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Race to the bottom

The editorial piece in the launch issue of GQ that laid into the negativity of ‘foreign guests’ was inaccurate and verged on the offensive, writes Barney Henderson.

india Updated: Oct 13, 2008 21:35 IST
Barney Henderson

Are expats flocking to India just for the cash? Do they spend their time in this country constantly moaning about poor infrastructure, Indian standard time and widespread corruption?

It’s true that some are no doubt here to capitalise on the country’s booming economy and others do moan about the challenges thrown up by Indian cities while lionising their western homelands.

However, the editorial piece in the launch issue of GQ that laid into the negativity of ‘foreign guests’ was inaccurate and verged on the offensive. It also seems to me that the magazine has shot itself in the foot, considering that expats and returning NRIs are part of the magazine’s target readership. In fact, the lightweight first issue that is a pale imitation of the British and US editions of GQ might have been enough to turn them off.

In what can only be described as the height of irony, the fashion / lifestyle glossy magazine wrote: “While you’re here, try not to get too uppity about the potholes, the uncollected garbage, the rigid bureaucracy, the rural poverty, the corruption – that’s our job.”

For a magazine concerned with keeping India’s elite informed about the latest trends in designer wear, with a cover fashion shoot at the Four Seasons with Saif Ali Khan, this struck me as a remarkable statement.

It’s true that there are many new arrivals who are here to make money, but I can assure you that they do not spend their time complaining about the shock of living here. The few that do are unpopular, unlikable characters, who often leave because they simply can’t adjust to the chaos. The rest of us settle in without problems, love the place, forge strong friendships and hopefully contribute to whatever sector we work in — media, financial services, hospitality or charity work. A huge proportion of the foreigners living here work for NGOs, often as volunteers. It is telling that a burgeoning superpower still needs foreign charities to tackle issues of rural poverty and the rich-poor divide.

Further, the tirade turns to returning NRIs. While graciously welcoming them back, it warns them to “stop banging on about your bi-cultural confusion and anguished search for identity”. Hardly very welcoming to the returning desi .who might have picked up the familiar magazine on arrival at the airport.

Finally, the magazine falls into that well-worn trap of colonial insecurities: “When we’re a superpower, we promise not to invade your countries, knock over your governments and plunder your natural resources (if you’ve got any left).” The statement only seems to support claims by an international media panel at last year’s HT leadership summit that in India self-confidence can easily turn into arrogance.

For India to become a superpower, with truly multi-national cities, it needs international workforces and partnerships. Attitudes, such as those peddled by GQ, will only send them to Beijing.