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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The reaction to the Commonwealth Games: a microcosm of general attitudes towards India?

The British media ignored the shambles and fiasco of the Commonwealth Games 2010 in Delhi until two weeks before they were due to start, while the Indian media had been dutifully reporting on the impending disaster for months.
Then  when the British media did start reporting on it, it became headline news for a solid 10 days. It was, in journalistic terms, a fantastic news story, and sometimes so comic, you wondered if the Indian officials behind the games, shouldn't just ditch it all in, and take a job at Mumbai's Comedy Store instead. Their mishaps, faux pas, errors, mismanagement, alleged corruption and bad luck seemed to almost be deliberate to keep the western media salivating for days. The CWG Committee was generating more column inches than any PR team could have dreamt of.  Unfortunately though, it was not good PR for India, that had until then been the flavour of the month in the West owing to pity generated by the Mumbai attacks and adoration generated by Slumdog Millionaire. I wondered if the British media reluctance to report on the shambles in the first instance was an over-fawning upon India, because of a desire, prevalent in some western media,  to "talk India up" and ignore its problems. Even David Cameron had ignored the CWG problems, apparent to everyone else, when he made his first charm offensive visit to India before the Games.

It was ironic that the Western media ignored the fiasco subject for months (that is June/July/August), when the Indian media was pulling the CWG commitee up for its alleged corruption, misuse of funds, and the sorry state of construction every day.
But as the Opening Ceremony got close, the western media could ignore it no more. Then suddently the stories flowed in, as though part of a cleverly drawn up media camnpaign, albeit offering negative coverage every day. Whether it was the faux pas at the inaugural show by Kalmadi saying Princess Diana had attended, or his next mistake stating the USA was a member of the Commonwealth, or  reports that poisonous snakes were on their way, that dengue had arrived, and stray dogs were sleeping in the athletes' bedrooms, or that  British swimmers had all came down with Delhi Belly, or that the athletes' village was described as "unfit for human habitatiion," all journalists, regadless of nationality, had a field day.

What then happened in the British media and on social networking sites like Facebook was a bizarre reaaction to the series of events that almost revealed  people's suppressed attitudes towards the whole of India, like a old wound bursting open again.
On the one hand, there was the nationalist young Indian, furious at the negative coverage India was getting, venting anger about the Commonwealth's very existence, railing againt the British Raj and India's colonionial histrory, suggesting the Commonwealth was meaningless, offensive and should be scrapped.
This was an exchange on one Facebook page.

A: The CWG, is it a national shame or regional or even local?
B: Its a national shame....corruption at its peak.'It's not only a national shame, but the officials have nowhere to hide their face because this time everything is transparent about how the tax payers'' money is fooled around with.
C: Mumbai would have handled it better, or the Games should have been organised outside of Delhi's built-up areas. But hey we have more brutal things, such as grinding poverty, to be nationally ashamed of. The CMG are not even of Olympics standards, plus it's a legacy of colonisation.
D: I agree there are other issues but imagine those 'goras' lecturing us. Also,corruption exists even in the Western countries but only its not visible. What I want to say is, no action shall be taken against the culprits ar usual. But how long can we sit speechless or let out our anger through some social networking site! It won't work. Sometimes I wonder whether this democracy gifted to us by The British is a gift in disguise.
E: See after all it was much ado about nothing. yes they were some small matters of toilets leaking, etc. Indian media exaggerates, dont take them seriously folks...  look at the latest news: Canada coming, Wales coming, Scotland coming, England coming... they were the ones who had delayed their arrival in Delhi. People down under have always been a spoil sport. Let them not come. It's the white folk who create problems. African nations never said they were delaying their departure, did they?

Then you had, some of  the right-wing western media reporting in an almost xenophobic fashion and with relish, the disaster, day by day, as it unfolded, almost looking for more stories than there already were (was child labour being used to sweep the floors,  for example, was a question lingering on their minds.)
As with Slumdog Millionaire, the problem with this kind of reporting is, one minute the media is all over a social issue, the next it is not. So while child labour may be a problem somwhere in India, it probably wasn't much of a problem at the CWG (correct me if I am wrong); yet real child labour, where it exists in India, no doubt, continues ignored.
Then you had the athletes saying how great India was and they coudn't wait to eat Tandooori Chicken, dismissing all the negative stories.
Then followed the story of the thousands of used condoms blocking the drains at the Games Village - filling Indian minds with more negative stereoptypes that all Westerners are loose.
There was something quite surreal and shocking too about watching these athletes in the skimpiest of outfits wander around with Indian workmen and peasants nearby...Then there were the less nationalist but nonetheless patriotic Indians, who still didn't get what all the noise was about.

