Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Nation of Perceptions

A few months back, I was in Bangalore. The city had decided to extend the timeline of bars from 11:30 PM to 1:30 AM. Times Of India had invited opinions on the extension. I read a letter supporting the extension thus: Bangalore was becoming a global city. That meant we have to behave like a global city - one of the characteristics is an active night life. So we have to encourage such a night life by keeping the bars open.

Over the course of the last few years I have seen this kind of weird arguments gaining ground. It was as if someone had suddenly given a title "Global City" to Bangalore and so Bangaloreans had to behave in certain ways. It did not matter that let alone Bangalore, NONE of the cities in India are truly developed or "Global" (whatever that means). To be considered devloped you need a measure of security; a good life for the citizens; truly accountable and representative city councils; vibrant community activism and so on. The writer of that letter, instead thought the other way round - if we behaved as citizens of developed cities do and we looked similar to them in costume and we spoke like them and ate like them, then we are automatically "Global".

India has become a nation of perceptions - our policy makers, media and intellectual elite have diverted our attention from true problems and focussed on correcting perceptions. For example, the concern about the state of our airports. The reason people worry about them is because white people land in them; God forbid they get the wrong opinion. So we try to erase slums near airports. Meanwhile, has anyone taken a look at the public busstands? Or train stations? Shouldn't some money be spent on them also? Yet everybody have raised the state of our airports to be a primary concern.
The whole India Shining campaign of the BJP Govt. is another example.
The belief is that we do not have systemic problems; that we need to do little other than rebrand ourselves. When you keep comparing a nation to a corporate structure, this is what happens - you focus on advertising and rebranding and not so much on the real issues facing us.

Bollywood is of course, a classic case study in this respect. Back in 2000 there was a big buzz about Bollywood going corporate and professional. They talked about how everyone now focussed on the "script" and how people expected Powerpoint presentation s on the script! 7 years later, Bollywood is in the worst rut it can be in. It is all style (that too cheesy) and no substance. The reason is that rebranding and marketing are not enough to correct the issues with Bollywood - they need a thorough overhaul. One of the problems (as in our political system) is the rise of the star dynasties. The other is that new talent never makes it in. And of course, they are focussing on the wrong audience (NRIs).

For a country as old and as new as ours, there are plenty of problems that need to be solved. We need to be debating why the educational outlay in our budget is so low (meanwhile our defense budget keeps growing). Instead, here we are discussing how long bars need to be kept open so that we can call ourselves "Global".


Sridhar said...

Talking of education - Whenever I see a tax line items in any bill, there are now two items - education cess and higher education cess. I wonder what the governments of the first 55 years did with our tax money towards education! More than that, what does the current government do with the money collected for education?

Any ideas?

Cynico said...

Probably to send a minister's daughter to Harvard!

Maheswari said...

Folks!! you people are missing to see the Primary education centres,noon meal schemes,free books,hostels for sc/st/obc etc. I will really appreciate govt effort in education and medical front [visit a govt hospital to see what they provide]. What is lacking is the intensity - they need to be more aggressive