I. An Introduction to Culture and its Myriad Aspects

We, the people of the SAARC region, share the same cultural heritage, the same roots, and it is through culture, primarily, that we need to be connected.

Our organisation FOSWAL realised it long back, in 1986, and launched the first-ever cultural initiative in the region with the first Indo-Pakistan Writers Conference in 1987. Why with literature ? Because our cultures unanimously believe that ‘In the beginning was the WORD’.

Let us have a look at what exactly culture is.

Culture determines our identity : the sum total of our beliefs, attitudes and habits, of our historical memories and our oral traditions, of our folk songs and folk tales, of the way our civilization has evolved, of our social-religious-political evolution, of our myths and legends, of our beliefs and our relationship with our surroundings, of the influence our environment and ecology have on us, of our relationship with our birds and animals, with the changing seasons, and with nature’s bounties and furies, and how we deal with them.

We, the people inhabiting the SAARC region share this identity.

Our culture influences our attitude to life; how we mould and shape and transform our ever-evolving societies.

Culture is not a frozen set of values and practices. It is constantly recreated as people question, adapt and redefine their values and practices to changing realities and exchanges of ideas.

Culture is man’s relationship with mountains and snows and with all the animals living in them. Culture is man’s relationship with vast oceans and its vast population of water creatures. Culture is man’s relationship with the earth he tills, with the trees and plants, with the crops and birds and animals.

It was so in a natural and subconscious way in primitive so called ‘illiterate’ and ‘undeveloped’ societies which revered all natural forms and spirits. Ironically urbanization and the ‘advanced’ human mind killed this relationship. If our planet is to remain habitable for future generations we have to revive that ‘worship’ which connected us to nature.

Understanding cultural traditions can offer insights into human behaviour and social dynamics that influence development outcomes.

It is when people are looking for and consciously exploring new orientation and values that the impact of culture on society can be clearly visualised. Culture when acknowledged in all its myriad manifestations, gives strength to move forward. It becomes a backbone that can create the resilience to deal with change and transformation in our evolving societies, and move with confidence towards transformation in creativity, innovation and renewal.

We, the people of the SAARC region need to share our experiences regarding this ever-evolving transformation in our societies, in our ideas, and in our creativity.

For example, we in the SAARC region are perhaps the only people, excepting the original inhabitants of Australia who the haughty colonisers called ‘aboriginals’, the way they called us ‘natives’, the only people who have such passionate relationship with land. For us, land is the mother which gives us food. Land is fertile only because it has soaked, from times immemorial, the drops of sweat of our forefathers. The aboriginals of Australia go a step further and believe that their ancestors have been transformed into green ants, and these green ants are sleeping in the earth, dreaming green dreams.

We, the people of South Asia have this unique cultural bondage of our convictions.

We also share, in a unique way, how we express our grief and our joy ! We are perhaps the only people who have songs for every occasion, right from the time a mother conceives to the time of birth. From the time of birth, through all stages of life ! We are perhaps the only people who sing even when someone dies !

We sing when we sow the seeds, we sing when the crops grow, we sing when we bring the harvest home ! We sing when the seasons change, we sing when the rains fall ! We share the songs of our animals and birds, and plants and trees.

We, the people of SAARC region share all this ! All this, which is our way of life ! Our culture ! It is only culture which has the power to connect us.

It is culture, our way of life, our folklore and myths and legends, the three great religions which were born here, other three which found a flourishing soil here, this great cultural connectivity of the region forms our civilisational links which binds us together.

Cultural evolution dates back to the first time man felt the urge to draw those animals he killed, on the rocks of the caves he lived in. Cultural evolution includes the first leaves of trees he started wearing on his body. Cultural evolution is the story of his comprehension that rivers sing, that the earth has the potential to grow crops, that the animals can also be his friends and co-workers, that there are vast spaces on earth where he can move on and search for better environment and better livelihood, that instead of caves he can build houses and a compact habitat system for group living.

Evolution of culture is also the story of how man started singing with the songs of flowing rivers, quivering of tree leaves, songs of birds and bees, unfolding of myriad colours of blossoming flowers, movement of stars and moon, singing to the glory of the mighty sun.

Even today, man’s relationship with his environment and his relationship with fellow beings living anywhere on this planet, and with all living things with whom he shares this planet, with his rivers and oceans, with birds and trees, with animals and harvests.