"Great Opening Ceremony and "Great Ending" they tweeted.  Nothing on what happened inbetween bothered them.
It went off well so all the CWG bashing needs to stop!say lets give the CMG a nice burial in Delhi and bury the colonial past with it , one tweeted.

As the lack of sale of tickets became apparent, I asked some Indian friends on my Facebook page, why they weren't going to it. The empty stadiums were making headline news in the UK again and this was something (unlike corruption and roofs caving in ) that they could do something about quickly - and resolve. If I was Indian and in India I would have got a bunch of friends together and gone there. Watching athletes perform to empty stadiums on TV was painful.
The response?

A: Do you really expect Indians to bother seeing Netball between Papua New Guinea and Bermuda when India-Aus are involved in a Cricket Test match? Heck - even if the cricket was not on - who would really want to go?who cares ??"
B: All i know is I am not travelling to delhi for next 2 weeks !
C: There is a general security paranoia - media hype! I'm not that into the idea anyhow. It's hardly exciting.
D: The tickets are too expensive.

Why were tickets too expensive? Was their price not researched? Why did loads of suited corporates from private companies not attend, as they do attend other sporting events like Wimbledon and Henley Regatta? Where were the tickets on sale? What will happen to all these stadiums now? Why were they built with such massive capacities, if there was no strategy to sell tickets or evidence100,000 tickets would be sold.
Even Delhi's beggars said the CWG were bad for business (read here http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2010/10/12/games-bad-for-beggars-business/) and tourism went down rather than up http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2010/10/07/games-bbs-have-been-big-bust/
Yet the West was accused of India bashing by some.
Pix of some of the rooms in the Athletes'Village were circulated on the Internet. Some showed immaculate sparkling rooms, others showed dog footprints and dirty sinks, depending on who was circulating them, and what their view was.
At the end of it, there was a general sense among some Indians that the Games had not ben as disastrous as the media had made out.
"We pulled it off, it's not like it didn't happen at all," they said. It was likened to an Indian wedding, where everything falls into place at the end.
Some Indians decided the Games had been "an unqualified success"
But did everything fall into place?
Should Indians care more about the image of India in the world and the bad PR they got from this? Or not? Was it the "perfect Indian wedding?"
It seems to me that provided the Indian economy is growing at 7 per cent, many young Indians don't care what image the CWG gave out. I noticed in India a trait not to focus on the negative and to remain positive, to partake in self praise far more often than self criticism, to be happy with whatever the outcome was, provided it wasn't too dire (eg noone died), and to focus on the end result more than the process getting there; unlike in the West which is more obsessed with having everything going to plan, meeting deadlines and achieving perfection, as well as having a penchant for self-criticism, above self praise. On the one hand, the Indian attitude is dangerous as it can lead to a satisfaction with something substandard (eg a product or service esp in the context of outsourcing); on the other hand it is a more stress-free way to live.
Even during the terror attacks, I remember life in Bandra went on pretty much as before. The shop keeper in the corner shop carried on stacking shelves. What is it his problem if there is an attack in Churchgate?
Or maybe I am reading too much into this, and the CWG did not interest India because the word Commonwealth now repulses modern metro ambitious proud Indians.

20 comments:

IndianBlogger said...

Thanks Naomi for another job well done. Its reassuring to hear from you and once again you have been very bold to admit that your stay in India was not all that bad - once your see things in London that are not so different.

Again from my experience, before I had my first experience of visiting a foreign country, I used to hate India - yes hate. I would keep saying, this is so much better there.. even foreigner girls are so much better! LOL.

Trust me, one visit (to one of the most beautiful countries of the worlds, South Africa, home to one of the most beautiful women as well) - I come back and start to appreciate everything about India! It is because as you learn about the new culture its uniqueness.. you start to see the best things your own country has to offer... yes blonde is great.. but the skin tone and long dark hairs of Indian girls are awesome.

Getting on to the CWG - you have had almost the entire truth from all angles - the accusations, the defenders, the 'I dont care a damn' ... but one thing I have learned about us humans is that we have extremely short memory - today CWG is not an issue whatsoever.

Except, which I am delighted, is that the Government is taking the investigations forward - well done - but some reports say that the findings will be in by 3-4 months! Now there - will anyone of us would even care by then? Just as your friend remarked about the netball game - I seriously think, NO, all of us would have moved on and it will be yet another crime against the citizens that will go unpunished, unnoticed.

Well thats life I guess... and that reminds me to ask you Naomi, what are you doing these days? Is it a career break? Do we see you back with HT (or similar) given you are now not hating India so much :-)

Keep well...

