knowledge’, He says, ‘cultural literacy improves your understanding of everything going on around you.’

Finally, how to improve our cultural literacy? The best way is media. Here media includes books, newspapers, internet, television, radio and other means of communication. We have to make an effort to read a lot of material in a lot of different areas discussed above. ‘I read about everything and try to retain at least pieces of it, and doing so has helped me out time and time again in conversing with people and building relationships’, says Karna Thapa, Campus Chief of Nepal Law Campus. Not only that, well written nonfiction works can be incredibly compelling and interesting. For instance, if you are interest in the contemporary history of Nepal you can by ‘Prayogshala’ by Sudhir Sharma or ‘Battle of the New Republic’ by Prashant Jha.

First Glance at Post-colonial Theoretical Tools

Use of post-colonial theoretical tools to explore how our socioeconomic class, psychological wounds, sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity and other cultural factors work in creating the ways in which we view ourselves and our world. I will try to explain how.

Postcolonial theory tries to answer “how our relationship to ourselves and our world is formed by the interplay of all cultural factors- race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, and so forth- by which we define ourselves to others (Tyson, 286).” It primarily deals with the three aspects of literature written about colonized and colonizing people. Firstly, it deals with the way colonizing culture distorts the reality of colonized people. Secondly, it deals with the colonized people’s attempts to regain their identity. Finally it figures out the way a colonized country appropriates or resists the colonized countries. Colonialist ideology, however, can operate within the borders of a single country; even within a single community or group.

If we try to understand postcolonial theory from its basic concepts, there are mainly three ideas: colonialist ideology, the colonial subject and anticolonialist resistance. “Colonialist ideology is based on the colonizers’ belief in their own superiority over the colonized (Tyson, 248).” The colonizers thought themselves civilized and advanced, however, treat the colonized people savages. They thought their culture was highly advanced because their technological advancement. As a result they ignored the religious, customs, and codes of behavior of the colonized people. Moreover, colonized people were forbidden to speak their native language. Particularly, colonization was a thing of the past but cultural colonization or cultural imperialism had replaced it in many countries around the world.  Cultural imperialism comes from psychological domination of the colonized people and territory. However, the cultural imperialism can be observed within a border since a dominant culture has its domination over the marginalized one.

Postcolonial theory, which discusses about the colonial ideology, is built largely on the concept of otherness and subaltern. “Othering” is the practice of judging those who are different as inferior or somehow less than human. On the other hand, subaltern comes from the social hierarchy created by colonialist ideology. Subalterns are the persons at the bottom of a society’s status system. Their inferior status is based on race, class gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or any other at the bottom of a society’s system. They are deprived of both, equal opportunities for better lives and equal justice under the law.

The Colonial Subject is related to the pressure on the colonized to believe that they are inferior. It is argued that one is a colonial subject only when one’s consciousness is colonized. The colonized who internalize the colonialist’ belief are colonial subjects with colonized consciousness. Colonized consciousness usually practices mimicry and the experience of unhomeliness. Mimicry is the imitation of lifestyle of members of the dominant culture by a subaltern. It results when subalterns believes that one is inferior because one does not belong to the dominant culture. Similarly, unhomeliness is the feeling of having no stable cultural identity- no real home in any culture. It specially occurs to people who do not belong to the dominant culture and have rejected their own culture as inferior.

The final basic concept of postcolonial theory is anticolonialist resistance. It is the effort to rid one’s land and one’s culture of colonial domination. It can take different forms including formation of secret groups, armed raids, perform acts of sabotage, attempt to gain the support of neutral foreign power, raise awareness of colonial abuses and to free the minds of the colonialist ideology. But to completely get rid of colonial ideologies, psychological resistance is necessary. This is a kind of resistance which exists on the psychological level alone is perhaps the most important for without it, it is unlikely that other kinds of resistance would ever occur.

