So the Beijing Olympics have begun, and you know what that means. Two things that have kept us happy and occupied for the past few weeks will have to, unfortunately, end.
The first is the whining that begins with reassuring regularity, precisely eight weeks before any international sports event, about how, when it comes to sports, India is such a joke. (Reassuring because, given how lackadaisical we are about time, it’s good to see how stringent we are about this schedule.) And the second, specifically in the case of these Olympics, is all the jokes that sports jokes like us have been making about China.
I must say the second will cause me much grief. It’s been great fun to read about China’s Olympics preparations and come up with corny cracks. For instance, the reports about how citizens were trained to smile at tourists led so easily to “and everyone with bad teeth was sent into exile”. The story about how locals were taught to guide tourists just called for “Tiananmen Square? Solly, no such prace.” And the reports about the air quality in Beijing naturally led to “There are no gas chambers in China’s prisons. They’re not necessary.”
It was only while I gleefully ‘entertained’ my colleagues with one-liners while we watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics on Friday that I began to feel bad about the cracks I was making about China.
As I watched the incredible multimedia percussion display and commented, “One finger out of place and they’ll all be shot,” and then gazed at the adorable little girl who sang so sweetly and said, “They scoured the country for the cutest kid, and now they’ve got her whole family hostage in case she sings a note wrong,” my glance fell on the book I’m currently reading, and I had to shut up.
The book is David Devdas’s In Search of a Future: The Story of Kashmir and though it’s much more than a listing of the human rights abuses that a lot of Kashmiris routinely have to put up with, it was a very timely reminder that, just as I can cheerfully make cracks about our undemocratic neighbour, a lot of the world can equally cheerfully take potshots at us.
Devdas’s book is a very detailed and objective account of the Kashmir situation. But because it’s so impartial — Devdas has managed to avoid the position we take on Kashmir, that no matter what, it’s ours and that’s that — it made me think about other places in India with similar ‘situations’. And how easy it is for us, the readers of newspapers like this, to forget that if you’re a poor person in India, you don’t even have to live in a state that has a ‘situation’. Your human rights exist only in a whacking great book called the Constitution of India. Nowhere else.
China doesn’t have a constitution like ours, so it’s an easy target. We have the world’s most idealistic charter of existence. But for many of us, it’s just a book.