While I was exchanging the latest gossips of our same-old-same-old life with a friend in U.S. over a Skype call, we steered over to the topic of how the movie ‘Slumdog Millionare‘ and the book ‘The White Tiger‘ have changed the Western mindset towards India. Suddenly from the country of Elephants, yoga, Kamasutra and snake charmers, India is now a nation where ‘all’ the poor kids are blinded and turned into beggars. Where poor drivers from Bihar fantasise to ‘dip their beaks’ in a women with golden white hair.
There is no point in denying the fact that both the movie and the book are spot on. Yes, Jamal can be any of the thousands of slum kids in India who lost his mother during the riots and cheated tourists in Taj Mahal. Yes, Balram Halwai can be any of the numerous drivers on the roads of Delhi who have broken away from the ‘darkness’ and come to the ‘light’. But, the problem is in the generalization. Needless to say that a work of fiction is incomplete without a tinge of tragedy, a question which my friend S asked me and which set me thinking was –
“Have you ever done any of the things shown in the movie or the book? If no, then where is your story? Why doesn’t anyone write about you? Just because that won’t sell?”
Yes, maybe that won’t sell. The most tragic thing that has happened to me is when a friend of mine lied to me. This is hardly something comparable to what happened to Ammu in ‘The God of Small Things‘ or to Krishna in ‘Salaam Bombay‘ or to Biju in ‘The Inheritance of Loss‘.
A story of an individual cannot be superimposed on a whole nation. I had a very normal childhood. I belong to an average middle class family where we were taught about the thin line between necessity and luxury. I never dropped out of the school but passed out with top grades. I went to the best University in the country and had a blast during my college life. I did my post graduation from another top University in India and immensely enjoyed my hostel life with a great set of friends. I have been working with the best IT firm in India from the last 4 years and everything in my life is very very smooth. I have not done anything which Jamal did or Balram Halwai did.
There is a whole generation of millions of Indians who have grown up like me. We never had an imperative need to rob someone for money or bribe someone to cover up a murder. We don’t live in slums and never carried guns. We work in air conditioned offices and travel by our cars. I am not undermining the fact that people like Balram and Jalam exist, but India right now is like two colliding galaxies. There are two entirely different worlds which coexist. My British colleague who came to India last year asked me –
‘How do you cope up with all that? How does your mind grapple the fact that on one side of the road, there is a high rise with swanky offices and on the other side there is a beggar sleeping on the road?’
I had no answer. All I could tell him was that not very far in the distant past, there were no high rise. So, we have taken a leap. We are in fact in the middle of a leap, suspended in mid air, with one leg forward and one backward. We may fail badly or with an extra push, we may make a world record. There is no nation in this world which has not coped up with poverty and corruption at one point of time. Right now its our turn.
We have a very tenacious tendency of adhering to our prejudiced mindsets and to believe in what suits us. When someone shows us half a painting and asks us to believe that what he is showing is the full painting, we do, as long us that ‘suits’ us. As long as it makes us feel better about our own life.
They were important stories. Stories which need to be told. But they are not the only stories. They are not the only truth. Generalizing something and being partial or biased can be very easy but as every White man is not a racist, as every Muslim is not a terrorist, as every leader is not as brainless as Bush and as ruthless as Hitler, as every Maharashtrian does not support Bal Thackeray, as every Hindu is not a vegetarian, as every American is not money minded, as every Britisher is not a snob, as every Australian is not a criminal, similarly, every Indian is not a Balram Halwai.
[The image is that of a Metro Station in New Delhi with an enormous statue of Hanuman in the backdrop]