I am scared of watching Slumdog Millionaire. Will it be another weary disappointment in the White Tiger style? The chances are high. And do we really want to win an Oscar when all that means is the likes of NDTV can embarrass themselves by asking AR Rahman whether it's a sign that "Indian music is now accepted internationally"? Do we not do enough of this nonsense already without the slightest bloody provocation? It is depressing in the extreme.
Our over-spiced mixture of pretension, apathy and a remarkable capacity for toadeating has now officially reached toxic levels. We don't lose any opportunity to pat ourselves on the back or "put India on the world stage". Our very real art movements are distorted and diluted by the hype that seems terribly necessary. Our very real history seems to be going this way too. And there's no point talking about sports at all unless you want to end up throwing yourself on the floor and drumming your heels.
In the corporate world, all that is wrong and ridiculous about the Global Way has been adopted enthusiastically without the leavening bits: the brusqueness without the respect for time, the sacrificing of manners without the resulting efficiency, the self-imposed urgencies, the delusions of grandeur. None of this is new to India – but they used to be the preserve of medium-sized government officials and middle management in public sector companies, nobody aspired to it or lauded it.
The news channels are equally execrable. I have the luxury of finding Fox News funny but I can't laugh about our own versions of it. Most of it is an orgy of cluelessness. Idiot girls arguing about feminism without ever understanding the word "independence". Equally IQ-challenged boys talking about the aforementioned girls. People of all kinds mouthing off about "issues" without stopped to think about them, all this presented as hard news.
Self-appointed moral police march into a nightclub in Mangalore and assault the patrons, but instead of calling it the criminal and unconstitutional act that it is, there's a lot of drivel on TV about the anatomy of violence and the driving forces of our times and the "youth".
We are aggressive about random things but will do nothing to stop injustice or crime. Mumbai's educated thousands will march in protest against an attack on the Taj but they won't rally around when the Shiv Sena terrorises an elderly shopkeeper on the wrong side of the railway tracks.
Among the newspapers, our choices range from the prissy Hindu to the scurrilous Times, and not one of them employs a writer who actually learnt English. And what the fuck is a terror attack? Is it something like a panic attack? It sounds a lot like how I'm feeling now.
India has always been complicated. Life is crowded. There are always too many people and too many things in your face. People are rude. Places are dirty. Rules are fluid. The simple act of numbering streets can become a metaphysical nightmare. But all this is still true and unadorned. This is India as it has always been, take or leave in as-is-where-is condition. As the travel books say, all it needs is time and once you get used to it, you enjoy it.
But the nouveau India is another matter entirely. It makes you want to throw up. And I'm very much afraid that Slumdog Millionaire is a child of this, a beautifully designed Penguin India cover and blurb, with nothing in between. The Oscar nomination has only deepened this suspicion.
Have to add: Two days before the Oscars, I finally watched the movie (mostly because of not wanting to be left out of the fervour if it won anything). And I liked it. As my friend said in his comment, take away the hype and it's a sweet rags to riches story.
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- White tigers, slumdogs and softening of the brain
- The sun also rises in Burdubai
- The Englishness of America
- The debt gene
- A curious lack of bonhomie
- So was the winner of the marathon a perfect 10?
- What's that song?
- Don't you point that word at me
- TFN nights: Chinna, chinna asai
- Day seven: Diamonds and rust
- Day six: All the roadrunning
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