Finally, if we analyze the different forms of social exclusion, we can see various concepts of colonial ideologies even within a single territory.  Relatively a small number of people are extremely wealthy in most of the societies in the world, while most people are struggling to survive. These large numbers of people are deprived or “otherized” economically, socially, politically and psychology. We can say it Marxist thinking but it is obvious fact in our modern society. Similarly, in a patriarchal society, men and women are treated differently; men are socialized to be masculine whereas women are socialized to be feminine. Women are oppressed socially, economically, politically and psychologically. The condition of LGBTQ people is also same. We can see western domination in every facet of our social lives where our own cultural identity is in problem. What we can observe clearly is “mimicry” and “unhomeliness” in our society. In this way, postcolonial theoretical tools tries to explore how our relationship to ourselves and our world is formed by the interplay of all these cultural factors described above.

It is the love by which we live!

Leo Tolstoy’s short story ‘What men live by’ emphasizes the significance of love in human life. Tolstoy creates a close circle of human life that begins and ends with love. The story depicts that it is the love by which human beings live their life.

This story reminds Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’ story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings”, where human suffering have been portrayed through an old man. In Marquez’s story, an old man with wing, presumably an angel appears after a storm. The family in that story, assuming the man to be angelic, treats him badly; keep him in a chicken coop and exploiting him for their own greed and monetary benefits. In Tolstoy’s story, the family does not recognize Michael’s true nature yet treats him very well. Comparing the characters of these two short stories, one can say that it is the love that makes us true human.

Tolstoy’s short story revolves around a shoemaker named Simon, his family and a man named Michael who worked for him. Simon and his family were in difficult situation until Michael came in their home. Their situation got improved after he started to help in shoe-making.

Michael turned out to be an angel who was punished by God to live like a human being after disobeying God’s will. As a curse, God sent him to learn the answers of three questions: what dwells in man, what is not given to man, and what men live by. He learns the truths by the three incidents in the shoemaker’s cottage. First, he learns from Simon’s wife that love dwells in man. Second, he smile and made the slippers because he knew the gentleman was not going to live to wear the boots. He could see the angel of death standing behind him. He got the second answer that it is not given to man to know his own needs. Finally, he realized that all men live because love exists in man.

The story shows that love is the source of motivation within human beings. Even the orphans in the story were alive not because of their mother’s care, but because there was love in the heart of a woman, a stranger to them.

 

Dream Never Die

I feel quite nostalgic after listening his tale. Stories were quite similar to me but the intensity of his pain and passion was immense. “I want to be a human! Money does not matter” he has clear vision. Ten years back, I too had a dream. I had just completed my school level. My passion invited me in Kathmandu, capital city of Nepal.I had no one in Kathmandu except my desperate dreams. So he was. Last Saturday, one of my friends, Narendra Jung Peter, told me in telephone that he met a brilliant boy. “I expect help from you”, he told me. “What kind of help”, I asked. He replied me that he will meet me and explain it further.I invited him in my office. “I will be there in half an hour”, he cut off the phone before I said “Ok”.

Peter was followed by a teenage boy. “Welcome”, I requested both of them to take seat. But the boy seem to be a bit shy and hesitate to sit down. “Please take your seat”, I requested him. He sat on chair but seem still shy.Peter started without any formality. “He is from Bardiya. Principal of his school gave him my mobile number because he was my good friend. He called me and asked to help this boy. So I take him here. He wants to pursue higher education but his family conditions are poor. He want to continue his education earning himself” Peter said.

“What’s your name?” I asked.“AakashChetteri”, he responded shortly. He told me that he has just appeared SLC exam from a government school based in Bardiya. His family background is poor. His father is a construction worker and mother is dumb. He has a sister and a brother who are in primary school. He told me that his father can’t afford for his higher education.

“Tell me your plans”, I asked.“I want to learn. I have to do myself”, he responded. “First, tell me what do you want form me?” I asked him.“I just need chance. I want to be a journalist. I also have interest in theatre and acting” he was confident on his mission. I was not the person who could offer him a job. But his passion and confidence made me think. In 2006, when I had come Kathmandu for the first time, there was no one who could help me. I had to struggle a lot. He was also in the same path. I thought that I should help him anyway.However, for a moment, I thought, “Why should I believe him? He may have lie us.” I asked mobile number of his principal. I called him.

