It’s fashionable to want to be a celebrity: To be followed, photographed, documented, deconstructed and talked about incessantly. This is partly because the rewards of being well-known can be numerous, but mainly because the world has self-esteem issues (and their name is Kardashian). Though not everyone wants to be a YouTube savant or Instagram royalty, the ubiquity of social media in our lives makes all of us unwilling witnesses (and perpetrators) of crimes of mass delusions. I, for instance, don’t often care that my Facebook friends are “feeling great” while “checking in” at a froyo store. Indeed, it inspires fantasies of freezing said friends cryogenically and painfully. And almost everyone can agree that most of what’s written on Twitter makes us, as a species, much less intelligent. But the impulse to self-promote comes from a worldwide obsession with celebrities. Not that I have to tell you about this. I mean, Bollywood…
Sometimes this cult of celebrity worshiping in the temple of the 24-hour news cycle and the symphony of online clicks it inspires can make stories far bigger than they might otherwise be. But the one time I find it necessary to deconstruct, in minute detail, the lives and actions of famous people is when those people run countries. Take, for instance, the recent meeting between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Nawaz Sharif at the climate talks in Paris. It’s not a secret that relations between the two have been frosty, and that they sat down for a few minutes to chat was perhaps the only bit of global warming that South Asia really cared about this past week. It made the frontpage of newspapers in Pakistan and India, and with good reason. For most of this year the two have been circling each other’s orbits at various global summits. You’ll recall how churlishly everyone was acting around the national security advisors’ meeting scheduled for earlier this year in August, when the planned talks were cancelled at the last minute, leading to a perceptible cooling off of goodwill.
The two sides were again meant to talk around the UN General Assembly, but things didn’t work out. Modi and Nawaz were staying at the same hotel and didn’t meet, but they did apparently wave at each other from a distance, like cordially vengeful hostesses meeting at a charity gala wearing the same dress. Now comes Paris, where the two sat and spoke for “several minutes”, unaccompanied by aides and advisors. They are more than two famous people meeting at an event, they are the personification of two countries coming together, and it is for that reason that it deserves more attention and scrutiny than a Mariah Carey vs Whitney Houston-type feud (RIP).
That they were shown talking means they want their countries and the world to know they will be, at some point, ready to do so again. I’m getting choked up just thinking about it. But we’ve been here before. The valleys and peaks of our meteoric relationship (which I’ve often described as the Ike and Tina Turner of geopolitics) can be relied on only for its changeability. Thankfully, there was a sort-of redux shortly after, when the NSAs from both countries met in Bangkok this past Sunday for unannounced talks (as we all know, what happens in Thailand, stays in Thailand).
Still, it does seem noteworthy that the two leaders get along far better when abroad than when back home. Perhaps this is because they are removed from the context and don’t have to prove anything to the more reactionary parts of their bases. Then again, perhaps they’re like all of us. I’ve often noticed (and I think you’ll agree) that Indians and Pakistanis are completely fine when they meet abroad. I mean, completely.
South Asian students associations at colleges are choking with goodwill and love. Diwalis and Eids are celebrated with a menagerie of desis from all over, and the only time this becomes an issue is cricket, though in the spirit of oversharing I have to admit I only recently found out that cricket matches now have 20 overs.
Perhaps in the face of the greater Other in foreign lands, we recognise in ourselves the similarities we deny when back at home. It’s but a glimmer, yet it’s a truth that always reminds me that we are, and will always be, intimately linked — despite the climate.