India bashing, it seems, has become a profitable business. Kiran Desai did that in Inheritance of Loss with great success, so did Arundhati Roy in God of Small Things, closely followed by Arvind Adiga in The White Tiger.
The so-called all-pervasive poverty, rampant corruption and an aversion to change, all contribute material enough for the fertile mind to ponder upon and come out with award winning tomes, hailed world over for their ‘penetration’ and ‘in-depth analysis’.
Joining the ranks is Pulitzer winning Catherine Boo with her much-acclaimed book Behind the Beautiful Forevers. Ever since the ‘great’ Danny Boyle managed to eke some Oscars for his dour Slumdog Millionaire, Mumbai has turned into a happy hunting ground for recognition-hungry writers.
PLOT AND THEME
Boo does not deviate from the path. She is faithful to the pattern to the point of repetition. Take a Muslim youngster, make him the protagonist struggling against heavy odds, conjure a plot, where he comes face-to-face with the ugly side of the administration, add a bit of politics and the sad story of another victim is ready to be served. Thank you Boo, but for you we would never have known such things existed.
Boo traces her book’s theme to the opening up of Indian market for global players. The era of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation (LPG). How the mass euphoria of change and growth trickles down to the unfortunate dwellers of slums in the ‘City of Dreams’. How hopes are shattered, money made, clout established and lives go waste. How Hindus of the country take sadistic pleasure in robbing Muslims of their due rights and how politicians and corrupt officials are hand-in-gloves. Now, this won’t qualify as something new by modern standards where every now and then some researcher, some scholar or international journalist churns out papers on these aspects to snatch rewards. How the book qualified for worldwide glory is something an investigative book can be written about.
PILGRIMAGE TO THE THIRD WORLD
Of late journalists from well off nations have begun thronging third world countries in search of stories, which would depict religious and gender inequalities. Show the growth mantra of the nation in negative light, draw the attention of ‘intelligentsia’ towards the discrimination and ‘shake the very soul’ of European and American readers. May be such works give the writers a kind of sadistic pleasure and their audience a holier-than-thou feeling. Whatever be the cause, it has become a bit irritating.
In countries like America, where false sense of superiority is fed into children from childhood, and, if what I have read on the blogs of some Americans are true, gender laws are, to the point of discrimination, skewed in favour of women, it’s no wonder Boo finds India an abominable mess. She would want us to take the progressive path of her own war-torn, debt-ridden and culturally-handicapped nation.
Education in India has created a section of intellectuals, which likes to ponder on the shortcomings and deliberate upon remedial measures than actually do something. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is the kind of fodder that such a class would like to feast on. There are problems with India and denying the same would be an act of delusion. However, its not something incurable. India is a work in progress and most of its problems are those imported from the developed nations.
Advent of corporate culture has ensured that a new age imperialist does not need to annex another to subjugate its populace. All is done via proper channels with international bodies playing the role of facilitators. India is the new market and these poor people prospective customers, who at present don’t have the purchasing power. Their uplift is necessary, not for humane considerations, because they comprise a huge chunk, which is not buying their produce. Glossing over these facts, Boo manages to mix fact with fiction, turn the story to her advantage and call it a work of journalism.
For a book that claims to tell the story of the downtrodden and the marginalized, it is prohibitively costly. If you are willing to make the investment only to find that you have not read anything fresh or new, go ahead it’s your hard earned money. For those who, for want of anything better to do, like to shed silent tears on the plight of the poor, this would give them value for their money.