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In my dad’s days, the typical foreign correspondent in India would belt out the usual cliches about the country – rambunctious, chaotic, exotic and the occasional spiritual. In the last decade, nationalism, inequality, demography and populism are the monotone catchphrases that pass for coverage.
I do not say that such descriptions are untrue. It’s just that they are plain boring – often used to indulge audiences and reinforce stereotypes. The malaise of borrowed catchphrases has also infected us locals. The writerly pandemic persists. Elite circles in Delhi revolve around social platitudes baked in the ovens of peer pressure. If Orwell were back, he would cringe.
To get a fresh glimpse of India, make Shrayana Bhattacharya’s Desperately Seeking Shahrukh Khan your new bedtime read. A novelist masquerading as an economist, Shrayana delicately weaves the stories of India’s invisible gender into an eye-opening delight. By mixing flavours of humanities with hard data, she steers clear of the usual bromides and concocts a sensuous cocktail – a blend of agency and patriarchy and agency and inequity. Guess what holds her drink together? A Bollywood heartthrob with teary eyes and a wide grin – a man of vulnerability.
In an age of diminishing attention spans and attractive reels, suggesting only books seems archaic.
A documentary that has stayed with me in recent times is The Social Dilemma. Such films are frightening. They display the grotesque side of ubiquity – a world of dopamine highs behind glistening screens. Feeling courageous? Complement it with Minimalism.
What worries me most about our age is dissension turning ugly. The scare of an algorithmic phantom is real. Social media peddles biases – cementing stale opinions that flood our heads. Labels of political persuasion are hurled recklessly. The space for curiosity shrinks. Debate suffers. Mill agonises. Democracy? I see Zuckerberg giggling.