Matryokshka dolls

Arshid Malik

Human culture is very much like Matryokshka dolls commonly referred to as Russian nesting dolls. There is always a larger, broader and identifiable culture which is more geographical in character holding within it a set of distinct cultures which may be recognized or classified on the basis of community, political belongingness, ingenuity and historicity. This systemic and layered structure of culture that we are talking about can be unfolded just like Matryokshka dolls, thus the comparison. One unfolding leads to another to another and so on. At the very core of this layered structure, when we talk of culture, is the family – the smallest specifiable unit of human civilization. It may seem, on first thoughts, that the family is a unit which in coalescence with other such small units comprises a society or a community with a specific or rather discreet culture but deeper moorings unravel something quite different. Each family has its very own unique culture – speaking of culture as a manifestation of human achievements – while the family as a unit may and rather shall correspond to rather generic cultural characteristics common to a gamut of such small units in a specified locale. At the same time the characteristics which are holistically singular to a family turn out to be so unique in their distinction that not marking the family as emblematic of peculiar culture would be amount to an error.

Thus, the family, every family has its own small structure of culture which if dissected further leads to the derivation of human characteristics which are individual rather than social at any level. This culture of the family, which is certainly not anything akin to a sub-category, a sub-culture that is, is very much the foundation of the structure of human civilization or rather human society eventuated by the advent of modern society (which is to say that such characteristics may not be attributed to ancient or medieval times). Socially speaking, the culture of a family is “totemic” and thus very essential to the coalescence which eventually recreates the spatial awareness of all social units and binds them together into a “universal whole” which is undeniably identified by all of our institutions. Yet somehow the “totemic” significance of the culture of a family is undermined, perhaps out of fear of disintegrated classification of society to such levels which would be quite difficult to maintain.

Why I am stressing on the vehicular importance of culture at the level of the smallest possible social unit is because dissolution of the culture of the family as a unit leads to unintended chaos. Furthermore, dissolution of the characteristics of the culture of the family leads to a strange uniformity which is dangerous to the very essential survival of human race. And that is because culture or cultures are able to survive because of their integral distinctiveness; the less distinctive two cultures are the more the chances of one merging into the other and thereof the particularity of losing out on spatiality which essentially takes place. Cultural traits of the two merged cultures intermingle, resolving distinctiveness as if it were a malaise owing to the fact that the two peoples who comprised or represented the singular cultures start cutting each other out and in its own historicity the feature of adaptability creeps in leading to formation of “social molasses” which are generically not identifiable on the cultural platform. When such things start stirring at the level of the cultural unit of the family disintegration of the larger canvas of culture starts to degenerate.

Among various other factors, which include natural disasters, wars etc., political conflict is a major threat to the decomposition of the culture of the family. Like wars, political conflict (read suppression and violence) leads to the diffusion of commonalities down and across spatiality. Commonalities imposed upon in the form of subjugation, insult, death, curfews, civil unrest, violence, harassment at a more “regional” level. Stories which are the weaving units of culture turn uniform. No household has a different story to tell. The uniformity of conflict is brazen to an extent that it creates quasi-social assemblages hitherto unknown. It creates a new unit, a quasi-social unit, of “uniformly” subjugated people who suffer deeply in unison. This localized mortification dissolves the culture of the family and thereof the overall construct of the “regionally distinct” culture. When common people start losing aspects of culture at both levels – the family and the collective level – they start off with desperation followed by retrogressive depression. Soon enough, an entire community of people starts fading away, losing threads of cultures. Such populations exhibit heightened levels of emotional frailty, volatility and outrage at a public scale.

Kashmir is one such example where the culture of the family was valued beyond par even though the moorings of the cumulative culture were much more identifiable due to the overwhelming exactions of foreign traveler-writers. Conflict, spread over some three decades now, has shattered the culture of the family here since every household has the same story to tell, that of grief, desperation and despair. With the dissolution of the family the onset of cumulative culture had started long back and now rests on a pivot that is only too exterminable.  Notwithstanding what a singular unit of family stood for, it lost the battle in its own court. Some derivatives of this peculiar genre were popular “exhibits” during the 2008 (and following two years) mass protests. Even though today, the extent of the conflict has “superficially” sunk to a low note, but the disintegration – the particularly unidentifiable – collateral damage remains to stay. Kashmiri families are characteristically rote and the uniformity that has crept in is very dangerous to the survival of Kashmir as it should. Today, irrespective of all odds and events, people have lost the distinctiveness of the family and each is out for the hoot. I am spatially pressed to conclude my brief interlude here, but I leave the rest to you – to explore and advent upon, undiscovered Matryokshka dolls.


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