As we mark 70 years of independence I can't help but feel how less of an inward looking people we have become. While it's easy to see how, to quote Nehru, a 'nation long suppressed' slowly finds its feet after two centuries of subjugation, it's hard to justify two traits we as a people consciously or sub-consciously exhibit - self neglect and self doubt. These are characteristics amplified by our ubiquitous media - which therefore is my bugbear here.
To start with, our media seems to have gradually turned lesser and lesser Indo-centric with each passing year. While it's a fact that we no longer live in a socialist cocoon and are intertwined economically with the major world powers that be, we often misunderstand the nature of our global assimilation by needlessly focusing on foreign local issues that are hardly relevant to the Indian populace. We do this at the cost of the now mundane but more pressing problems the Indian common man (sic) faces. As the 24X7 media evolves the myriad stories that impact India gradually seem to have been accorded tier II status. A recent example would be the coverage that 'Charlottesville' received as opposed to the trickle given to Medha Patkar's 17 day long fast or the Floods that continue to ravage and displace large swathes of poor in Asom, Bihar and Bengal. The distress in agriculture including the incessant farmer suicides, our killer roads, sanitation (or what passes for it) and crime against women are all now banal items for the media and merit attention only when the afflicted involve someone influential (like say the Chandigarh stalking case) or when the story has 'shock value' (like the farmer protests in Delhi few months ago). I for one can't recall a single tragedy that has happened in the country which was accurately flagged or forewarned by our media. While the media does do well to reflect and even stoke popular rage after events such as 'Gorakhpur' it rarely works as a pro-active, pre-emptive watchdog that highlights shortcomings in governance before a situation worsens and eventually collapses. And we shouldn't even get into trivialities such as on how well the media sustains its investigations or actually 'follows up'. I remember, that after having turned a nelson's eye to the long spate of over 40 politically connected murders surrounding the dubious government recruitment exams in a state, a certain veteran journo once furiously tweeted in 2015 and vowed to cover the 'Vyapam scam' everyday till justice is done. As expected, this bravado fizzled out within days. And of late, to make matters worse, media houses have aligned themselves in two distinct camps - pro and anti government (an unwanted American import). Any residual hopes of meaningful, objective reportage thus go crashing further. All this proves how our media is still hands-off rather than hands-on with our issues that warrant attention and a sense of activist news coverage.
Another curious obsession our media shows is on how their foreign counterparts cover Indian happenings. Be it a sporting achievement by our national team or a near-positive, albeit dubious, statistic on the economy, our fourth estate fervently projects an op-ed or a quote by any non-Indian straight into our living rooms. We suddenly find hitherto unknown, and potential lightweight, columnists writing paeans on our growth figures and other achievements which we Indians ourselves find circumspect. A sporting icon is not regarded great till he or she is validated by a foreign expert. All this is however very much inline with the general Indian longing for acceptance by the 'international community' (euphemism for Caucasians as the dark skinned don't qualify). The way we Indians suddenly metamorphosize into a courteous, well mannered pal when in the company of a foreigner goes beyond our role of being a gratuitous host and into the realm of desperate praise-seekers. In the alien's presence, our slums, sewers, our legendary sexism are all brushed under the carpet and the glitzy malls, cinema halls, monuments and natural beauty are put up on display. All this to quench that urge to impress the visitor with our uncertain sense of self existence. In the process though we come across like tail wagging dogs somehow vying to get strangers to pat them. Athithidevo 'bow-wow'. And be it our news presenters on TV, airline staff or hotel staff - they all seem to bend over backwards to ensure traveling guests "blend in". To give the "international feel", the airline crew in our private carriers dress only in western formals leaving the poor ol' Government carrier Air India to carry the flag of tradition and adopt Indian wear for its staff. A similar fear leads our corporations (Indian MNCs) to believe in the more "accepting" nature of western styles. For some reason, saris, salwars, kurtas are symbolic wear reserved only for national holidays. My gripe is limited to their formal wear, I must add, as I barely care how anyone dress off duty. Another instance of our nervousness is the time when our tinpot rulers got their occasional fit of cultural pride and started to rechristen our cities by dropping their colonial names and adopting their indigenous/historical names. It would've been completely valid to ask if the Government had no other pressing issues instead of such antics. But instead, the popular war-cry that citizens came out with was "This will affect adversely impact the city's global brand and image". We actually believe that foreigners are imbeciles who will invest and do business with India by factoring such reasons! Apparently, better policies, permissions, improved infrastructure and corruption are only secondary to anglicized names and western attire. This unending search for external certification continues to carry us to mindless heights. I also remember, a couple of years ago, an Indian news agency had put up a tweet of a photo of PM Modi's official plane parked right next to POTUS's air force one on the apron of an airport during a global meet. That the news agency thought it worthy to put up this piece of information is another manifestation of our larger malaise. Perhaps, deep down, we're still slaves and perhaps we, as the famous line in the movie Lagaan goes, 'Hamesha jooti ke neeche hi rahega!'. I wonder if some of my countrymen would not be slighted and in fact take solace in the fact that this Hindi line as it was delivered by an English actor in an anglicized accent.
Happy Independence day!