On being cultured

September 8, 2017
By Sultan Abdul Haseeb

A counter culture comes out of people who don’t identify with the mainstream culture. I have spent a lot of time at boarding school due to which I feel like I don’t know much....


A counter culture comes out of people who don’t identify with the mainstream culture. I have spent a lot of time at boarding school due to which I feel like I don’t know much, and I haven’t seen much of the world. When I left hostel, it was so overwhelming for me that I am still recovering. But what came as a culture shock for me was that the people I idolized were more advanced than I was; they  were reading great philosophers like Goethe, Freud, etc. I, on the other hand, had only read young adult fiction and was not into series reading at all. I wanted to write, but they were so many better writers than me. I knew nothing about the references they cited. I felt left out. I felt timid and unpopular. I felt like I could never fit in.

On being cultured

I watched Disney, and I watched chick flicks. I listened to Ke$ha and my room was covered in pop culture celebrities’ posters and pin ups. I had spent thousands of rupees on collecting music CDs and DVDs that were looked down upon as trash pop. I was like that naive young character in the movies who speaks in a paindoo southern accent and steps out into the big city and people make fun of him. On being culturedLike that receptionist guy from 30 Rock. I was a misfit in the world I wanted to be a part of. And I knew not how to navigate through all this.

I then got into med school. That didn’t leave me time to actually go through all the things that “cool” people love - the things that actually make them who they are. But I didn’t stop doing what I liked. I didn’t stop liking what I liked. Mainly because I didn’t have time to refine myself due to the workload, so I kept being myself. That was my mantra: be myself.On being cultured

Despite this, I felt a dire need to be cultured. To refine my taste modeled on the people who I thought were cool. I didn’t like Bob Marley or Dylan, nor did I like Nirvana. I’m sorry, but I haven’t watched Casablanca or Gone with the Wind (have not read it, either). I make my own vanilla latte at home, and I cook my own lasagne. Yet, I dreamed to be included and accepted somewhere. I didn’t study at a liberal arts college, and I didn’t like watching art films. I didn’t quote Sylvia Plath or some famous cultural icon. I didn’t listen to vinyl records. I didn’t have an iPhone or a MacBook. I wasn’t sophisticated. And I was not okay with it.

I was growing up. I felt emotions I had never felt before, and I needed something to relate to. That is when I started reading books that made sense, discovered artists that I could not connect to earlier and be able to sit through two-hour long indie films that would earlier put me to sleep. I started thinking more. I started exploring life more. Somehow, I totally changed and along with that, so did my choices. The films I watched, the music I listened to, the way I would think... everything became different. However, I was still reading books that you can find at the back corners of book stores - the books on which you find amazing discounts because not many people buy them. My poetry never followed the ways that people love. My choice of clothes was one that defined me and not what I should follow. I offended On being culturedmy elders because I spoke the truth and I offended my peers because I did not conform to their labels. But, I like dit! I had found what I like finally,  things I was able to relate to. I felt like I was a culture unto myself.

I think I needed to go through that insecure phase in order to find out where I stand. My insecurities make me more human. I could never have forced myself to like something because somebody else I looked up to liked it. I could never have been me. Growing up helped me find myself. I am glad I didn’t get stuck in one place. I like liking things for the sake of liking. I like not conforming to the rules of cool. I love Katy Perry, but at the same time I like Brandyn Burnette and Shura, who are indie artists and not so well known.

It’s very important to give yourself time to find where you stand and what you like. And it’s also important to realize that you’re only cultured if you think you are. You cannot let the fact that you don’t read a certain genre of books like most literary refined people do, or listen to weird music, get to you and bring you down. Explore. Find treasures only your heart can cherish. You can either read Tao Lin, or you can read Stephenie Meyer; it’s your choice. Just give yourself time to figure things out and find out what you want. Your choice is your culture. And once you know that, you are cultured.