Mick said...

Naomi
The problems with the construction etc of the CWG were supposed to be forgotten about when the opening ceremony took place. The cost of which alone was supposed to make everyone go WOW, not to mention the closing ceremony as well. Everything else is irrelevant as long as these are bigger and better than the last ones, the Olympics are the same, going passed Stratford yesterday on a coach the main stadium for 2012 looks like a 2nd Division football ground surrounded by housing or industrial buildings, it looks better from the trains or did before i stopped using trains between Norwich and London. As for the empty seats if the CWG had been nothing but a knockout between all the nations at Hockey or Cricket then every seat would have been sold. For almost 3 weeks last winter while i was there the headline news was the Indian hockey teams demands for more wages.

Matt said...

Having witnessed it myself, i have to say that the Indian TV media's coverage of the mess around the games was sensationalist, to say the least. Ever since Mani Shankar Aiyar, made his infamous desire for the games to doom, the Indian Media held on to CWG controvesy as their main story.

Before Aiyar's statement, i cannot recall any negative coverage or corruption allegation or "special investigation" by any news channel. Overnight, the public was bombarded with corruption details. Thanks to Aiyar, CWG became TRP stuff.

Media does have the duty to let the public know of any wastage of public money. But what happened to fair and balanced reporting? In the battle for TRPs, each channel was trying to bring, sometimes without any proof, its "exclusive" story on some deal- be it toilet paper or treadmill.

Just a couple of days back, i was watching this horrific debate by Arnab Goswami in Times Now regarding a washing machine that was destroyed by Australian players in their celebration. You have to see it to understand how over-passionate Mr. Goswami was- It was as if US had bombed Taj Mahal.

It was the characteristic over-nationalist pride Indian attitude, something which you observed, that was on display. Also such debates increase TRPs so the economic angle is also there. Also, after the New Zealand TV presenter's coarse commentary on Delhi CM's name, a prominent media person tweeted that she had always felt that people form NZ were racist!

Mick said...

All in all i agree with what Matt says about "Over nationalistic pride"in the media, but that when taken away from television and put into the normal person it makes Indians much nicer and more equal to us. That's my feeling anyway, having experienced India 30yrs ago and 9mths ago. 30yrs ago there were still many Indians who had worked with English people and lived along side them. Now those people are long gone, but there is still the warmth and friendliness in most Indians I met, but of course as followers of Naomi's HT blogging will know the media has produced people equal to or worse than the English national front/BMP/EDL which is such a shame because no way can India be that nationalistic that these sort of people can be tolerated if it's to move forward into the 21st century, but these are the very people who will oppose any cultural change that is necessary IE to the caste system for instance. glad to see Indianblogger has worked out how to send only one copy of his comments, never mind mate it's not easy is it?

projenator said...

Australians have been messing with Indians for just too long and it just does not seem to stop. I don't see this much racism in UK or the US, unimaginable that Australian cops can indulge in all that crap. The other day I read somewhere applications to Australian schools are down around 80% and it has hit the Australian education industry hard. In summary, most Indians have a pretty negative view of Australians by now. No matter how much PR is done, I strongly believe there has to be something seriously racist about Australians for such incidents to go on forever. Racist incidents towards Indians in Australia cannot be classified as stray incidents by any measure. I can understand why Arnab Goswami went a little over board if he did.

projenator said...

I believe, no matter how much India grows (or shrinks for that matter) if the government officials are involved in organizing anything, leave alone something as big as CWG, international standards will not be met. The Indian government officials JUST don't have it in them, period. India's strength lies in family values, not organization, punctuality, discipline which are something I see the west doing much better. If someone can take the family values from India and the professional values of the west, that would the ideal mix.

Mick said...

Projenator
Yes the racist attitude apparent in australia is aberrant, but it is caused by the fact that real australians are Black and a lot of white or slightly darker new australians come from countries that have hidden or not so hidden racism running through their culture. I heard this somewhere said jokingly "The only thing wrong with Australia is it's full of australians" this was about the time Joe mangle was on neighbours.
One thing that I think may cause this racism is the fact that young Indian males look easy prey, as you might know big Indians are a totally different kettle of fish.

Real Australians have suffered racism almost since Cap Cook etc happened upon the place, the only thing I can say against the original Australians is that they were doing it to themselves with tribal wars etc.
I can't wait for that "Brave New World" where we can create humans minus the human nature.

Is that you Proj

projenator said...

Yes, it's me, Mick. Nice that you recognize me.

Matt said...