“Hello”. “Hello! Is this Rakesh sir?”“Yes. I am speaking.”“Sir I am with a boy named Aakash. He talked about you. He is now in Kathmandu. So I called you”, I told.“He is our good student sir. Since his family conditions were poor, I recommend him to go Kathmandu and work. He is nice guy sir. Please help him”, he responded.Now it was my responsibility to help him. “Tell me what can you do?” I asked. “I can do anything sir. Whatever. Form Kitchen to garden, farm to offices. I can work whatever you give” his response. I searched who can help the boy with a job. I found Kamal, one of my best friend in messenger online list. He has recently started a magazine. “I have important think to share with you” I wrote. “Yes, please” he responded. I told him about the boy in short.

“Can he distribute magazine via bicycle?” he asked. “Why not!” I became excited because I saw some rays of hope. “Okey then come to my office. There is a need a person who can assist me” he invited me in his office. Next day, I take Aakash in Kamal’s office. It was in 5th floor. It used to publish two separate monthly magazine. He told the boy that he has to work only for eight day a month. The office will provide him a bicycle. His main responsibility is to distribute subscriber’s copy.

“Since he is new in Kathmandu, you must show him the way” I request him. “Don’t worry. I will do everything for him” he responds. “I will give you six thousand for eight day. Is this okey?” he asked the boy. “Money doesn’t matter. I want to be a human. I think this is the perfect place for me” he answered.

Kamal told that if his work is excellent, the office will provide him a room with more responsibility. “Since this is media, you can learn many thing.” He even told that he will find a nice college for him. The boy was confident that he will secure first division in SLC exam. “You can join from tomorrow” Kamal told. I congratulate the boy. He was so happy that he could not speak a single word. “We will meet again. Work with trust” he shook his head. My dream come true”, he told at last. I smiled and take him to Baneshwor. He has to go Ratopul. “I will walk. I have to know the roads” he told. I said bye.

I returned to my office with some wonderful memories and nostalgia.

Nostalgia after meeting Phoenix in “A Worn Path”

Response to “A Worn Path” by Eudora Welty

Eudora Welty’s short story “A Worn Path” describes a day’s journey of an old black woman named Phoenix Jackson who walks from her home to the city of Natchez to get medicine for her sick grandson. Phoenix’s journey reminds me my own grandmother who used to walk for hours to meet us. I became nostalgic after reading the story. Numerous images of my loving grandmother dwell in my mind. Moreover, I found many similarities between Phoenix and my grandmother after reading the story.

Like my grandmother, old Phoenix is a caring and loving who even puts her life in danger to get medicine for her grandson. I never realized the purpose of my grandmother’s difficult and long journey when she was alive. But when she left us permanently, I feel a great lack. As she was belonged to a generation of people who looked after their families, she always worried about us. For both my grandmother and Phoenix, it is love that makes them do heroic things. The writer’s allegorical representation of Phoenix’s journey symbolizes the journey of human life. She is trying to depict that one can overcome every obstacles in our life through love. And, this is what I learned from my grandmother’s life.

Another similarity between Phoenix and my grandmother is their habit to interact oneself and with things around. As Phoenix humorously jokes about the difficulty she faced, my grandmother used to share everything she encounters in an interesting way. Similarly, she used to ask for help with any stranger like that of Phoenix. Phoenix also asks a woman on the street to tie her shoes after she arrives in town.

My grandmother had no negative feeling towards anybody as Phoenix does not care the hunter’s behavior and mistreats with her. Moreover, the writer’s description of Phoenix “her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles” and “a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead” also describes my grandmother.

The climax in the story occurs when Phoenix recovers from a memory lapse and discusses her grandson’s poor condition with the nurse. She says, “My grandson.  It was my memory had left me.  There I sat and forgot why I made my long trip.” My grandmother sometimes used to call me by father’s name. I think this is common for everyone in their old age.

Again I missed my grandmother at the end of the story, when the old lady is “going the store to buy a little windmill”. My grandmother also used to buy many strange toys for me which I “find it hard to believe there such a thing in the world.”

The story that began with “a bright frozen day in the early morning” ends with “her slow step began on the stairs, going down.” Yet, she continues her journey to her village where her grandson is waiting with excessive pain in his throat. I am not sure whether she can meet her grandson or her grandson meets her but I am sure I cannot get back my loving grandmother. But, her care, devotion and love always push me forward in my “worn path” of life.

