What is Modernity, I Often Wonder!

In our country, everyone craves to be modern. It’s a fashion to be modern. No one wants to be old-fashioned. Everyone wants to be a winner in the race towards modernity. Earlier, men who ‘allowed’ their wives to put on salwar-kammez and ‘let’ them work outside home were called ‘modern’. Now those bearing with wives who are jeans-top clad, glued to cell phones, laptops, TVs and other gadgets are being called modern. But the craving for being modern has not diminished. So, let us ask the question.
What is modernity?

It is a very popular word. It is on everybody's tongue. Moreover, majority of people want to adopt modernity. Almost everyone craves to be modern. The layman's view of modernity is rather ridiculous. If one puts on skirts instead of sari one is modern. If one has the most advanced equipments and appliances, one in modern? If one can drive cars, one is modern. If one keeps short hairs, one is modern. All these and many more are common interpretations of modernity.

If one tries to think seriously one feels that this term has been one of the most distorted terms of our times. People run after modernity without knowing what it means. In fact, any such abstract term like modernity cannot have any absolute definition. Its meaning keeps on changing. It is no absolute scientific equation. Still a broad view of real modernity must be formed so that we may know what modernity is and if desired, may become modern.

It will be easy to know what modernity is if we first decide what modernity is not. The common perception tends to connect modernity with money. It is more or less an accepted idea that affluence automatically brings modernity with it. This is not true. Modernity has nothing to do with wealth. While wealth is a materialistic stock, modernity is a mental state. It is a life style. Money can enhance an individual's capacity to show off. But showing off or bragging or any such superficial phenomena is simply not modernity.

In an obvious survey of the matter, we can say that anyone who is rigid is not modern. Rigidity by nature goes against modernity. Adhering to old rules just for the sake of antiquated traditions goes against the spirit of modernity. Rigidity closes different frontiers. Without ever knowing the pros and cons, the plus and minus point of any issue, rigidity reigns over the kingdom of ignorance. So in a way, we can say that ignorance or lack of knowledge and modernity are antagonists.

A truly modern person is genuinely aware of things. A modern person has touch with the environment in which he exists. Moreover, he is sufficiently aware of the nature and functioning of his surroundings. If not much, he has some genuine idea about the history and geography of the land. He keeps in touch with the latest economic trends and invests smartly. Although it may sound trivial, but newspapers and magazines do have a very important place in the concept of modernity. It shows the mental makeup of an individual. If he is spending on magazines and newspapers or makes all efforts to reach to these mediums through libraries, he definitely has that instinct which makes one modern. Overall, a modern person scores good in general knowledge. But the thing is that we often come across pseudo-moderns instead of genuine ones.

There is a vast army of people who pretend to be ultra modern. They feign to know things which they do not really know. They pretend knowledge. As it is, it is an age of showing off. It does not matter whether you know or not but you must not show that you do not know. In parties, gatherings, functions and meetings it is difficult to find people who are genuine. A simple admission of ignorance on any topic is simply out of question. Whether it is the expedition to Antarctica or the latest Hollywood film, everyone pretends to know just everything. The crowd is always full of people who are naive. Their concepts are not clear. Moreover they do not find it necessary to form their own concepts. Their tongues are their biggest weapons as well as their claims to be called modern.

Many wrong practices have crept in the name of modernity. Modernity itself has been debased by the exhibitionistic instincts and superficial attitudes of the so-called modern people. If the word 'modern' has to retain its positive meaning, such trends must be fought with and brought down. To be true, the pretenders of modernity are defaming it most. Craving for more and more attention from all corners, these people are making modernity a dirty, non acceptable word. Modernity has nothing to do with hairstyles, clothes or even language. It is thinking and thinking alone that separates a modern person from others.

Then, what is that thinking, that set of attitudes the make a person modern. I think, it is the flexibility of mind and openness to new ideas. The psychological set up of a truly modern person is such that he is not disturbed or totally hostile towards any thought or trend, howsoever revolutionary it might be. He is ready to listen and consider. Here we may make it clear that an idea basically ancient can be stunningly new to the present generation. Renaissance is the best example of this kind of modernity. It was old Greek and Latin wisdom that evaded the modern generation of those times and brought about one of the biggest cultural and literary revolutions of the world. So, flexibility of mind towards any kind of thinking is modernity. If the concept suits the present generation, it moulds it and accepts it according to its own convenience. Latest trends in fashion, Literature, music and arts are nothing but a witness of their own suitability to the present generation. Modifications in marriage ceremonies or festival celebrations are all changes brought by the present generation according to its convenience. If certain patterns have gone obsolete, it is because they have lost their charm and utility for the present times.

But the worst part of modernity is that those who are modern incline to be rigid and so go against the spirit of modernity. We must grasp that modernity is a mobile concept. Modern values and norms keep changing form person to person as well as generation to generation. If attending parties and social gatherings was a popular and modern concept some years back, it may be that it is not so today. It is possible that the modern person of today likes to maintain his privacy and does not socialize much with people. And again, this may also change in the coming times. So anybody who obstinately clings to certain whims in the name of modernity is not at all modern. The secret of the magic and high currency of this word lies in the fact that it is a changing phenomenon.

It would be best if everyone decides his own style of modernity. What is convenient and suitable for one person may not be so for the other. Individual autonomy to choose a life style is the keynote of modernity. A self conscious person, who is well aware with his surroundings as well as his own self and who is at ease with himself is a modern person. Realizing one's won aspirations, views, hopes and fears plays a vital role in making a man modern. Ignorance and darkness cannot denote the light of modernity. Basically, it is a positive word and should remain so. It is not something that we get in blood. Nobody is a born modern. It is an acquired skill, a learned art. By practice, everyone, young or old, rich or not so rich can become modern.


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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Views: 3532      Comments: 1

Comment Madam, you've widened the scope of modernity so as to accommodate everybody. Really, it's true that a concept like modernity should be wide open at all. It's a state of mind everyone can achieve.

17-Apr-2013 05:48 AM

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