India's Name in the Mud, Literally

First published in The Pioneer, August 28, 2010

The unrestrained patriotism of Indian Americans, the tribe on which we depend to keep India "shining" forever in places that matter, could become a thing of the past if the scandal of the Commonwealth Games is allowed to flourish.

Americans tend to be provincial, and in some ways this lack of interest in others and others' lives, cultures, sports, and pastimes leads to little coverage of something as exotic as the Commonwealth Games. Even the best of American media-- from The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor, to the National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service -- would find it hard pressed to make space and time for such an event. That India is hosting the games next month (and not Australia, England, or Canada) makes the prospect of any substantive coverage even less, unless of course if it happens, God forbid, that a stadium collapses and hundreds die, terrorists attack and chaos reigns, or the rains wash it all away. You could then see a rush to print and to judgment. From all accounts in the Indian media and the Indian-American media, it is as if the organisers of the Games in Delhi indeed are planning for some such disaster to occur! And from all reports from the weathermen, the Yamuna is straining at her bit to overwhelm Delhi.

With allegations of massive corruption, delayed work, shoddy construction of stadia, and a central government that appears headless and clueless, the Indian-American observer, the pining-for-home patriot, and the India-shining believer is keeping his fingers crossed, delayed reserving a flight to visit Delhi during the Games, and has shied away from making any hotel reservations.

One doesn't need to conduct a careful, scientific survey to figure out what NRIs and other expatriate Indians think of a seeming fiasco in the making. Whatever his or her political leanings, the expatriate Indian surely would take pride if India succeeded in her endeavors. This despite deep misgivings about squandering anywhere between Rs 25,000 crore and Rs 50,000 crore ($2,500 million to $5,000 million) on the Games when hundreds of millions of Indians still continue to live in deep poverty, when Indian infrastructure is shoddy, and there is nary a level, clean playground for schoolchildren around the country.

If the events of August 15 are any indication, when the mostly first generation Indian-Americans celebrated Independence Day and took out a parade in New York City, the love and concern that the expatriate has for "home" have not diminished. So, a successful conduct and conclusion of the Commonwealth Games in a spruced-up New Delhi would make even an OFBJP office-bearer proud of "India shining" (after all wasn't it Vajpayee who first gave the nod for the Games?), and Indian-Americans would bask in the glow of any American media coverage of such a successful event. But the careful, honest, and intelligent among the India-watchers know that India is a very mixed bag of a small amount of good, a lot of bad, and an increasing amount of the ugly, and therefore they would just be as happy if there were no disaster during the Games that reinforced the negative stereotypes of India as a Third World nation.

Second generation Indian-Americans don't care much for the waving of the Indian flag by their parents, and they don't have much interest in current Indian affairs. They make a clear distinction between Indian culture and the Indian State, and while there is increased awareness of and demand for information of India's historical heritage they will not go to bat for the Indian state, as it were, as their parents would. So, while Stanford and Harvard as well as the less prestigious universities have begun to offer more courses on Indian history and culture owing to increase in demand from second generation Indian-Americans, one finds few young Indian-Americans at Indian flag-waving parades, or even surfing Indian TV channels.

Meanwhile, both those who made their way to the US in the 1960s, and those emigrating now to Edison, New Jersey to help their uncles and aunts run their businesses, spend too much time and money planning the invitations to Preity Zinta, Sree Devi, and various other present and former "India-wood" stars for the Independence Day celebrations in NYC, pestering Mayor Bloomberg to issue a decree recognizing Indian independence day, buying miniature Indian flags, cooking too many pooris and too much potato curry, and waiting with bated breath for what the White House would say about Indo-US relations and the wonder that is Indian democracy.

These first generation folks read the Indian-American weeklies, watch Indian TV fare, and spend hours on the Internet worrying their heads about matters "back home". So, the passage two weeks ago of the Border Security Bill in the US Congress and the Senate, and the signing of it into law by President Obama, for example, was the focus of their interest, and one can read arguments about the ramifications of the increased H1-B and L1 visa fees on Indian workers and Indian companies in blogs and on discussion lists.

Then there are members of the Indian Muslim Council-USA (IMC-USA), who monitor events in and about Gujarat with vigour and demand every other month that justice be done in Gujarat, and that Narendra Modi be cursed forever. There are "secular" groups who monitor the media to find which Hindu neta plans to visit the US and send fervent pleas to the State Department to not issue a visa, or if a visa is issued to cancel it, or if the person is already in the country, to hound him out. At this time they have focused their tirade on Sadhvi Rithambara, who is on an American pilgrimage. And the Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of North America (FIACONA) forwards every email that John Dayal sends about some alleged crime committed against a Christian in India to the State Department, to Amnesty International, and to Human Rights Watch.

And then there are the Bharatiya Pravasi Divas types, who seek photo-ops with visiting Indian netas, recognitions, rewards, and freebies, and who may indeed have some business interests in the CWG. It is, most probably, this category of people who are happy with the Indian government's multibillion dollar binge on the Games -- games, most of which Indians either don't play or play rather dismally.

Therefore, as the Games near, and as reports of more hanky-panky emerge, and the Yamuna threatens to overflow, there will be some handwringing about the state of India. There would be shrill denunciations by OFBJP office-bearers of the Sonia Gandhi-inspired, Manmohan Singh-led, Kalmadi-commandeered dog and pony show, and a quick recasting of the Indian horoscope to figure out when indeed India will shine or become a superpower. They just don't know or will not accept that it will not be in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, there is always cricket.

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