Sunday, 14 February 2016

Missing the Balanced View.

I’ve been watching a documentary series in which a group of ageing British celebrities go off to ‘discover’ India. It was full of wide-eyed wonder and effusive enthusiasm, as you would expect of people who have spent their lives being dramatic, and at the end they were all adamant that they loved India mightily and would definitely be going back. I’m not being cynical when I say that it occurred to me more than once that they had the benefit of money behind them, so they could afford to have polite young men driving them around in brand new vehicles and a string of friendly hosts pandering to their every whim in their thirst for novelty and a reason to grow old gracefully.

I’m sure the celebrities were genuine enough in their reactions, and so I mean no criticism of either them or the country. But it didn’t seem quite right, somehow; I didn’t feel I was getting a balanced picture. I remember Mel telling me how terrified she was when she went on a Buddhist pilgrimage some years ago and found herself being driven for miles up a rough mountain road with wild switchbacks and 1000ft drops in a rusty old Land Rover with holes in the floor.

I expect India has good features and bad features as anywhere does, and that both are exotic in their own way simply for being profoundly unfamiliar. And it’s much easier to see the unfamiliar as exotic when you’re secure in comfortable hotels and posh cars and everybody is being nice to you because that’s what they’re there for.

The only correspondence I ever had with an Indian domiciled in India was with a woman who told me that westerners have a ludicrously romanticised view of her country. She was a very astute person who could express a great deal of meaning in a very few words, so I’m inclined to believe her (and I miss her delightfully succinct correspondence, by the way.) I suppose it’s just a matter of accepting that TV travelogues are inclined to paint out the warts because warts aren’t very entertaining. Seeing celebrities crying with happy, if maybe a little naïve, wonderment is.

No comments: