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Why do we prefer Western success stories over Indian ones?

The story of a 17-year-old Indian-origin girl living in the US who got through to all the eight Ivy League schools featured prominently on the front pages of newspapers on Sunday.

ht view Updated: Apr 12, 2015 15:23 IST
Abhishek Saha
Abhishek Saha
Hindustan Times
Pooja Chandrashekar,Ayush Sharma,Kanpur

The story of a 17-year-old Indian-origin girl living in the US who got through to all the eight Ivy League schools featured prominently on the front pages of newspapers on Sunday.

In contrast, the story of a 17-year-old son of a mechanic from Kanpur who made it to the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) with a scholarship of Rs 1 crore was barely reported by the media.

Pooja Chandrashekar's story of how she scored an admission to 14 top US universities, including the eight Ivy League schools, was lapped up by readers. On the other hand, Ayush Sharma's story -of daring to dream about and obtaining an admission to MIT despite the financial constraints of his parents did not get the same type of response.

Pooja's parents are NRI techies - her mother works as a software engineer and her dad as a network engineer. They both obtained their master's degrees in the US after migrating from Bengaluru nearly 25 years ago. Ayush's story is starkly different. His parents had never enrolled in a college - his father has a diploma from polytechnic while his mother studied up to Class 12. Ayush will be the first person in his family to get a college education.

But both success stories are comparable. In fact, Ayush's struggle makes for a more compelling read than Pooja's in many ways - it showcases the struggles of the lower-middle class Indian at a time when pursuing quality education is a costly affair.

The story should have resonated with a section of the population that is quite different from those who share the same socio-economic status of Pooja's engineer parents in Virginia - but then we Indians have somehow preferred to bask in the reflected glory of the diaspora in far corners of the world.

The bias points to how we often attach more importance to achievers and success stories from abroad, when, at the same time, similar -or in fact more astonishing stories - never get our attention at home. It also alludes to what a rising class of aspiring Indians tends to relate to.

It gets worse when in the perusal of glamorous celebratory stories from the West, down-to-earth stories from India's hinterlands are lost in the clutter.

For example, while following every bit of news about US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard's lavish wedding ceremony on a beach in Hawaii, we overlook how debt-ridden villagers in Madhya Pradesh recently took the step of cutting down on wedding expenses, which they felt served no purpose other than succumbing to societal pressures.

Do we know as much about the brains behind India's Mangalyaan mission to Mars as we do about scientific developments in the West? Or do we focus on our artistes as much as we do on how many children which Hollywood start adopts?

In an unevenly globalised world, a popular sentiment of painting a hagiographic portrait of things Western and denouncing everything else is also observed. In fact, intellectuals like Pankaj Mishra have argued that such a tilt in the popular narrative towards the joys and woes of the Western world is the result of a long history of economic inequality, imperialism and violence.

On the popular culture dominated by the Western take, Mishra said in an interview, "In this 'universalist' and 'cosmopolitan' perspective from the West, the parochial-minded native always responds and reacts, he doesn't initiate anything or have original thoughts, let alone a history, of his own. But, you know, it is getting too late for this kind of ideological trickery."

It's easy to criticise a country but to do something for a constructive change needs a lot of introspection - and the more we do so, the better it is.

(The views of the author are personal. He can be reached at @saha_abhi1990)

First Published: Apr 12, 2015 13:42 IST