Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mera Bharat Mahaan

By Rupa Gulab
(Published in Bengal Post, 20th July 2010)

Life’s strange. Apart from Paul the charming psychic octopus, who would have thought that I would exhale into a ‘Made in China’ Argentina-branded vuvuzela to cheer Spain on in the FIFA World Cup 2010 finals? Even more staggering, who would have believed that thoughts of Indian politicians would cross my mind while holidaying in South Africa? If anyone, including Paul the psychic octopus had predicted this, I’d have delivered my favourite quote from one of the most memorable characters in English Literature: “Go’an boil yer ‘ed and fry yer face too!” No, it’s not Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but Blyton’s Ern Goon from the Five Findouters and Dog series.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is an exception, of course. I’m always reminded of him when I’m anywhere in the West because he still hasn’t gone out of fashion on trendy t-shirts and spectacle frames. But to see photographs of him in Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum made me feel 10 feet tall and oh so proud to be an Indian. It really was more inspiring than seeing his signature on exclusive, expensive non-khadi Montblanc pens.

The streets of South Africa have another inspiring story to tell. You spot about as many Mahindra Scorpios and Tata Indicas as you do in India – and they look so much more impressive there because the roads are wider and spotlessly clean. Locals said the most flattering things about these cars and praised them sky high for being trustworthy. They’re waiting now with bated breath for the Nano, perhaps the world’s most affordable car. I suspect my husband drove them to binge drinking when he told them (regretfully) that they had a long wait, since the demand in India is exceeding high. That’s when Trinamool Congress chief, Mamata Banerjee, popped into my head. I clenched my fists at the thought of how her spine-chilling banshee-like wails had driven this little money-spinner out of my state. Yes, West Bengal is desperately seeking a change of governance, but shouldn’t that change be a positive one? Seriously, one of the most important reasons why I shudder at the idea of Mamata Banerjee reigning over West Bengal are her screechy wails. Worse than a chorus of vuvuzelas, oh infinitely worse. If she does manage to overthrow the Left, I’m certain sales of ear-plugs will rise in West Bengal. Oh well, at least the state will have some business that way. Every cloud has a silver lining, and all that!

Interestingly, IPL creator and former chief, Lalit Modi, has achieved what all the aggressive Mumbai Thackerays combined couldn’t do: stop us from using the word Bombay! When in South Africa, my husband and I dared to say the word ‘Bombay’ out loud – we said it frequently and fearlessly without looking over our shoulders for fear of being thrashed to pulp by the Sena and MNS. It was a super emotional release! Astonishingly, we were corrected by locals, who firmly told us it’s Mumbai. Most of them were fans of Mumbai Indians, see? Perhaps after Lalit Modi finishes his IPL war he should run for elections in Maharashtra. Sure he may be a crook, but then aren’t 99.8% of our politicians criminals as well? And least Lalit Modi doesn’t wear ugly safari suits – such a relief!

The UPA gave me reason to feel good too, when locals enviously told us how wonderful it was that the global recession hadn’t hit India that badly. And oh, I have something valuable to contribute to that Incredible India tourism campaign that’s being aired: instead of just talking about cold monuments, we should talk about our warm hospitality – because it really is incredible. We’ve stayed at some of the best hotels around the world, but the courtesy and facilities pale in comparison to what India’s second best hotels offer. Perhaps the reason why we treat guests so well in India is because we fear they may be some God or Goddess in disguise testing us by ringing our doorbells and asking for a glass of water or some rubbish. Whatever the reason, however, we truly excel in the field of hospitality. This is our strength and we must never lose it!

So all in all, I went abroad and came back feeling immensely pleased to be an Indian. Of course, when we landed and drove out of the airport, the smells and sights on the streets made me want to take the next flight out of the country!

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