I got one of those ‘Be proud to be an Indian’ mail today; yes, might be for the Nth time it has found its way in. I believe it’s something that goes around in circles and lands up in your lap as you are just another point in multiple overlapping social circles around you. The content is usually the same; we have 33% Indians in NASA, Microsoft, most number of doctors and engineers on the planet, the birth of zero and ayurved and the recent addition being to fact that we sent an actual probe to Mars at a cost less than a Hollywood movie about events in space. Not that I have an issue with such mails, but considering at times information in two mails actually conflicts, I often am at loss to understand who these mails are actually meant for.
Yes I can brag about what I read in the newspaper or a book and be the king amongst friends until they get the same mail, but when people around me do read, this mail has actually no value. But then it occurred to me that this mail was designed to turn me into Akshay Kumar from Namaste London and give that mega stats studded response to someone from the west who feels India is a land of snake charmers and tantriks. Yes, we love to believe that the west has just forgotten to update their knowledge about India and still love to live life in the 18th Century. But coming to think of it, India has so many ironies woven in itself that I wonder why any foreigner should not believe in the folklore. So let’s just start here with what I have seen and experienced in India which kind of build this mythical idea of India.
I had a German visitor who had come down to India for his first visit and even though a well- traveled person otherwise, he had been told to look out for the elephant on the road. It took me two days to tell him things like; you landed on a world class airport, we moving around in cars that are much the same in his hometown in Germany and the only reason you are here is because we are buying the same high end automation systems in India, why should we have elephant in cities? On day 3- I was welcomed to a 15 minute video and equal number of photographs of an elephant walking on Worli sea face the same morning. By the end of the day, I was left with a feeling of being egged into submission that he was right.
But this is just one of the things that has got well entrenched in the minds of people that they just refuse to look further. Like a friend of mine went to Italy on a holiday and found the levitating sadhu outside a museum in Florence. Attractions in India for the less informed is yoga, Kamasutra and finding peace with some vague baba or spiritual guru who talks in a language they don’t understand; but who also gives an English translation. The more informed are coming to India for its English educated and well trained work force, its highly attractive and high spending consumer segment and its dynamic youth population. It is quite stunning that we invite large corporations to come into India and invest in our technological knowledge and the first return gift or memento for the visitor is chosen from Fabindia or Bombay Store as we talk about our rich handicrafts.
Now that’s about some ironies that build the face of India for people abroad. But ironies in India exist on practically every level and every product or service that exists in this country. Take for instance we have a toothpaste with salt and a toothbrush with charcoal bristles- I guess if that was what was needed right from the onset to keep my teeth healthy, people in India had been using salt and charcoal for cleaning their teeth since ages. Lemon and orange beverages mostly have a line saying- Contains no fruit juice, contains added flavour- apparently the dish-washing liquid I clean the glass with has real lemons. . The flower decorations in almost every house are plastic and the air is carrying the floral scent emerging from room fresheners, reed diffusers and scented oils.
There are a lot of other ironies I am actually curious about. Like why do I get all the unsolicited calls from banks for credit cards; but when I have something to do with my own bank account or credit card, I usually have to either be on hold or go through the first minute on IVR menu to get my job done. For some reason the pizza delivery guy is more inclined to make space for himself to surge ahead in traffic while an ambulance driver keeps either honking or fighting for space. Also if you are waiting on a signal, the guy in the first lane right at the front is the most lazy to start off on the green- the 7-8th car is the first to honk tough. For a city like Mumbai, it is home to the most expensive real estate in the country along with the largest slum area having a GDP at par with some African nations.
As Indians we may take the pains to scrub our tongues clean, but the rest of social hygiene is out of the window when we colourfully decorate walls. Homes are spic and span; but the filth rests supremely on the courtyards and around buildings. It is actually both surprising and disappointing. A Hindi movie named Shanghai had an interesting line about India- ‘…sone ki chidiya; dengue- malaria, ghar bhi hai, gobar bhi hai….’ I guess that sums up my sentiments about ironies for now.