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.