Don’t you dare to come to India man, we leave manholes open, all in order to catch the unsuspecting tourist. And did you know? In the monsoons, sharks from the Arabian sea come out to the land, via the gaping manholes. We let out king cobras and other deadly animals and allow them free movement on public roads.
Ok, maybe last part was stretching things too far. But as a person living in Mumbai, I must say that the directive issued by the US government is extreme to say the least. India is a civilized nation, where a greater part of the metropolitan population is literate and can communicate in English, rather fluently as well! So many people have an idea of India being a land of tigers and snake charmers. But sorry to shatter your dreams guys, India is a country with a variegated culture, but whose basic civilization has been wrested away from tribalism.
Much as I may like to keep glorifying ourselves and how wonderful we are as a country, I must accept that there are some failings on our part as well. Don’t they say that the first step in solving a problem is to first accept the fact that the problem exists? Why don’t we all, before pulling out our guns against the people issuing such directives, look at ourselves, and how we project ourselves?
First, Indians as a class are perceived as being people lacking a general civic sense. I wouldn’t deny it, since we see spit laden railway tracks, roads, walls. The motto seems to be - have surface, will spit. If someone behaves in such a manner in his own country, what can you expect them to do outside? There has been an instance wherein someone who boarded a flight at Riyadh in the most civilized manner, lands in Mumbai and the first thing he does is spit on the tarmac here. No point blaming him. Maybe its in the air!!! And the saddest things is that if we, as aware, educated citizens were to try and reason out with such people, we would stand to be ridiculed, spoken to in a brazen, crude manner, which we as genteel citizens might not be able to digest. There is a saying in Hindi ‘Laaton ke bhoot Baaton se nahin maante’ meaning it is futile to reason through words with people who only understand the language of the rod. So, when such simple words fail to elicit the desired response, why can’t we have laws that prohibit such people from defiling their environment? Lashings or hefty fines a la Singapore?
You are what you project yourself to be. Indians are perceived to be boisterous, uncouth free loaders. How many of us have not seen Indian flyers (first time or otherwise) getting drunk on a plane, begging, commanding the air hostesses, who are bound by duty to be polite, to get them more booze? So when a plane full of people sees this, what an image of India do they carry with them? There was once this instance of a person traveling from Germany, and he seemed to be relating his complete life story to his co passengers, who were desperately trying to sleep. He was loud, crude and his behavior was very unbecoming. All through the 7 hour flight, believe me, he kept talking, inebriated thanks to the cartload of free booze he kept asking for. He asked his co passengers not less than 5 times for their contact details in India, although they clearly were not interested. Now those Europeans were rather decent and they merely dismissed his behavior as immaturity, I guess. But such behavior was being witnessed by a whole crowd of people in the plane. As an Indian, in spite of knowing that some Indians can be rather quirky in their manner of behaving, my immediate mental reaction was ‘BACK OFF MAN’…. I also know that Indians are not so clingy by nature. But people seeing such behavior first hand, and not knowing what they are to expect will assume that Indians as a class are the ‘Peeche padoo types ’ as we say in Mumbai Hindi. People reading this may think I am a person who is completely anti-Indian. But no. I just find the whole manner of behavior appalling! Some may say that Indians have grown prosperous too fast. The graduation from the three-tier sleeper to the economy class of an airplane has been precipitously fast. Therefore, the practices of striking up conversations with the people next to you in the train, sharing food, being loud in the train on account of background train noise, seem to have perpetuated into their new mode of travel as well. The picture alongside has been taken in the waiting lounge of Bangkok airport, where we were waiting for the flight bound for India. In that case, why don’t we have an etiquette session for people somewhere? I mean rural Indian population still does not undertake overseas travel. It is the urban population with sufficient media exposure -enough to tell them about the newest English flick running in theatres, or the names of Angelina Jolie’s rainbow children – who undertake such trips. So whether their behavior stems from new-found money and lack of exposure or an underlying sense of defiance and abrasiveness, is a question we need to sit back and think about and hopefully find an answer to.
In all such behavior, our Government doesn’t seem to lend a helping hand either. How do we advertise tourism here? I speak from personal experience. On the onward leg of my journey to Bangkok, there was an in-flight video talking about ‘Beautiful Bangkok’. The Buddha temples, the elephant rides, pristine beaches and the like. In stark contrast, my return trip featured an in-flight video discussing tourism in Nagaland in HINDI….. Now how many prospective tourists would know Hindi? And the ones in the plane who know Hindi don’t need a Nagaland ki Jhaanki!!! Plus, the video shows the life of one poverty stricken poor inhabitant of Nagaland, his awe at the sight of a train, how he herds cows and sheep. Just what was the point they wanted to convey here?????? Let us sit back and think, just how tourist-friendly are we? If a tourist were to come to Bandra station, would he know how to get to Churchgate? Do we have any train map available at all stations a la London or Tokyo or NY or Toronto? The answer is a resounding NO. Do we have tourist guiding booths outside key tourist spots? NO. As an inhabitant of Mumbai, I myself do not know all the lovely places to see here! They say that there is a tourism office in some corner of Churchgate… Oh yea? I didn’t know and I have lived in Mumbai since sooooo many years!
What kind of India are our authors portraying? A country riddled with poverty, flies, muck, and the morbid suffering therein. Oh yea, I am interested in visiting Somalia as a tourist! Don’t chide me, such writings may earn critical acclaim. But what does it do to the image of India? Let us ask these authors, whether this is the true India where they live? As a fellow Indian, do you not feel that by portraying India to be the proverbial – ‘poor, third world country’, you are pandering to the developed world’s rather morbid wish to see suffering in all other nations but their own? Doesn’t this qualify as cheap publicity? Whatever happened to Mumbai being one of the safest cities in the world, why not portray that? What about projecting the culture of Rajasthan or the North eastern states? How aware are people about the culture of India? People outside India, when asked about our country, generally know the Taj Mahal. They believe that Diwali is a celebration of the Taj! Well, this is not an exaggeration, a person in Canada actually made this statement!
India is rising, growing like never before. We are becoming citizens of the world, and the whole global population is beginning to sit up and take notice. In states like Rajasthan and also the North eastern states, where tourism is the main source of income, why can’t our tourism department actually start looking into these matters more seriously? Instead of worrying about cheap local politics that are worse than those portrayed on the regressive Indian television, why don’t we as a nation, led by our government, concentrate on taking India to the world? So open manholes may not be true. But unless we show the world that we are not a bucolic country, vacation photos of tourists visiting India will continue to be those of a cow in the middle of a road in Mumbai city or of weeping children sitting homeless in the rain.