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Friday, October 21, 2005

Beyond Cows and Call Centres

Many days ago while consuming my daily diet of printed news I noticed something which offended me a little. The comic strip Bulls $ Bears (on the business page of the Times of India) featured an immigration clerk at Bombay airport. And guess what he looked like? No, not Osama, but the stereotyped turbaned Indian. I forgot about it. Last night BBC's Talking Movies featured Mira Nair. And she was asked about the accusation of her selling India's poverty to the outside world in her debut feature Salaam Bombay. Her justification is not important. But the image we Indians portray of ourselves and how the world wishes to look at us is.

There is no shying away from the fact that the poverty here is immense. Almost numbing. But this is not the only picture. All the foreign comics that I read as a child which mentioned India or Indians in them, had stinking rich bejewelled maharajas, fakirs lazing on a cushion of nails and the Great Indian Rope Trick. In my little more than a quarter of century existence in this country, I am yet to see any of them in flesh and blood. Yes, there are cows, plenty of them. But we are not a nation of irresponsible cowherds.

With technology we seemingly ignored our bovine wealth and herded off to steal jobs from the developed world. From irresponsible cowherds to bread snatchers. Is it that what we are?

Most of the Indian movies which the international film audience lap up are the ones which 'celebrated' the backwardness and poverty of our people (exceptions like Monsoon Wedding exist). The developed world does not want to get a picture of India which is akin theirs, it is boring. Contrast is interesting. Hence, the off-white Taj and the traffic snarling cow share cover space on travel books.

India is not Gurgaon or Navi Mumbai. India is not Telangana or Kalahandi. India is not Zunheboto or Rajpipla. India is not Infosys or mango kernels. India is all of the above including me. But the canvas becomes too big for the painter and neither is the complete story ever interesting. Truth seldom sells and what sells is the truth.

So I'm an ex-snake charmer working on a second hand PC dumped from China, utilising the language skills learnt through Rapidex English Speaking Course, connected to the world wide web via a 56kbps dial-up connection shared between six obsolete PCs, plucking the lice from the innards of my turban, utilising the time between doing a job for which an American would have charged at least five times more in explaining to the world why I should be the next cover 'guy' of Lonely Planet India. In the meanwhile I twirl my moustache.


Abaniko said...

I've always thought of India not as a poor country but as a nation of diverse cultures, interesting people and places.

thalassa_mikra said...

Soumyadip, in trying to address Western stereotypes of India, aren't you stereotyping their perceptions as well? Not all Westerners think of India as the land of snake-charmers and maharajas, or indeed now as the land of call centre workers.

There are as many images of India as realities that exist within the nation. For some India is a Goan rave party, for others a trek through the Himalayas. And for many an overcrowded nation that engenders fierce educational and professional competition.

Soumyadip said...

I agree with both abaniko and thalassa_mikra. I think I missed a point somewhere. Yes, all are not alike. But this is the image of India that I most often come across. But, I shouldn't be generalising.

One trend that I noticed in the camera culture of foreign tourists in Delhi - the Orientals focus their cameras over the ground capturing the architecture around them and the Caucasians have theirs tilted low, framing the beggars and the grime. But then again, it is just an observation and is not necessarily true in all cases.

Nanyaar? said...

It is very true... whatever other country you go to they are suprised to know that India is developing that they ask " Oh so people fly in India?"...

yes.. it will take ages for us to step out of our backwardness.. But in reality as you say it is what we are.


The Bionic 1 said...

Whats going down in India dude?
Same old shit here in New Jersey.
I don't keep up with my blog that well.
This little thing called a JOB gets in the way all the time.

Hope all is well.

Rita said...

I completely agree with you. I detest this representation of India. Till date, I have never seen a person like myself (average, middle class Indian) in any TV show that claims to showcase India. It is really sad.


Accidental Fame Junkie said...

Hi Soumyadip, excellent post. There are many Indias. Some people try to capture them on film, paper or Internet but India eludes them all! So, we will forever be unsatisfied with the portrayal of India because apart from the many facets of India, each of us has a perception of India that cannot be entirely seen by the other person.

Oscar Wilde said...

'All generalisations are wrong including the one I am doing'