November 29, 2010 Off By Keshab Anand Pegu

A devil’s advocate perspective

Much of what we do are done without a proper motive- altruistic, ulterior, simplistic, aesthetic etc… We do things because it is ‘fashionable’. Because it is in vogue. This is the tragedy of modernity. The quick exchange of ideas and propagation of events owing to rapid proliferation of mass communication is to blame in certain ways. We are infused with so many doctrines and established tenets of understanding that we fail to see beyond what is fashionable. In the eventuality, we follow the flock- unaware and unconscious of an inherent individuality and thus the world huddles us a cattle. Aberrations and exceptions are equated with rebellion or at its worst, insanity.

When Obama was elected to the White House, Indian media was driven by an unprecedented frenzy; the political class across the plane: left, right and center hailing the mandate; people on the streets otherwise not even remotely concerned about or affected by US politics talked over sips of tea in dhabas about Obama and donning Obama-print T-shirts; intellectuals heaping unreserved praises on the maturity of US electorates and even I was treated with chicken pulao by my professor- allegedly left-oriented. After all, he was not only the president of the most powerful nation of the world, the leader with enviable oratory skill and the first colored man to occupy the post. Obama was a phenomenon- the man of the moment.

Next came the swearing-in ceremony. People were swayed by his oration and diction. The ceremony remains one of the most watched spectacles till date. Televised across the globe and newspapers doing stories as insignificant as the frequency of his hair cut, the barber who does it, the amount of time he takes at the breakfast table, the number of bacons he takes- their color, the brand, the store from where it is procured and who does it. The world came to know of ‘Air Force One’ ‘Marine One’ and ‘The Beast’ otherwise known only to those watching HBO or having access to pirated DVDs. Thus transformed Obama, the phenomenon to Obama, the culture. The cult of Obama had permeated to the extent that my cowherd friends- otherwise illiterate and happy, back in my village knows Barrack Obama but does not know who Pratibha Patil is.

Thanks to the TRP-crazy media, every Indian who has an idiot box or who has the time and resource to have his/her morning tea over a newspaper knows that Bo is the pet dog of Mr. President and a few curious among them know the breed of the first pet. It is water terrier. Stories about the choice, the procurement of the canine and its eventual adoption into the first family clogged newspapers over a weekend. On the face value of it, the coverage was a harmless endeavor had it not been at the cost of more pressing issues facing our nation. Unfortunately, farmer suicides or student harassment at the hands of insensitive education administrators and the like do not turn as many eyeballs as Obama and his dog.

As I write this essay, Mr. President is close to me. He is in Lutyens’ Delhi- a half-an-hour-drive distance from my campus and I can sense Obamania in the air. Today’s newspapers report of the unprecedented security cover by the blazer-donning smart personnels flown in from USA. While Indian security agencies have a dubious record of ineffectiveness, Obama’s retinue comprising of cooks, hair-dressers and masseurs is a dastardly act of condescension. This should not have gone down very well with the host but unfortunately, it has. Media has shown a similar enthusiasm covering everything regarding his tour including his daily ablutions. As he addresses the parliament showcasing his global leadership and the self-obsessed American panacea for problems facing the world at large, parliamentarians of all hues applaud.

There’s however another section of the society whose only rationale of existence is anti-Americanism. I hold no reservation in telling who they are. They are the so-called left. The numerous factions within the Left party(only God and Rajnikanth know how many of them exist!) have a common ground, a common launch pad i.e opposition to capitalism and in the present international scenario that is spearheaded by the US. If it is ‘fashionable’ to don American brands of clothes, it is even more ‘fashionable’ to portray oneself anti-US while being in the same attire. Che Guevara is an instant hit among youth thanks to the imprinted T-shirt and coffee mugs produced by MNCs based in the States. An estimate of the proceeds of these articles was done in the fall of 2009 and the figures were flabbergasting.

When heads of state visit another country, a large contingent of CEOs and top brass of military establishments accompany them. Political visits are thus entwined with commercial ventures and propagandist march. Obama’s cavalcade had a similar composition. It then goes without saying he is in pursuit of his fellow American interests and not to address our cross-border problems. Any such assumptions are at best naivety. India as a nation poised to be a ‘super-power’ (another term coined by some political scientists to eclipse hollow pompousness with official uncritical fist-pumping) cannot afford to be naive. She must not look up to Uncle Sam for solution to the problems of her children. Thus Obama’s visit may mean various things to various people. But the nation should neither be obsessed with the American wave nor should optimism of a better planet delegated to a foreign nation. Left parties seem to understand this fact albeit in a wrong manner. Since US is not the answer to our problems, it does not behoove sensible people to take it too seriously. But since, anti-US chants are in the DNA of the leftists and the very survival of the idea of Left-otherwise an obsolete one, thriving on these chants, I am not optimistic to see them introspecting their premises. Bashing the US is fashionable and not driven by any convictions.

Having said that, I do not discount the idea of America in the day-to-day life of Indians. On the contrary. My contention is that it is not the Nuke deals, Kerry Lugar bills that mean America to us. It is the idea of America- our computers, the brands of cloth we wear, the burgers we eat, the premium coffee we sip, our American accents and the American dream that we aspire for, etc…that has percolated in Indian soil which does not have any bearing on the president’s visit or the other way round. So long as McDonalds are seen in the posh location of our cities, BPOs in Bangalore, Gurgaon, Noida function,Levis jeans are worn and Hollywood movies are watched, the idea of America will last. Obama’s visit has no correlation- direct or indirect on this idea.

On a lighter note, I do not object to Obama coming to India except for the fact the first lady also accompanies him. Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush were any day better than Michelle. It would have been aesthetically better, though not politically correct, had Sarah Palin replaced Michelle. A good friend objects to my observations on the first lady. According to him, she’s graceful and carries herself with elegance. I don’t refute while maintaining in the same breath that she is not exactly the type of lady I would love to date.

(To Bhogeswar, my friend who cheats people- he works for SBI)

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