Monday, 4 November 2013

Cultural Shorthand

When looking at a friend's Facebook photos, I came across one that was pretty striking - a lone man surrounded by women at a table, making a peculiar gesture with his hands. What was that all about?

(Faces partially pixellated for privacy, while preserving expressions)

I knew only one of the people in the photo. I had no idea what the occasion for the get-together was or who the other people in the photo were. Yet I "got" the reference immediately, and then I realised it was highly culture-specific. I had to marvel then at human civilisation. We have evolved into so many highly differentiated cultures with unique and specific situational themes that we can convey humour with a single word or gesture. We are masters of cultural shorthand.

The reference was of course to the Hindu god Krishna, traditionally shown as a cowherd playing a flute and surrounded by women of his village called gopis. There is even a special name for Krishna in that situation - Gopikrishna.

Krishna and the gopis - a popular Hindu motif

With one simple, eloquent gesture, the man in the photo conveyed enough to raise a chuckle among viewers like myself, who knew nothing at all about their group.

Obviously, one cannot imagine this being transplanted to another culture. A joke, to be effective, has to be a symbol drawn from the appropriate cultural repertoire.

"The only thorn among the roses!"

2 comments:

Anirudh Thakore said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anirudh Thakore said...

The last picture reminds me of the "Get rich quick" real estate infomercials. These infomercials invariably have a shot of the real estate guru surrounded by a zillion babes with variable amounts of clothing on them.