A few responses.
Mick, good to know that you agree with my observation on the over-nationalistic pride which seems to be growing among the elite and urban middle-class of India ever since the BJP became prominent in Indian politics. Though not as extreme as ENF or BNP, this is definitely a disturbing trend for a multi-cultural and diverse nation like India.
Projenator, don't take whatever media reports at its face value. Because of some campaigns- and i call them campaigns because the media decides to run it like propoganda- TV channels run, the public fall pry to such preposterous conclusions like believing that "there is something seriously racist about Australians". In fact the whole story that "Australians have been messing with Indians for just too long" was something, like the CWG story, which the media decided to play up with due to the TRPs.
And IndianBlogger, glad to know you have grown up; grown out of some fantasies. Despite India's growth et all, a lot of its people are still stuck with thoughts about "videsh"/"amreeka" like "this is so much better there.. even foreigner girls are so much better!"

projenator said...

@Matt
I live in the US and I am very used to this kind of response from the whites. In fact, they seem very surprised when you try to tell them your experiences etc. Also they are quick to get a westernised Indian lady( yes it will always be them!) and she will tell you how she has been treated like "a princess" in the US blah blah, so most of the Indian guys who bear the brunt of racism look like fools. In the US, though, it's not as bad as Australia, physical abuse and cops indulging in racist jokes are mostly unheard of but some form of muted racism exists in the workplace which is done very diplomatically in a politically correct fashion. It is like the large scale human rights abuse by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan (when the US like the big bully warns India about human rights violation in Kashmir), which was all hidden in classified documents at Pentagon until WikiLeaks leaked them out. Now that guy has become the target of every government and is on the run. So, having seen the situation in the US first hand, I find it hard to believe that Australians are all saints when it comes to race etc. On the cricket field, Australians' behaviour is also not the best. I don't see the English cricketers do the kind of stuff Australians do. As a white male, you might not be aware of the kind of discrimination males of coloured skin face in these countries.

Matt said...

Projenator,
I wasn't aware that you have had some experience or exposure to racism. From the interaction with a few Indians i know who live in australia, it didn't sound as bad as it was made out to be. Of course not everybody has the same experience. But nobody says that all Australians are saints. There are racists, but to say that all or most Australians are racist is doing more harm than good to the racism debate.
By the way, you have got your assumptions wrong. Am no white male. Despite the name, am an Indian living in India. I do love my country, but that does not mean we cannot be self-critical.
Naomi,
Sorry that the debate has went off topic from CWG, but i think its important since t does deal with perceptions of India and Indians' perception of the west. Would love to hear your comments on this.

projenator said...

Racism exists everywhere in the world, including India, so if anyone in the west is telling me that there's ain't no racism in their country, either their country is just too homogeneous (all white country in brief) or they are just being prude. Last week, my German friend who is currently in India was abused by a group of Marwari spoilt brats, understandably none of the restaurant security came to her rescue probably because these brats are frequent customers of that bar. In fact, last winter she took me to this place and I didn't like it although there were a lot of white people hanging around but honestly, it's neither one of the best places in town to eat nor up scale by any standards, just to cut it short, no well to do Indian would go there with friends or family. My friend likes it there because it has an open air balcony( with an awful view of concrete structures all around) where she could smoke and drink which btw is her concept of relaxation. The story even made it to the city section of a leading daily.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1101019/jsp/calcutta/story_13071759.jsp

I copy and paste below her reply when I asked her about it.

"No joke it was me! But the story is wrong! I need to add something. In the article they wrote the story wrong. Nobody fell on us and there was no missunderstanding. i think I understand the words fucking bitch, you have a fucking culture and a stupid religion, verry well.What is missing in the article is, that nobody from the security helped us, they were only watching.
I don't want you to think that i get guys arrested because of a missunderstanding. i will tell you the story when you are here."

The story even made it to the city section of a leading daily

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1101019/jsp/calcutta/story_13071759.jsp

Mick said...

Hi all
With regard to the Aussie problems I think things got worse after the Balkan wars lots of the various nasties from that area went to Australia. Unfortunately they and the other south eastern Europeans are about as racist as you can get.

Proj do you really have race problems in the states, I just thought it was Afro/Americans and Native Americans that had problems. Indians I would have thought would be far to complex for the average white supremacist. i don't think i have ever met a yank in India. Canadians yes.

Going back to the late 50's I was at home one evening with the TV on, it was the news with a report about something that had happened in Liverpool, i wasn't watching just listening to this kid talking about whatever is was with a broad scouse accent, when i looked up it was an Indian boy about 11yrs old. This was one of the things that helped me not to be a racist.

Naomi Canton said...

