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June 23, 1997


Farzana Versey

It is possible to taste the thunder only if you do not get blinded by the lightning

Rajesh Karkera's montage Isn't it wonderful that India will now feel a part of the global family, what with the coming of Dove soap and Coca-Cola?" This question was addressed to me in all earnestness by an American lady. My reply left her incredulous; she marveled at my cynicism in the face of such wondrous delights.

I do believe that instead of feeling a part of the international arena, a new snobbish middle-class will make its presence felt. It will save and scrimp not because of a global phenomenon, but because it is so awfully important to tell your neighbour that you have got something from out there.

What I am saying is nothing new. Inherent in the American's query is a very disturbing issue -- does one necessarily begin to understand globalism and become a part of it only on the strength of encouraging its consumer appeal? Does the Englishman feel more global when he espies a Mahindra jeep on the streets of London, since he is most unlikely to ride in it? Does the fashion designer in Paris feel more global because he uses Indian silks? Why is it that the yardstick for globalism is always western?

Because, whether we like it or not, we cannot escape the Occident. From the kinds of shoes we wear to our toothbrushes, westernisation has touched us and shall continue to do so until we have the sagacity and commitment to become another Japan.

Most conflicts in Indian society arise out of this fence-setting. We are unable to accept either position. Have you realised that we feel and call ourselves Indian only when we are placed at odds with other cultures? I do not feel Indian at any time except when expected to have an opinion on Indianness.

We become victims of westernisation anyway. We value ourselves when outsiders value us. Snake charmers are not the figment of someone's imagination, it is what we have built up in the absence of anything more durable.

On the other hand, we discover our own mettle through discarding anything western. In these very pages, I read an amazing bit about a Delhi socialite who decided to go ethnic when she realised she could not communicate with the tribals unless she dressed like them. The tragedy is that this socialite has made a farce of a simple thing like communication. She wears what those tribals will never be able to afford and, by imitating them with her gaucherie, she not only makes a spectacle of herself but also reduces them to the level of parody.

Fortunately, not many people have to encounter her in the course of the day; at least, not too many tribals. The point is, we have not learnt the art of balancing things. The art lies in accepting without being overwhelmed. We subscribe to the latter view to such an extent that even discarding it becomes something akin to a circus performance.

Consumerism cannot be controlled as long as the need to be superior than the next bloke exists. Besides, if anything, it is MTV that has given our singers an opportunity and made us part of the global family. The idea is to keep your doors open for others to enter without vacating the house to let them take over.

It is possible to taste the thunder together only if you do not get blinded by the lightning.

Montage: Rajesh Karkera

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Farzana Versey