Educating Soumitri aka Understanding Categories


Tool Kit: Spider Diagram

Some years ago Soumitri got air dropped into a curious and arcane community of people who lived on this island. They were vibrant, enthusiastic and very physically accomplished. Many in this country – he was to discover – had travelled very little. They had a phrase ‘comfort zone’ that described their cultural practices – and of this there were many. So while they shared a common culture, and many didn’t realise how strange this culture was to foreigners, and assumed that their culture was an international western culture. Which it wasn’t and Europeans and Americans found the local culture equally arcane and strange. One day a group of people got together to catalogue their ways and this is how they went about it. How? Read on….

1. The Look: Extreme Makeover Issues
Its been 20 months since Soumitri came to Australia. His shoes have given out. His clothes are getting frayed – and he is having problems rotating items in his wardrobe. He could have gone out and bought clothes – but seems paralysed and unable to figure out, in terms of the look, what he should buy and from where. He is aware that there is right way – and clothes in this country are the crucial and fundamental way to comprehend a person. Unlike other countries where it is possible to wear traditional clothes – here it seems to be the norm to be ‘with in’, or it is required to be careful in dressing and people have to do it “the right way”. What you wear defines who you are – like the look of the real estate salesman being specific to them.

So in short Soumitri NEEDS to buy clothes, but cannot until the different possible ways for him to dress are explained to him. He has asked you to make 8 categories of ways people dress in Melbourne and explain the options to him.

2. Ways of Speaking: Chill Factor Issues
Last year he got tired of people treating him like an inarticulate foreigner. People would speak slowly – and one day Simon used the word Déjà vu, and proceeded to explain what it meant. Soumitri stopped him and said; ‘has it ever occurred to you that I am twice your age and may have a vocabulary twice as large as yours. And anyway déjà vu is a French expression’. On Saturday this girl began to explain that ‘my fair lady’ was this English play – and my think bubble said ‘and when I first saw it you probably were not even born’.

It is true that by now he can understand and be understood quite clearly. He still has to watch for his v’s sounding like W – which is a common Indian pronunciation problem. He can hear an Oye and know that what is meant is an I. He knows that there are many languages that are spoken in this city – and each language marks out the speaker as a particular cultural category of person.

Soumitri needs to understand the languages spoken in this country. He would like you make 8 categories of the ‘ways people speak english’.

But first let us learn to pronounce his name properly- Sow-mi (ttens) – three Vu(h) –ru(h)-du(h)—raa-jun.

3. Cultural capital: Cool Factor Issues
Two students in class had seen Tarkovsky, and a majority of the students consumed mainstream Hollywood fare. With its repeated construction of modern day fairy tales: typically the idea of the movie was to stick to the notions of feel good, heroic exploits and technological wizardry. Emotional explorations were to be kept out or if allowed in were to be extremely shallow and only the visible spectrum was allowed. It may be possible that what cinema meant for people who conflated film with Hollywood was only one of many genres of cinema. Which then makes significant genres in all aspects of cultural practice in the city. Either way, for his sanity and to maintain the spirit of the student group, Soumitri needs to understand the cultural dimension of the students.

But that’s one thing. Another is that the expression ’way cool’ is a mark of appreciation handed out by all people. And so there must exist un-cool ways too. Soumitri finds these value judgements and classifications of people based upon their manifest cultures quite confusing. He asks that you make 8 categories of culture – 8 dimensions denoting subcultures of the way people living in Melbourne may be classified.

4. Ways of Eating: Issues about Dogma
People in Melbourne tend to consume copious quantities of red meats and an even greater proportion of processed foods. All of this means their total intake of chemicals and factory machine oil must be quite high. They seem to keep coming together for food events – barbies, eating out. And even other events, like sitting in a park or at a meeting or sitting in class, are converted into food events. Chomp, crunch, crackle, slurp – is the constant refrain all over the country. Can they not eat at specific times and in specific places? Do we all have to impersonate cud chewing mammals 24/7? But that is the zone of Soumitri finding things irritating about Melbourne culture. We are not even talking about crumbs all over and foody breath all the time everywhere – onions, garlic, cheese.

But lets talk in a charitable vein. Soumitri needs to understand food practices. Lets make 8 categories of ‘ways of eating’ so that Soumitri is prepared to face strage practices as normal.

On 25th July you all did the exercise: Some well some not so well.
You are coming in on Monday next week with an AV in PDF of your two categories.
Soumitri will recombine these into the four big areas we were looking at.

But you will also have to be specific – a la extreme makeover – with costs, shops where he will buy things, places where he should eat, ways he can learn the new accent. Because – strange but true – he actually wishes to understand all this.

And once the male part of this is done we will take Soumitri out from the text and put Anara in there and do it all over again with a feminine take on the areas. Okay?

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