Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Jingo lo Blah

So this year’s Nobel Prize for Chemistry is awarded “for having showed what the ribosome looks like and how it functions at the atomic level.” Excellent, India’s newspapers say, and carry on with more pressing issues, like asking their readers who the hottest Bollywood Bombshell is – and life goes on as normal.

Except no – the wires mention three recipients of the award (the Nobel, not the Bombshell), and one of them happens to have a distinctly South-Indian name! Suddenly, reporters from the length and breadth of the country who, till October 6, could probably not have told us the full-form of DNA, are talking about how an Indian has changed the face of chemistry. Personality analyses are carried out, old acquaintances are dug up and inter-state comparisons are done to track which state has given us our most luminous.

Never mind the fact that our friendly neighbourhood professor left our neighbourhood 38 years ago, is currently a US citizen, and lives in Cambridge, England. “So what”, our editors tell us, “He has not forgotten his roots – he visited Madras in 2002 and delivered an excellent slide presentation”!

The fact remains that jingoism sells – specially when it comes in the form of foreign acceptance of anything even remotely connected to India. Our news media, apparently mirroring what the famed “common man” thinks, derides anything that presents India to foreigners as being anything but a land of perfect happiness, warm and friendly people and of course elephants and palaces. “Poverty porn at its worst” and “Defaming Hindus”– remember Slumdog Millionaire? In an ironic twist worthy of the “It happens only in India” motif, we shower the movie with laurels exactly a month later, when it wins multiple Oscars – because we then see it as foreign acceptance of India having “arrived” on the international stage. What happens next? Our single-largest national political party buys the rights to use the movie’s title track in their general election campaign!

So what’s wrong with whipping up a little patriotic fervor? Actually, quite a bit. Feel-good stories about the Nobel Laureate’s college days in Baroda 40 years ago only serve to distract from the fact that the best bet for an Indian to get close to a Nobel is to head for foreign shores early in his/her career. A lead story on how a Facebook app is “offending” India by not featuring the Indian flag – the day Naxals gun down 17 policemen in a brazen attack – grabs attention from the fact that our chief ministers are utterly clueless on how to prevent this senseless loss of human life. "We will do whatever is required", indeed. We could do well to listen to the Laureate himself: “Science is done for the pursuit of knowledge. It is not done to represent your national team. It has no national boundaries whatsoever....Science is a great international mixer, so the idea that it is a sort of cricket match where our team won — that simply is a wrong way of looking at scientific discovery.” Till we are all as enlightened, let’s hope Jennifer Aniston’s Indian connection keeps us entertained.

Cross-posted at http://indiejourno.com/2009/10/20/indian-like-you/

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