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Playing up the Indian story

Last winter, Eddie the builder was working on our kitchen and the conversation turned to politics one day.

world Updated: Sep 28, 2010 00:08 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar
Dipankar De Sarkar
Hindustan Times

Last winter, Eddie the builder was working on our kitchen and the conversation turned to politics one day. Disgusted by British MPs fiddling expenses and pocketing money paid by hardworking taxpayers, Eddie said he was thinking about voting for the United Kingdom Independent Party.

Apparently unmindful of UKIP’s soft anti-immigrant rhetoric, Eddie said, “Until you Indians take control of politics here, nothing will change.” Why? Because he had read about how Indians had made a mark in British life and business.

After the fiasco of the Commonwealth Games preparations, I have a feeling Eddie won’t be quite so sure. In India, some powerful voices have spoken of a mix of genuine lack of preparedness and ‘negative Third World stereotypes.’

There is some truth in how the rich view developing countries through their lenses, and the press in Britain is as guilty as anyone else. But to cite foreign perceptions in part-justification for incomplete building works is to hide behind a seel-through fig leaf: it fools no one.

“How did this happen?” asked a news broadcaster. “We are used to speaking about India in terms of 8 or 9 per cent growth, an emerging superpower.” But, of course, that too is a stereotype – taken out of context, as much a lie as the one that views the entire developing world as one giant loo.

How India is perceived in Britain through the popular media is a fascinating story of history, politics, race and class. This is a literate land where social standing, economic class and political allegiances decide which newspaper you read and TV news you watch. Each creates and reinforces a worldview that is only part of the story.

India is never far from the news. How it is shown depends on the media you consume: in general, poverty on the left; booming economy on the right. But suddenly, we seem to be back where we began, when poverty and corruption were the only stories in town.

These days, Eddie’s accomplished NRIs are all in a dump. They needn’t be. The truth lies somewhere between the stereotypes we love or loathe, between success and wretched failure. So it must be with the Games.

First Published: Sep 28, 2010 00:07 IST