I love this comment by Projenator: "India's strength lies in family values, not organization, punctuality, discipline which are something I see the west doing much better. If someone can take the family values from India and the professional values of the west, that would the ideal mix." A very succint summary of the differences between the two nations! At the end of my blog, my comments on the final product being substandard was meant to be critical of India. I honestly don't think it's good that India accepts substandardness and should instead strive for high quality, even if the latter is more stressful. I agree with you that India will have "moved on" from the CWG incident now and "forgotten" about it. This is a double edged sword. On the one hand it is great that India can forget, forgive and move on from negative experiences like this (and the Mumbai 2008 terror attacks, Mumbai 2006 train bombings, the 1992-3 Bombay Riots, 2001 Gujarat earthquake, you name it)..India has a remarkable ability to overcome adversity and move on, forgive and forget, unlike other nations and people who can remain forever stuck in grief/anger following similar disaters. This is an admirable trait and I experienced it first hand having lived through the Mumbai terror attacks myself and
watched the city get back on its feet straight away afterwards...Mumbai is a city that indeed can never be destroyed as its so good at healing its wounds. However,the downside of all this is that there is not enough self criticism, not enough questioning, not enough analysis of these disasters, looking at why they happened and how they can be prevented or mitigated next time. This can be seen in for example the way Mumbai continues as it did before, with no real sense that were there another terror attack, the city could handle it much better than it did the first time. Similarly I feel as though if India hosted another CWG in 50 years time, it would got the same ways as this one did. Forgive me if I am wrong...but that is how I feel...People tend to shrug their shoulders and move on..it's almost as though life is moving so fast, there isn't time to analyse what happened...

Naomi said...

Apologies for all the typos (that appear to be spelling mistakes or solecisms)in the last comment. I was (am typing) on a really ancient computer right now, covered in dust that shakes, as I trype, hence...(a very substandard computer, obviously - or typist:-))

Mick said...

Yes Naomi your about right in your summery of the way India deals with things and moves on. This might be something to do with their history, famines, outbreaks of diseases etc which cost many lives in the past. Also the Hindu's have at least 2300 gods so it's easy to shrug the shoulders and say it's Mataraj's fault or whom ever.
Another CWG would be the same? probably but surely it's just scale, I am very impressed with the efficiency of the visa office in London. Last year it took 55mins for me to be seen, this year i arrived at 9.45am and was on my way back to the coach station at 10.25am both times there were 100+ people there, so they can do things right.
Why you using a rickety old computer?

Thomas from India said...

hey naomi ,

Off topic , I was wondering what religion you practised and what are your views on it , whether you really believe in God and maybe a couple of your spiritual experiences ?

Or just write your next blog article on it.

Thomas from India said...

oh and I'm christian

Been reading your HT stricles for more than a year or two.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

A lot of Indians are very touchy when you happen to point out that the story of their economic miracle might not be as rosy as it sounds.

None of it was media hype, Western or otherwise. A reporter's job is to report what he or she sees. The journalism bit comes when they try to put it into some context (which obviously means that there are different interpretations and as a result, debate).

It's also the media's job to examine what someone says, not just accept it because they're a so-called authority figure. So, when you've got that muppet Kalmadi saying the Commonwealth Games would be better than Beijing - widely seen as the best Olympics in history - and "world class", the onus is on the media to look at whether whether he's right or talking out of his arse.

As it turned out, the Games were OK, despite the well-documented and very real concerns about stadia not being ready and the standard of accommodation. And if this is your warped criteria for success, no-one died or was seriously injured - apart from those construction workers when the bridge outside the JN Stadium collapsed, obviously, the 100 or so other underpaid, overworked migrant labourers who lost their lives in the race to finish the venues, or the Ugandan delegation which was almost spiked to death in their car by a stinger device at the athletes' village.

But one thing it was most definitely not was world class: the venues weren't finished, there was no food or water provided for spectators and no merchandising stalls. The ridiculous number of helpers were largely useless and didn't know the layout of stadia properly, some venues had no Internet access for the media and the online quotes and results system was down most of the time.

All of this could have been avoided if the authorities had actually finished everything on time and had a few test events to see if everything worked properly. But obviously seven years isn't long enough to prepare, particularly when you're busy working out how to siphon off funds from the ring-fenced Dalit budget into your own back pocket.

Most of all there were hardly any crowds - or at least knowledgeable ones who knew that the etiquette of spectating, is not to shout and holler when the athletes are on the blocks or only support home competitors and walk out when none was involved. More Indians seemed to think the Games were a success just because they liked the opening ceremony.

But that's just a metaphor for the country as a whole in its self-proclaimed role as an emerging superpower: looks good on the surface but it doesn't take much to realise that underneath it's falling apart.