There is a popular video game called “Guitar Hero” in which the controller is like a guitar. As notes scroll by on-screen, players have to hit colored buttons on the controllers at the exact moment the note is highlighted on the screen. The more “notes” you hit, the more the virtual crowd goes into a frenzy and the more points you score.
Writing for the foreign media, whether it be articles or fiction, is often like playing “Guitar Hero”—you mash the right buttons at the right moment and out comes a publication, in the same way “music” comes out of Guitar Hero. An example of this kind of ” say-what-your-foreign-audience wants-to-hear” writing that hits the hot-points can be found here, in an article written in the New York Times by Manu Joseph, also referred to sometimes in Middle Earth as the Bane of Barkha.
In it, Manu Joseph says that Indians are prickly about the negative portrayal of it in the foreign media, but truth be told, there is nothing much positive to say about the country (He has to “search for something good to say about India” as the headline goes). The Indian press carries positive stories about India because it sells, not because it is the truth. Other countries (like Greece for instance—-since we Indians presumably care enough of Greece to hate it) can be attacked since that is popular but not India, even though it still remains a shitty third world country. Whatever India has advanced is because of the munificence of the West and their industry finding markets in South-east Asia and even Pakistan has done spectacularly as a result of this. So Indians should not be crowing. India= Pakistan.
There are a few things to point out, not least of all the effect of the influx of foreign bribe money into Pakistan’s infrastructure as a contributory factor for its prosperity. For one, this.
But, sometimes what makes a country proud is actually a poignant indicator of how far behind it lags. For instance, when a country’s tennis doubles players are national celebrities, as they are in India, you know that there is something wrong with its general sport talent
But sir, Mr. Joseph, what you forget to tell your phoren audience is that Indians are proud of many people. They are proud of Bollywood stars, cricket stars, business magnates, doubles players, and even authors who win the Booker. So what does that prove?
For someone whose book critically portrayed Indian society as defined by rigid caste (one of the Guitar Hero notes needed to be hit for critical approbation for “literary” Indian writers in English), Mr. Joseph displays a surprising amount of Bramhinical elitism. It is not just limited to being disparaging of “tennis doubles winners” as if that is not “really” an achievement worth being proud of. Read this:
And many of them who have begun to work in call centers cannot be trained beyond a point because their fundamentals are weak. For instance, they have never attended an English-language school.
A senior human resources executive with a call center in Gurgaon, on the outskirts of Delhi, said with a chuckle: “The swanky office is to impress the foreign client. Some of our people who work inside, I know they would be happy in a cowshed.”
Happy to be in a cowshed? Wait, what was that again? Why is this blatantly elitist/classist/casteist remark used in this piece as a means of buttressing an argument? And oh “fundamentals are weak” –what is the correlation of that with never having attended an English-language school? Call centers do not require their employees to analyze Proust or be able to find the “gentle humor” inside Manu Joseph’s “Serious Men”. All they require is the ability to speak decent, understandable English. The fact that Indian call centers “get the job done” is testified by the return business they get. End of story.
India’s status as a software giant has long been a happy story. But it is an exaggeration. India is a not a software giant. In your computer, there is probably not a single piece of software whose license is held by an Indian company.
What India is, in reality, is a giant back office. There was a time when Indian software companies confidently stated that there were so many talented educated Indians available to them that they would be able to swiftly “move up the value chain.” That was the refrain.
What Mr. Joseph does not understand (and he is not alone, many India critics make the same mistake) is that one can be a “software giant” without being a leader in innovation. A Microsoft Office product might conjure up images of American workers in Seattle, but significant portion of the effort that goes into making the product might be coming from development centers in India, run either by Microsoft themselves or outsourced to Indian vendors. And what does that mean? The Indian economy makes loads of money through software services and becomes, yes you guessed it, a software giant.
Looking a bit deeper, one detects yet more bias. Somehow the quotidian “Dalit” lower-value-chain tasks of testing, maintaining, creating software support infrastructure for software companies, banks and hospitals are considered inferior to the more “Brahmanical” tasks of innovation and product design, even though both generate revenue and both are critically important in the overall development chain.
The larger point here of course is how come this very ordinary, poorly-argued piece gets into New York Times. The answer for it is provided by Mr. Joseph himself, albeit in a different context. In the West, negative stories of India sell. At a time when the US is being hammered economically and are being told by no less than their own President to “compete” with countries like India, it is “feel-good” therapy to hear that these upstart Indians are as smelly and dirty as they always were. Right-wing US media like Fox have goombahs like Glenn Beck for this kind of pandering—according to him, India has not yet discovered modern plumbing and river Ganga sounds like a disease.
New York Times, being a liberal media outlet, knows how racist and chauvinist it looks if a white American guy says “People in India would be happy to work in a cowshed”.
So they look out for Indians who will do the hatchet job—-serious women. And serious men.