That I am writing this with revulsion, anger and on top of it a humble request will be an understatement – more as a father of a young child and less as a social scientist working in the field of education. The emotions emerged after watching an advertisement in which a leading Bollywood actress sways with seductive expressions in unexplainable settings to the tunes of Jefferson Airplane's White Rabbit right in the middle of the ongoing T20 world cup. The facial expressions and gestures of the actress convey sentiments open to multiple interpretations. Nevertheless, with little doubt, they convey, keeping with the 'spirit' of the brand, a sense of pride, a feeling that India has arrived, that we now rightfully deserve to enter inside those Soho or Mayfair clubs which were once the territory of the dark ones of the English aristocracy.
What is original in the advertisement that brings us pride?
First, I am actually amazed with the intensity of the confidence or 'pride' exhibited in the advertisement, an expression that I normally associate with a creator or a contributor to the general good. Neither the White rabbit track nor the equipment by which the ad is shot or edited seems the creation of an Indian. Actually, to me everything in the ad appears alien, copied and fake – the expressions, the gyrations, the clothes, the glitz, the setting, the camera angles, the pout, the aesthetics, the pole and even the hair. The fact that we can be so confident without owning an inch of the research that brought that ad alive is one of the key reasons why none of the Indian universities featured in the top 200 universities of the world in the recent survey (nor that we should confide in the ranking business) or that our recent submission 'Barfi' will not (should not) make it even to the short list of the Oscars.
Who cares for the pride of our children?
Further, I wonder whether India has a television content rating system. If there is one, it will be worth asking whether a surrogate aunrestricted public exhibition unless we now consider that the 'na tameez dvert with such themes and expressions should be allowed for se khela jaane waala' cricket is only suitable for adult viewing. In fact, it is appalling to note that advertisements with adult themes keep propping up unashamedly during family-oriented shows, not to mention the double meaning laced comedy show clippings served
show clippings served endlessly in the disguise of news. Sexaulisation of children through glam dolls and glam shows is a hot topic in countries which we so blatantly copy from, but as things take time to arrive in our country, I am waiting for the day when these topics will take the center stage in our country.
What should we be proud of anyway?
In my opinion, it is only in originality that we should derive our pride from. Not that I have an iota of contribution to Gurudev's 'Where the mind is without fear', still when I found the poem hanging in one of the GP surgeries in Oxford, I felt like holding my head high. Similar emotions run through my veins whenever I fail to get an admission ticket to a Dr. Amartya Sen lecture or when someone orders chicken tikka masala in any London restaurant. What went wrong in the land that gave the mother language to the world, the fundamentals of mathematics and philosophy, that was once termed as the 'cradle of the human race' by Twain or the only 'place on the face of earth where all the dreams of living men found a home' i the words of French scholar, Romain Rolland? Certainly, neither the alcohol selling company nor the leading actress is to be blamed for this subservience of knowledge. It is only we, whose pride is now dependent on the clutches of someone else's creation, who are responsible.
A version of this article first appeared in critical twenties.
(The writer is a doctorate from University of Oxford and an Associate Fellow at Oxford Center for Higher Education Policy Studies)