And some of them were, thanks to Sify providing WiFi and the organizers Kiruba Shankar et al ensuring plug points for everyone to connect their laptops toâ€”a rarity in electricity-starved Indiaâ€™s buildings. Getting into the first world groove, the first thing most did on entering the large auditorium was to whip out their laptops and check their mail
Am I the only person here who finds this more than a little patronizing? I wonder why in a report on a conference on blogging, does Ms. Nilkantan need to suggest, not so subtly, that the so-called first world ambience of WiFi and electric plugpoints (Duh!) is something that poor Third World, electricity-starved Indians are unaccustomed to.
It’s something you can never escape in the West. Despite our status as a fast-growing, economic superpower, whenever we get mention in the media it is almost always as a weird, desperately poor nation of magicians, snakes, elephants, strange gods, venerated cows and boys who have flies coming out of their urine— condescension being the underlying theme of most of India-centric coverage. [And the other times we are mentioned is as cheap labour, speaking in pidgin English, who have taken American jobs because so poor are we that we don’t mind working on a slave’s salary—-what’s almost always forgotten is our competence.]
And I am not talking about media asses like Bill O’Reilly of Fox News whose ignorance of anything outside US is only matched by his pomposity (he referred to Pakistan’s ISI as SIS) or borderline-racist Lou Dobbs on CNN. I am talking about the so-called smart people—the Jon Stewarts, the Steve Colberts and the Bill Mahers of the world who regularly tag on the worst kind of stereotypes to anything Indian and Hindu and consider it to be funny. And indeed it seems to be. Pictures of Lord Shiva or Lord Ganesh provoke uproarious laughter from the studio audience with Jon Stewart’s goofy grin implying: “They worship that?”
Things would be fine if they were equal opportunities offenders. Which they are often are not. They make fun of right-wing Christian conservatives like Pat Robertson and right-wing constructs like “intelligent design” but never of Christianity and Christian symbols. Islam they wish they could but they value the heads on their necks. So it’s open season for India and Hindusim (which to them is indistinguishable)–because we are, as always, easy targets.[To be fair to Stewart, he is the only person who has run a positive piece or two on India—-when he once interviewed Thomas Friedman. That’s about it.]
Unless the news item is totally bizarre, India is never ever considered newsworthy. Sometimes it gets to the point, where we do not even exist. Whenever I hear acts of Islamic terror being mentioned nowadays, it’s London, Madrid, Bali…..and almost never Mumbai. But when it’s the opening of a school of magic in a tribal region of India, it’s on Keith Olbermann’s countdown as we are witness to a scene from Indian daily life—an emaciated Indian man in a white langot setting his tongue on fire. Issues of importance that affect India are never covered or at best, relegated to the inside pages. But when it’s Sushmita Sen pacifying a snake on the sets of “Zindagi Rocks” it’s on friggin CNN !
Okay so perhaps they are ignorant. Perhaps they don’t really care about people who are not white and don’t have oil. Perhaps India as a nation of dark magic and flying sadhus is a more comforting stereotype than of it as a vibrant, progressive democracy with a booming economy, a nation that no longer holds a beggar bowl.
But what about Indians themselves ? Why do Indians, the moment they write for a foreign media outlet, start pandering to the stereotype rather than trying to puncture it? Why don’t they define their own vocabulary instead of talking in the language of condescension? Mind you, India has many problems and highlighting them is essential. A post about the power problem in India (a fair one, not suggesting that it is abysmal compared to other regions of the world) would be fine. Criticizing what we do wrong (and there are many things we do) is kosher too. [I am the last person who equates grounded-in-fact self-criticism with unpatriotic].
However this “poor Indians salivating over first world facilities” is not criticism. Hardly so. It’s a dash of “first world” patronizing injected ironically into a piece that should have been celebrating India’s embracing of the ‘new information age media’ (wonder how many of the non-snake-charming advanced nations would have so much enthusiasm for a conference on blogging). [Incidentally, my first world apartment has a woeful paucity of plug points]
And the tragic thing is that the GigaOm piece I led with is relatively inoffensive considering the other muck that is churned out about us, often by Indian and India-born writers.
In case there are any first world people reading this piece let me make it clear. We do not have a cow racing C1 circuit in India. We do not have motherf**** snakes in our motherf*** houses. We do not fight on the streets about caste. What you see on TV as “India news items” is as symbolic of today’s India as the cross-dressing man, who comes on Jerry Springer confessing to having a secret affair with his midget brother-in-law, is of American/Western society.
Please do not misunderstand. Do write about the crazy things that happen in India. After all Sushmita Sen, with sand in her chest, seducing a snake is as newsworthy a thing as anything else in the world. But then be even-handed and also highlight the more mainstream things–like bomb blasts, terrorism, elections, progress– just like you would do for England. And even France ( a country US loves to hate).
Okay that’s enough for today. Let me now get into my third world groove by partaking a bar of cow dung before I start practising for my show on Saturday—-pulling a bullock cart with my moustache while a snake plays around in my white, stained dhoti.