Saturday, October 2, 2010

Can the Games change the stereotyped Indian image? Nilofar Suhrawardy (INDIA)

With Commonwealth Games (CWG) days away, there is the other non-sporty angle, which cannot be missed.

No, this has nothing to with speculations on preparations being up to mark or not, some noise about corruption, fear about terrorism and other such issues. Being an Indian, one cannot turn a blind eye to the “negative image” about this country, which is given undue importance when foreigners land here.

Of course, there is the other side to this “negative image.” What is a part of routine life here appears as “news-worthy,” thought provoking, amazing, simply out of this world to most foreigners.

Despite the government making all possible efforts, which have been dampened a little by monsoon showers, it wouldn’t be astonishing if the image carried home by visitors is rather “stereotyped” from the Indian angle. Let us accept that although India is hailed as an emerging economic power, this perception is largely confined to the diplomatic level.

Overall, the people in general still view India as a Third world country, a developing nation plagued by social as well as economic problems. Should it be assumed that CWG would play a crucial role in changing this image about India? Not really. Certainly, thanks to the recent communication revolution, the small screen will play a major part in helping the people across the world get an idea about CWG taking place here.

At the same time, it is rather difficult to assume that except for participating nations, the entire world is likely to be interested in CWG. It is a fact that negative news from terrorist attacks, Indo-Pak tensions, poverty-stricken people to communal conflict receive greater media coverage than the positive. The result is that the media has played limited role in changing stereotyped images of India around the world. At the same time, the hard reality demands why the media should take the blame? The darker side of ongoing preparations where construction work is still on at an accelerating pace cannot be missed. The construction workers are living on roadside pavements in temporary, dingy shelters where they take care of all their basic needs.

If the weather suits, they cook and wash clothes on the pavements. A drive down such areas at late hours has shown quite a few sleeping in the open. This is also an India that cannot escape the eyes of those not used to similar images in their respective countries. This is also one of the many stereotyped pictures, which has been repeatedly displayed to make the people across the world view India from this prism.

Not too long ago when I was taking a few friends from the West around the capital city, a few memories of their vision of India still haunt me. During a visit to a residential area of South Delhi, suddenly a friend almost shrieked, “That’s it, I must take a photograph.” The subject of their attention was a stray dog sniffing through a trashcan. Well, during the follow-up conversation, they enlightened this friend on the images of India they were naturally looking to capture in their cameras and of course share them with others back home. These included those of animals on roads, beggars, traditionally attired people, dingy roads and lanes, crowded market places and so forth. Tempted to change their image, I took them down some of the most beautiful roads of the capital and the areas that have given Delhi the name of a green-city.

Sadly, these carried little appeal for them. It brought memories of similar roadways back home. So, nothing seemed worth a click. Of course, they did take photographs of historical monuments such as Taj Mahal in Agra, Red Fort, Jama Masjid and Qutub Minar in Delhi, among many others. Just as we were moving around another residential area in the capital, they suddenly stopped.

This time, the subject of their attention was a group of cows basking in the sun at the intersection. They were all smiles as they clicked and clicked away to glory. Yes, I agree this is India too but it is just one of the numerous images.

Right now, one can just muse over a billion-dollar question, will the much hyped CWG play some part in demolishing such stereotype images of India or not?

Nilofar Suhrawardy is an 
Indian journalist

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