Incredible India

July 17, 2013

Incredible India
Our country is a melting pot of cultures, traditions and lifestyles. Shankar Bhattacharya takes us on a journey that looks at its ‘other’ sides

‘Are you a Puerto Rican?
A Jamaican? A Red Indian?’
I look for the feathers on my skull,
A band around my forehead
And mumble, ‘No, a brown Indian
From the land of Gandhi’- Shiv K Kumar (Days in New York)

That’s how a modern Indian poet introduces himself to a stranger in the street of New York ~ a ‘brown Indian from the land of Gandhi’. To the West, the ‘Orient’ is habitually connected with ‘ahimsa’, spirituality, yoga and the most esoteric ‘Krishna-consciousness’.
On the other hand, as any aware citizen of India knows very well, it is a land where people find strange excuses to kill one another. Innocent villagers in Nandigram were fired upon by police at the behest of their political bosses, cannibals in Nithari made the headlines, bombs were blasted again in Mecca Masjid on the religious Friday and parents sat down in front of the TV with their children to watch live telecast of Saddam Hussein being hanged.
Now that India has completed 60 years of Independence ~ a happy occasion on which Bollywood stars were invited to the Cannes Films Festival ~ it’s time to welcome you to India ~ the seventh largest and the second most populous nation in the world. Let’s guide you on a journey through the conflict-ridden realities of the ‘mystical’ India and point out some of the glaring contrasts that we live with.
One of the fundamental concepts of mathematics, i.e. the decimal system, was invented in India at a time when there was no private engineering or medical college. But today you will find street children who move around in T-shirts proclaiming ‘Say no to child labour’ ~ given to them by various NGOs ~ without understanding what the words mean in the first place. Nobody cares to teach them. The ‘B’-schools have taken lease of the so-called best brains of the country. The fortunate ‘have-lots’, who can afford the luxury of textbooks, get to know that India is an agrarian economy. But the harsh fact is that in spite of having a buffer stock worth some hundred crore, more than half the population does not get a square meal every day and that too after the Green Revolution.
There has been no significant scientific breakthrough that can address the plethora of crises emerging in a fast-changing society like ours. You should never wonder why students do not turn up at primary schools even after the introduction of mid-day meals or screening of Charlie Chaplin films to popularise ‘Sarba siksha abhijan’.
Much like McDonald’s burgers, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), Dominos pizzas and Levis shirts, the fear of ‘obesity’ somehow managed to secure a place in the upper middle class psyche. As a consequence, gyms became as ubiquitous as the latest mobile handsets.
But the effort to look sleek and trendy was so vigorous that it ultimately gave way to anorexia and bulimia! Have these ‘trendy’ youngsters, hell bent on looking slim, ever thought about the plight of workers at the tea estates in Siliguri and adjoining areas? Years of starvation have virtually turned them into skin and bones.
If you read the preamble to the Constitution of India, you will find that the key word there is ‘secular’. Yet in Gujarat people revolt against the release of Parzania, a film based on the commercial violence in the state. Come to the Kumbha mela ~ Asia’s biggest religious meet ~ and you will see Naga sadhus. Then visit Mumbai ~ India’s fashion hub and see designers with their bizarre collections and boutiques. Experience asceticism and glamour. Read the Forbes and Fortune magazines and you will invariably find some Indian industrialists being newly ranked among the richest ten. Then visit some remote backwaters of Madhya Pradesh ~ you will find parents selling their infants off for food.
Hindi, we are told, is the national language. But come to south India and Hindi will be considered almost as a blasphemous language. So what happens to the idea of a unified nationhood?
What about India’s cultural scenario? MF Husain, one of India’s best-known painters, has been asked to leave the country for ‘hurting religious sentiments’ and more recently, the same treatment has been meted out to Chandra Mohan ~ a fine arts students at MS University, Vadodara.
If you want to know how passionate people are in this country, read Kama Sutra and know that there are no less than 16 types of kisses mentioned in that book. Then look at the sorry face of your favourite (or once favourite) star Richard Gere. His crime? He kissed the gorgeous Shilpa Shetty in an AIDS campaign among a hundred truck drivers.
Have a rendezvous with the youth of India. Interact with the hundreds of pupils from distant towns who have gathered in Kota and know that IIT is the only buzzword here. Then come to any bustling shopping plaza and you will be amazed to know the ‘rocking’ lifestyle of the youngsters there. Fifty missed calls, 30 SMS and 20 ringtones downloaded in a day!
The Internet has broken all barriers, what with chatting, video conferencing and Orkut facilities. At the same time there are a number of help-lines to give hope to those whom loneliness has driven to the edge of insanity. India has bred a new class of citizens ~ social recluses but cyber socialites.
Womenfolk in India are rarely acknowledged for doing any more than increasing the TRP ratings of the Star Plus channel and making Ekta Kapoor a billionaire. But it was only men who had filed cases against Mandira Bedi’s latest tattoos and saris!
Do your ears ache? Well, then we can provide you with an i-Pod perhaps. That sells in India too, as does anything from Mozart to Metallica. But please don’t expect a silent ambience to soothe your nerves because people here are known to shriek at the highest volume to rent out the disgust and pain of their wounded hearts (remember Konkana and Irfan in Anurag Basu’s Life in a Metro).
Did anyone tell you ghazals, thumri, khayal and Rabindrasangeet are sung in India too?
After this journey, won’t you agree that ours is truly an ‘Incredible India’!
Jai Hind, anyone?

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