I am feeling a little patriotic of late so kindly bear with me.
I recently read a book by an Indian author a few weeks ago, that had won the Man Booker prize ( don’t ask me which year) and that is what sparked this patriotic fervor. This book had a story, a good one I admit. What caused my indignation was the fact that two years ago I had read another book by another Indian author. There were two striking similarities between these two books, one was the Man Booker prize and the other is what gets to me, like flies on a fresh and open wound. To break the suspense, what offends me is that to me it seems that somehow both these books are stories which ride piggybank on the glamour of the poverty and squalor in my country. And what wounds me is the fact that the world seems to have patted them on the back for living up to its expectations.
You may try to vehemently deny it, but it is true, you can’t deny it that even today the thing you find most glamorous and notable about my country are the poverty, the omnipresent filth, the illiteracy. That is perhaps why you hail Slumdog Millionaire as one of the best works of cinema to have come out of my country ( I know technically it isn’t an Indian movie but it was all about India). Don’t say you don’t because if not why would you give it 8 oscars when you reject cinema which is as good if not better than that year after year.
This sentiment has been boiling inside me for some time now but I never could give it a form and shape. But yesterday while reading Paulo Coelho, I came across a line which resonated so deeply with my unformed emotions that they suddenly developed firm contours and almost became a physical presence. He said ( I am paraphrasing here) that people from the west visit India to see the poverty on the streets of Calcutta and feel better and smug about their own lives back home. They visit my country as one would go to an orphanage from school to see the suffering of those less fortunate and thank the Almighty for what one has already.
I agree that we are poor, I agree that our roads are dirty, our leaders are illiterate and corrupt. I agree that by your standards we live like cattle but I refuse to acknowledge that we are only our poverty, our illiteracy and our dirty streets. I have come across dozens of conversations at this place where contributors deign to ignore the “dark” India and cry out their love for the Taj Mahal, Buddhism, Om and snake charmers.
Just like we are not just all about beggars, unhygienic railways and filth as our own writers will have you believe ( one of the Booker prize winners was only Indian because her parents had Indian genes, does that make her Indian or just another brown foreigner who rides on the coat tails of those brown genes to establish herself as the literary ambassador of India), we are also much more than just a nation of snake-charmers, Buddhists, temples and oh-yes call center employees ( it may seem incredible but yes there are young people in this country who have other jobs).
If you cannot acknowledge us as we are then at least stop congratulating people who show you pictures of naked fakirs, brainless call center employees and dirty beggars. It is not much different from encouraging pornography, seeing something beautiful and miraculous only to extract the basest pleasure out of it.