The New Orientalism – Pt 2

Ok, so having taken the last week or so to cool off, and re-compose my thoughts, offer a half-apology to the author coupled with an invitation to coffee it’s time to post a reply to the reply to my ‘attack’ on Aziz’s blog (the URL for which can be found in my previous post, or on Blogger.com as a Blog of Note, at least at the time of going to Press).
First of all, to be fair, my critique was a bit too personal. It shouldn’t have been, because there are probably at least a million such stories floating out there, and this just happens to be the (un)lucky one which got noticed – appearing in the “Blogs of Note” section, which this Voice happens to visit every once in a while to escape the drudgery of outsourced computer programming.
So here is my reply:

Although I was excited to see my ancestral homeland of Kutch (Gujarat), my primary motivation to come to India was to explore and experience India, gain some understanding of the plight of India�s more than 300,000,000 poor people and get some work experience with an NGO (non-government organization).

The part of this that bothers me is that “Gain Some Understanding of the plight of more than 300 million poor people living in India”. My problem with this is just that. By your figure there are 300 million people who are defined as “poor”. What does that mean? Are they starving? Lacking a roof over their heads? They can’t afford a TV? All? And once we’ve decided what poor means, are we really going to apply this blanket term to 300 Million people, who speak different languages, have different religions, customs, cusines? You say you want to understand the plight of these 300 Million people. I’m just wondering why the remaining 700 Million people hold no fascination for you. Or the fact that we went from having 500 Million poor people 57 years ago, when our young nation was born to 300 Million today. Why do those 200 Million people who struggled their way upwards hold no interest to you? And how many people need to be lifted out of poverty for somebody to be able to visit India to gain an insight for reasons other than the plight of its X number of poor people?

Yes, you made your purpose and intent clear in your reply, and maybe I should just leave you alone and move on. But you see, Blogger.com has decided that you’ve written something noteworthy. And the fact is that although most of us blog for ourselves, I think we all know that someone, somewhere will be reading. So again, I’m just curious why the remaining 700 million (by your figures) Indians don’t hold any interest for you…

My posts focus on poor rural areas because I am working for an NGO that seeks to improve the livelihoods of poor, rural Indians. I came to India to work with poor people and I spent much of my time surrounded by poor people, so it follows naturally that my blog speaks at length of the problems of rural India

This would have been a fair point, until you mentioned the sweeping generalisations about Pasta and the News channels, among other things. Surely that’s not Rural India you’re talking about… (yes, that still rankles. How widespread are samosas out in the ‘boonies’ of NewFoundland).

In your sharp criticism of my blog, you seem to have bitten into an apple and yelled, “THIS IS THE WORST TOMATO I’VE EVER TASTED!”.

Nope, it was more like, DANGNABBIT, another tomato posing as an apple! @!#@@!@!!!!!

Tarun, I think you are wrong to think that one has to plunge oneself into the most backward pasts of your country to find poverty–it stares me in the face in Ahmedabad, and its surrounds me whever I travel in rural areas.

Ok first off, I have never stated you only find poverty in the most backward parts. However as stated in one of my previous blogs, there is The Filth Factor. Which means that even in the parts of the city/country that are rich/well off, things look like they’ve just been bombed out of existence by a Pakistani fighter swarm, coupled with the fresh smell of a mass urination. There are many reasons for this, which I may go into at some later date. But the fact is that, being a newcomer to this country, you confuse filth/laxity/apathy/anarchy with poverty. And those attributes aren’t always connected.

The vast majority of your countrymen cannot afford to eat at the Olive Bar and Kitchen.

The reason that Olive Bar & Kitchen was mentioned was in response to the statement – “They must not know what Pasta is in India”. The answer is that quite a significant number of people do. But I fail to see how Pasta-awareness is an indicator of a high-standard of living.

I wouldn’t presume to guess your background as you have mine, but I think you should get out to some villages, meet some poor people, play with their kids and understand their problems–you’ll appreciate the beautiful restaurants of Delhi that much more, and you’ll find yourself angry the next time you read about “India Shining”.

I have been out to villages. I have driven from New Delhi to Chandigarh while National Highway 1 was under construction for wideneing an repaving. We had to detour through at least 3 villages on our way to Ambala. I have also driven to Ludhiana and Patiala and stopped in many places in between. Unfortunately, these are villages of Punjab and Haryana. According to a recent edition of India Today, Punjab is the richest state in the Union. So basically, the fact that the people in the villages of Punjab and Haryana have raised their standard of living means that they won’t fall under your 300 million poor people, or in anybody else’s definition. They will basically drop off the map until they either get poor enough to starve, and thus merit a “juicy” blog entry, or when the level of prejudice (i.e. low-caste killings, murder of girl childs e.t.c) rises to a newsworthy threshold.
And I don’t find myself angry about India Shining, but I don’t blame you for it. This is your first trip to India. So you have nothing to compare it to. But I have a lot of timeslices to compare – 1983-89, 1991-97, 2002-today. And I can confidently say that as a 57-year-old nation India is at its brightest now. Of course, the light is still dim. But it will grow brighter, and much, much faster than you think.

(The offer for coffee is still valid, btw)

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