Awards Knights and Knaves

Maverick: Some reflections on genuflection to the West
By Farzana Versey

Covert July 1-15

She was the dark horse. Yet, she made it. She won by some 47 per cent. The mainstream newspaper decided they wanted to know a bit about the Indian woman. Not the whole of her. Just her butt.

The benchmark is not our temple sculptures, but Jennifer Lopez. Why? Because those mute sculptures are not selling you anything; a Hollywood star is. The perfect bahu who dresses like one at home suddenly begins to show off cleavage and back and biceps sweeping along the red carpet. Our saree is not considered chic enough until a foreign model walks it in with an ungainly stride. I won’t even get into our designers and their Fall collections.

We play along with the Western archetype of beauty and brains and pop nationalism, too. Had an ‘authority figure’ been pontificating about poverty in one of our academic institutions, he would be considered just another jholawalla; the tweed jacket makes for a brilliant contrast and, strangely enough, additional clout.

A serious academic analysis is not the same as making it to one of the lists. We have these lists of most beautiful, the sexiest, the hottest, with no room for cultural differences. Dictators make it to the Time magazine list as do peaceniks. Sometimes, a homely girl from Sunday Mass manages to catch the eye of a maverick international director.

One would think that the underdog is having her day. It is quite something else – about how achievement is measured today. There was a time not too long ago when you had to do something in your field, maybe even sleep with the enemy, but that too was counted as occupational hazard. These days, you can just use your fingers. Whether it is to make the right phone calls or send text messages.

For all those who get into patriotic paroxysms over cricketers not being around to receive their Padma Awards, and they ought to be there, it certainly does not qualify as an insult. The insult is when these awards are given to special people with special strings being pulled. It is the sarkari mentality.

Actress Rekha refused a Lifetime Achievement award because she said it conveyed that all her work was behind her and she wasn’t quite done yet. This ought to have been seen as a tantrum. Instead, the organisation changed the name of the award to accommodate her whims.

Can anyone respect such accolades?

The other strategy, exceedingly wicked in intent, is when encomiums are showered with dollops of magnanimity, the sort that conveys the little people are being given their crumbs of the pie.

Nujood Ali was one of the recipients last year of the annual Women of the Year Awards, sponsored by Glamour magazine and L’Oreal, that pays tribute to women who have made major contributions to entertainment, business, sport, fashion, science and politics.

What was her achievement? Being a Yemeni child bride who refused to marry a man thrice her age. It is a bit dicey to accept at face value that a kid who was abused went to court. The people responsible for handing these awards ought to know that a 10-year-old is not a woman. Why don’t they pick up some Hollywood teen star who has been abused and fought back, and there are numerous examples? She is from none of the fields mentioned. What if the media had not made her into a celebrity?

It is a source of discomfort to watch such unabashed exploitation, that too under the garb of honouring the person. Does she represent true woman power? Would she influence people? Or become just another puppet touted by the fashion industry? Is there a catch – show me your hair?

Unlike the other prominent award winners like Tyra Banks for charity, Hillary Clinton for inspiring generations of women and actress Nicole Kidman for her work with the UN Development Fund for Women, Nujood Ali was a mere totem of the veiled young girl.

And with Barack Obama’s patronising acceptance of the hijaab there will be several more such honours flashily telling the world who is boss. For every knight, there has got to be a knave.


  1. rxri.blogspot.com03/07/2009, 02:52

    Hi Farzana,
    your column is becoming addictive.

    This young girl was honored for fighting her right as a child.Empowering women is the only way for nations and society to progress.When ever some one beats the odds it is an occasion to celebrate .By showcasing such successes we make it possible for others to follow the lead.I have seen the news where such girls in India were honored by visit with the president.
    Delaying marriage has many benefits for the society.I think it is a universal view and we should not discard it because it is not our normal behavior.

    Yes we need to honor all people who achieve outstanding goals.Any way not enough to celebrate I remember what my dad said "we should celebrate all occasions even our our own birthdays".

    kul bhushan

  2. These type of lists make no sense because they are polls or small groups of people. Celebrities must be clicking their own names on the internet!!

    The west will always applaud what it considers good

  3. Kul Bhushan:

    I think we ought to celebrate every occasion and every day, including Bubble Gum day, I agree. But this girl was being treated to some special favours. Please look at it in perspective. She would not even understand her position and what it entails. More importantly, what will happen to her with that L'Oreal thing?


    You last line said it all. And the polls are all hogwash to buffer advertising.

  4. HI Farzana,
    have a happy 4th of July .I wrote about bubble gum day on my blog .Sorry i am new at blogging so could not post it in my post at your blog .you are the inspiration for this post.
    kul bhushan

  5. Hi Kul Bhushan:

    A happy 4th to you..and a 5th too!

    Nice of you to be inspired by a comment, but there is no Bubble Gum Day except the days we live in our bubbles...


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.