A two hundred strong crowd had assembled in a semicircle to watch half a dozen white-skinned humans wearing dirty tattered clothes, squatting on the ground with their hats turned upside down and a couple of placards saying “Please give us some money to go back home….we are broke, we have no money”. It was the decade of the sixties (more than 50 years ago). I was a schoolboy, part of that crowd opposite the coffee house in the middle of Connaught place where Palika bazaar stands today- watching all this in amusement. Out of these six Goras sitting on the ground, begging for money, I noticed that four were Sahibs (men) and two were memsahibs (women).
Coffee house those days was a good hang out for the journalists in Delhi.
One of the guys from the press stepped out of the crowd and clicked a photograph of these beggars. In a fit of rage one of them sitting on the ground got up shouting ‘you bloody man give me that camera, hand over the reel now’. He caught hold of the fellow, roughed him up nice and proper before taking out the reel from his camera and shoved him hard back into the crowd saying ‘You want to publish our photograph in the newspapers as if we are beggars? ’ The man was stunned and was visibly scared to even respond.
Not a single person came to the rescue of that journalist, not even one out of the crowd of two hundred right in the capital of their own country stepped forward. Instead, some of them were giggling and some even cheering – right in the middle of our national capital. I was wondering what they were cheering for. I was too small then but was enraged- and hung my head in shame thinking what would have happened if six of us had behaved this way in any western country. I am sure the crowd there would have clobbered us and made mincemeat out of us.
I could hardly ever forget this incident. The shame of Indians being rebuked by those who did not belong here, in our own country, stayed with me for a long time. It made me realise just how colonised in our mind we really were. We were willing to be treated as third-class citizens in our country by a bunch of foreigners who were begging for money in front of us. I wondered if it was Stockholm syndrome. PTSD perhaps? Or just our innate need to please those who look down upon us.
Almost fifty years later on the 26th January- our republic day- I had the same uneasy feeling. I felt like a slumdog. I saw people falling over each other- and mind you sane and so-called educated elite and intellectuals- praising a movie which had nothing good to talk about us. In fact, it was a repulsive display of western arrogance. Every channel, every newspaper and magazine in India was giving its full bandwidth to Slumdog millionaire – a movie that makes you feel sick as an Indian. I was wondering what this cheering was all about as I had wondered in front of the coffee house almost fifty years ago.
The success of a movie that has been made to display every negative of our society- prostitution, begging, maiming of children and much more is being celebrated by all and sundry in India. In one masterstroke, slumdog millionaire created more than one billion slumdogs living in India and abroad. “Jai Ho, Slum dogs Ki Jai Ho!” Oh yes there was a song also ‘Jai ho’ by A.R Rehman, Sukhwinder Singh giving the best performance of their lifetime which ricocheted in my empty numb mind
Please don’t give us this bullshit. We all are aware of our shortfalls. We know the problems of our country – corruption, poverty et al. But we don’t need the West to showcase it as poverty-porn.
As a young boy, I was confused. That day I was angry. I was very angry at every slumdog, whether he is a Slumdog poster boy or a slumdog socialite appreciating this movie or a slumdog journalist writing about it or a slumdog film critic giving four and a half stars.
‘There are protests by the socialites when an actor is shown smoking in a movie but not flutter when the West shames us. Two hundred people couldn’t call a ‘white beggar’ a beggar fifty years ago and now, one billion of us don’t have the guts to protest when they show us as a rotting society which actually is not that bad.’
We have moved miles ahead.
Who can change us? Or can we ever change and stand up for our honour and pride? The pride of a civilisational state looted by the very West that shames us today? I thought as a kid and still think as an adult Indian. We needed a leader who could show us the way.
This thought again rang a bell when our Prime Minister Narendra Modi in one of his speeches, I think it was on the floor of the parliament said ‘Till today we are so enamoured and start behaving sheepishly when we see a white skin.’ Spot on sir.
One thing is for sure, after 2014 every Indian worth his salt feels proud of being an Indian. This is not to say that none of us was proud of being Indian before PM Modi was the leader of India. But after 2014, patriotism was mainstreamed.
Yet, some had a problem when PM Modi thought of a statue of unity and made it in record time- double the height of the statue of liberty which every Indian visits when on a much-awaited vacation in the USA. Some even claimed that this kind of money should not be wasted on statues. They were not above putting a price tag on our own honour – What is a flag of a nation? A piece of cloth with some colour plastered on it and your soldier gives his life for that to keep flying high. Shame on such thinking.
Arthur C. Clarke once said, ‘There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum’. And ours does not.
Things have fast-tracked for 1.4 Billion of us since 2014. ‘Bharat badal raha hai’. Today we are a power to reckon with. As I write this piece, we have crossed 105 Crore covid vaccinations in the country leaving the West far behind.
IMF projects India’s GDP growth at 8.5% for the year 2022. We are moving slowly but surely to hit the mark of five trillion dollar economy.
Today, we no longer apologetically own our nationality or even our faith. Today, when the West writes desperate headlines trying to undermine our democracy, we know the motives and we have the spine to say, “look at your own country first. We are no longer slaves to your whims”. Today, when the New York Times publishes an article saying that our space ambitions are too lofty, we tell them off and we aim for the stars. We are no longer shackled by our past and we are no longer enslaved by our heathen guilty. Today, we stand toe-to-toe and rescue the world from a pandemic, by supplying made-in-India vaccines. Today, we realise that India is not just a political state, it is an ancient civilisation that we are duty-bound to protect.
My time has come. Our time has come.