 

Márquez’s ‘Old Man’ as Christ

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s story “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (1955)” is very similar to the story of Jesus Christ. The people torture the old man like Christ was tortured. Christ’s life was characterized by suffering and the sufferings are both redemptive and an example to believers. However, the characters Marquez presents in this story are indifferent to the human suffering and pain.

The villagers symbolize the people who rejected Christ and demanded that he be put to death. They tested Jesus often to prove that he was anything but the promised deliverer for which the Jews had waited so long. They burn his side thinking that he is dead. The old man flaps his wings with tears in his eyes shows pain within him. The villagers lock him up, torture and present him for public entertainment.  They even ignore him when they have acquired enough money.

The story criticizes largely the Catholic community for its treatment to the old man with wings, an outsider who has suffered some unknown misfortune and cannot communicate due to a language barrier. People’s mistreatment to the old man violates Christ’s teachings about helping those who have suffered misfortunes, illnesses, or injuries.

In the The Holy Bible[1] Jesus Christ says that anyone who is suffering is his “neighbor”, so he is obliged to render assistance to demonstrate that he loves his neighbor as himself (Luke 10:29-30).

However, Elisenda and Pelayo is supposed to drive Christian behavior; their decisions throughout the story appear to be driven by greed, ignorance, and selfishness. They fail to observe Jesus’ teaching. Another criticism of Catholic Church in the story is through the characterization of Father Gonzaga. He seems to be senior priests but he does not believe in God and Holy Scripture because he seeks guidance from the Vatican before determining how to react with the poor old man.

Perhaps, the challenge of religion here is the same challenge Christ faced with the people of his time. A true Christian devotee never believes in magic. The people in the story, however, find it easier to believe in the magical rather than the divine.

[1]The Holy Bible. Tennessee: The Gideons International , 1982.

Reflection on the story “The Parallel Lines”

The short story “The Parallel Lines” is a psychological portrayal of an educated and unmarried female. The story presents her uncertain and doubtful state of mind puzzled between personal dream and family or societal expectations.

The story behind my story is simple. The story’s plot and idea is totally fictitious, however, the character portrayed is real. My uncle’s sister Sabita was unmarried till her mid 30s. Even though she was educated; was frustrated because of unemployment and family’s pressure for marriage. Later, she got married and I assume her conjugal life is happy. When I observe the time she faced before her marriage, it encouraged me write a story. When I created a plot and added details in it, the story was prepared.

The story is narrated in the form of interior monologues where a lady is contemplating her dual state whether to choose marriage or job. She regards people’s blessing in her childhood as a curse. Now she is “facing a trial of curse within the circumference of two parallel lines.” She terms these parallel lines as “interview” and “advertisement”. Interview denotes her personal desires whereas advertisement denotes societal expectations. Though she is educated, she feels her values have been declined because she is still unmarried. She “never realized the puberty in her girlhood.” When she realized, time has already passed. She thinks that marriage can hamper her education and personal career. A boy is coming to meet her with proposal for marriage. On the other hand, there is an appointment for a job interview at the same day. But she is not certain what to choose. Finally the story ends in the same imbalanced situation from where the story begins.

The story, I assume as a writer, is successful to portray a lady’s inability to experience joy or pleasure from her life. In one hand, education is regarded as the emancipation from any form of bondage. On the other hand, because of traditional socio-cultural values, even an educated person can be imprisoned psychologically, enslaved intellectually or subjugated mentally. The narrator tries to go beyond what her family and society expects but because of “fear” she could not share with her family. The possible reason for this fear might be psychological pressure. As a result, she is forced for marriage because of the psychological pressure of patriarchy. But she has no real interest in marriage, though; she too has a dream to be mother. She is more concerned with her career.

The use of images like “floating leaf”, “a damaged thing inside the showcase”, “a design already outdated”, “advertisement”, “interview” etc. explicitly describe the narrator and her uncertain state of mind. Because of conflicts between her desire and societal expectation, her state of mind is imbalanced. The narrator’s inability to balance personal desires, societal expectations (marriage) is responsible for her schizophrenic condition.