Maverick: The Indian Colonisers of India
By Farzana Versey
Covert, Aug 15-31
I miss those days. They would exclaim, “Oh, Indian!” and all you had to do was blush and give them some spiel about the Taj Mahal, rickshaw pullers, Tanjore paintings, the Kama Sutra. If you dressed the part, with hippie beads and prints dyed in colours designed to fade, then you had it made. You were just the sort of stuff George Harrison would pull strings with.
I miss those days. Today, India at 62 has become a cosmetic surgery miracle. Now when they exclaim, “Oh, Indian!” you must sound world-weary because jet lag is a part of your life. The princess-pauper act won’t wash anymore. You are seen as a triumph because of amnesia. Look, they say, she has gone through so much and yet come out trumps.
Talking of which, Fareed Zakaria had informed them that when he used to visit home in the 80s Indians did not show much interest in “the important power players in Washington or the great intellectuals in Cambridge. People would often ask me about Donald Trump…He symbolized the feeling that if you wanted to find the biggest and largest anything, you had to look to America.”
This is hyperbole, a trait that westerners find so charming, especially in the new improved India. It is another matter that Donald Trump represented nothing more than an apartment tower, a few good women and a toupee. We continue to be mentally colonised by the US, mainly because of the franchisee deals, but it was the British Virgin king who managed to get in and became worthy enough for a Vijay Mallya to emulate.
However, to pass the test of the nouveau Indian you need more than allegiance to a pint of beer and a frequent flyer card. In fact, you don’t need to announce who you know, but how much you know about who you don't know. A mouse click is your key to education.
When Nandan Nilekani quits Infosys to join the government, he announces, “I will be going to lead a programme to give identity to every Indian. But today I am losing my identity.” With this self-effacing comment he is no different from those who claim to do something for the country. In martyr-deadpan tone, he says, “I’m supposed to work with 600 government departments knowing fully well that no two government departments get along with one another.”
This is the mature brash, fired in the kiln of hubris. It has to be accepted. Our prime minister concurs: “I sincerely hope that in due course we can enlarge the involvement of intellectuals in governance.”
While it is true that some of our bumpkin type ministers were counter-productive, is there any guarantee that those with education and resources will truly make a difference? For being a co-founder and co-chairperson of a company for 28 years, the new India is expected to blindly accept the sagacity of such intellectuals.
When Rajiv Gandhi brought in Sam Pitroda, the results were evident in small towns where PCOs sprung up. It may not have been a revolution but it was something that people in those places needed. This same man will now probably head the Vedanta University, spread across 6000 acres of land, that will have research wings and Olympic style sports complexes. Who is this for? We are getting more and more elitist and brushing the dirt under nuclear submarines.
The public figure patriot is one who knows how to shrug with panache. Shashi Tharoor stands with hand on heart while the national anthem is being played because that is what he did in America. He forgets he is contesting an Indian election, but his goof-up is forgiven. He now represents the external affairs ministry. However, those buying plastic flags will be taken to task because it is an insult.
The airlines are losing money, yet Narendra Modi spends Rs 90,000 a day on flights.
It isn’t that all was well earlier. We had the ‘India is Indira’ times, but we also had an alternative. These days even dissent has become upwardly mobile. People throw shoes at ministers and not slippers. The minister smiles beatifically because, as they say in the west, s**t happens. This time the “Oh, Indian!” isn’t a smirk directed at the literal. Freedom’s just another blurb designed for the Oscars.