So Joel Stein has opened a can of worms which was going to burst open any moment, anyway. Are we so naive as to think that Stein is the only American who does not like ‘dot heads?’ Or the stench of excessive cologne on Indian bodies? Or the presence of an Indian shop where Pizza Hut once used to be? The arrival of samosas and Bollywood in a multiplex that once showed American R-rated films? The emergence of an Indian Moghul in the place of an Italian- American restaurant ? Stein is certainly not the only American who feels ‘‘a sense of loss and anomie and disbelief that anyone can eat food that spicy’’ just because Indians have changed the familiar to the unfamiliar in Edison, New Jersey and elsewhere in America.
Yes, it does seem rather incongruous that Stein cannot see how his own nation is routinely given to invading mental, physical and virtual space that does not belong to it.
But then as we know, the rest of the world is either with America or against it and if we are breeding too much like a bacteria in its innards, that too amounts to some kind of an invasion. Never mind, the colonisation of taste buds across the world with coke and happy meals or the glut of American brands in our homes and malls.
And let us just forget America's boot stamps across the world map and attribute the destruction of geography and the demise of history in Iraq and Afghanistan to so much collateral damage. Still, the righteous anger displayed by Indians in India and in America against this ‘racist’ article is also rather surprising, considering how many types of Indias exist in one and how many battles are fought each day over turf lines.
How can we take offence beyond a point to this rather innocuous story in a country where young boys and girls pay for love within the same gotra with their lives? Where there is no longer one kind of an Indian but many kinds? And everyone thinks that their brand of patriotism is better than the one upheld by the north-Indian, south-Indian, Marathi manoos, Bengali, Kashmiri, Assamese neighbour across the invisible mental fence?
And how fair and informed is our understanding of the white man or woman in our cinema and in our country? Foreign women are preyed upon routinely in tourist spots. We are getting back at Peter Sellers in our films and how! No film is complete without white-skinned ‘extras’ prividing meat to an item song. We beat them at cricket, hockey and even rugby, we teach them Hindi songs, get the hero to divorce his white wife and go back to his village to his first-love.
Apart from a stray Junoon, where Shyam Benegal depicted the isolation of a British family during the sepoy mutiny with searing empathy, most Hindi films paint the ‘foreigner’ as an alien who must be taught desi values and morals. Be it Manoj Kumar's Purab Aur Paschim or Vipul Amrutlal Shah's Namastey London or even Bride and Prejudice, we find many cinematic devices to humiliate the gora saabs we once were ruled by.
Recent films like Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna depict white women as lingerie-clad distractions for men as old as Amitabh Bachchan. Films like My Name Is Khan and New York do bravely address multi-racial issues but the complexity of the subject does not get the play time it deserves. No one has the exclusive rights to ignorance and prejudice and we in India should know that because we are either at the receiving end of both as outsiders or are dishing it out to others as insiders.