Google hosted the Big Tent Summit in New Delhi this week, bringing together under one-roof politicians, thinkers, speakers and item numbers, all of whom were Shashi Tharoor. The subjects discussed included freedom of speech on the net and the planned expansion of broadband services in India so as to make the web accessible to everyone from yuppies to monks to the lost pygmy tribes currently living in Kapil Sibal’s eyebrows. Meanwhile, Facebook also continued to be relevant and cutting-edge by changing its layout once again. Not to be left behind, Orkut promised that it was new and improved, with upto 37% fewer paedophiles than before.
One of the more interesting discussions revolved around the use of social media by politicians, and how important it was, given that only a tiny minority of voters are online, with the rest being pre-occupied with mundane things like not dying. Shashi Tharoor and Omar Abdullah were part of this discussion because they’re very active on Twitter and engage directly with citizens, receiving fruitful communication such as, “ZOMG CHO CUTE!”, “MARRY ME!” and “AYE GHAR PE JAA, RAPIDEX KI AULAAD!”
But the star attraction had to be the tech-savvy Narendra Modi. He’s one of the most popular Indian politicians online, with about 1.3 million Twitter followers, most of whom describe themselves as ‘Proud Indian, dipped in Indian, fried in Indian, served with proud Indian mash, no beef thankyouverymuch’. He was the only Chief Minister invited to deliver an address. Makes sense. You couldn’t have, say, Mamata Banerjee, on this platform. The only time she uses the net is when she googles ‘MILF’, i.e. Maoists I’d Like to Find.
Google’s executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, also spoke at the event, but before that, he’d had a very interesting meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee, whose accent he described as “Bengali dubstep”. Schmidt was optimistic about the increasing number of internet users in India, and the potential they represent. Then again, these are the same people who put Poonam Pandey in the ‘Top Three Googled People’ in India last year.
(Poonam Pandey is such a great marketer. She makes all these tantalising promises, gets people excited, and then just leaves them hanging. She’s like the UPA with STDs.)
But yes, Indians do google the weirdest things. For example, some of the search terms that have led people to my blog are — and I’m not making any of these up — “www.sexinlocaltrain.com”, so now you know about the existence of a Virar fetish, and “Nutcracker Reema Lagoo”, which sounds like the world’s most terrifying sex position.
I’m all for freedom on the internet, seeing as how I write, perform and am really fond of all my limbs and other appendages, and would miss them if they were cut off. Unfortunately, this is a concept lost on hardcore fans of, let’s say, Teams Amar, Akbar, Anthony and Amarjeet. (We also have Team Ardheshir, but it may cease to exist by the time you finish reading this sentence.)
In virtual India, Team Amar seems to be the angriest of the lot, because hey, it’s perfectly logical to feel threatened for being the most powerful majority in the world’s largest democracy. But what do I know? I’m just a “sickular” agent of the paid media who was conceived as part of the ruling party’s secret scheme to one day topple Team Amar using an army of comedians. Then again, if you believe in flying anthropoids, you’ll believe anything.
(This is where Team Amar would chide me for not being bold enough to make Team Akbar jokes. Not true. I just think it’s heartless to pick on people who’ve already suffered so much by missing out on bacon and beer.)
So given such concerns, it was great to see the issue of internet freedom being addressed at the Big Tent by, um, Kapil Sibal, who said that the government would never, ever do anything to jeopardise it, mummy promise. This was followed by a flurry of questions from the audience, mostly about who his dealer was. The only way this could’ve been topped was if Hannibal Lecter had given a speech on the virtues of a Jain diet.
Everything said and done, it'll be interesting to see what happens when internet penetration in India, currently at 12%, rises up to current American levels, i.e. 80%. It'll be great for everyone, except maybe Reema Lagoo.
Ashish Shakya is a writer and a stand-up comic. He co-writes the TV satire, The Week That Wasn’t. Sometimes he’s even sober while doing so