Monday, December 1, 2008

Angrez Chale Gaye II

A thought: If we Indians happened to be white in skin colour, like the firangs, and if someone saw one of us walking down the street, would he be able to guess our nationality? Would he be able to tell whether we are Indian, or American or European? Probably not. And why? Because today, where everything from clothing to behaviour is being homogenized, where everyone talks the same language, wears the same clothes, similar to everyone else even in mannerisms, it’s only our skin colour that establishes our uniqueness.

Because we are the urban Indians. And like the Americans living on the other side of the globe, we talk in English and think in English, wear t-shirts and jeans when casual and suits and ties when formal, have coffee rather than tea. All whitewashed. If one thinks about it, food preferences are perhaps the only thing that have still not changed; although we love burgers and pizzas and pastas, most would maintain that rice and dal is what is best for everyday consumption.

It is fascinating to see the gradual shift in Indian lifestyle in the years after independence. The British Raj insured that Indians would never again be comfortable with their own identity; the five-cubit-tall sahib would forever hold a psychological edge over the third-world, backward Indian. Even before the British left us, this inferiority complex had settled itself in the Indian psyche. To emulate the foreigner in everything he did, to talk, dress and behave like him, indeed to be him, has always been the Indian’s ulterior, if not declared, goal. Of course, this phenomenon, this aspiration to become someone else is not just restricted to our country, but to many others which have been subjected to colonial rule.

But curiously, this desire to ‘be’ English has faded away gradually. To be replaced by an affinity for everything American. And the sort of maniacal attachment the young urban Indians have for it is rather interesting, when not annoying. One look around and it’s easy to recognize how much American preferences have permeated into our own lives. The introduction and subsequent success of fast food joints, the coming up of brands like Levi Strauss and Dockers, the market for American films (or rather, ‘movies’, which are always, by some unwritten law, better than the material we produce here), the stupendous speed at which coffee joints have opened (and tea centres have disappeared), the inception of words like ‘stuff’ and ‘bucks’ in everyday conversation, our carelessness in spelling ‘colour’ as ‘color’ and ‘centre’ as ‘center’ etc etc. The Indian obsession for education in the ‘States’ tops it all. American college t-shirts are so popular and common now that the last time I visited Sarojni Nagar in Delhi, I even saw a roadside shop selling fake cheap red sweatshirts with ‘UCLA’ printed on them.

Of course, for most parts, this inclination towards American attitudes is but natural. What Big Mac does, the Toms, Dicks and Harrys do it too. The Americans are, after all (and I borrow a phrase rather famous in diplomatic circles), ‘the shaper of global sentiment’. But even if you leave this very human tendency aside, they deserve most of what they have managed to do. American universities are some of the best in the world, Levi Strauss is the last word in casual wear, McDonalds does deserve its status for the sheer quality of the food it has to offer. And till the day Indian brands come up with the same standards, the above are bound to stay on top.

But sometimes, it all becomes too much to take. They can’t be the world’s best in every single darn thing they do, can they? Sometimes, if not quite often, this phenomenon becomes rather nauseating to assimilate. Sometimes, if not quite often, one is bound to feel that that our little tendency here is only an inch short of blind aping. Sometimes, if not quite often, one is sure to think that if this continues to be the case, the Indian in us will slowly fade away, making us what an American Macaulay would love to see us as – Indians only by birth, but Americans in behaviour, lifestyle and education.

Of course, one might ask – Is that a problem we need to address? For me, it is. And yes, there are some solutions too that come to my mind. But leave all that for some other post, at some later date.