No Coldplay video has ever been as talked about as their latest Hymn for the Weekend, seemingly an ode to the multi-coloured hues of India. Urban citizens may be outraged at the stereotyping; predictable frames of sadhus and saffron flags floating in slow motion. If one doesn’t look at it so seriously, it’s just an eyeball-grabbing pop song, hardly claiming to be a treatise on changing the world.
It does appear though, that Indians are stuck forever with this reputation that they’re indefatigable spiritual beings, always joyful even in adversity. This is despite the fact that Delhi’s putrid air, and sadistic rapes across the country have been making international headlines regularly. Several European countries have issued safety advisories for women tourists, a shameful indictment on how things really are. In this scenario, we should probably consider ourselves lucky the West still chooses to portray us as exotic. We know, we’re nothing like the dreamy depiction of mystical India shown in movies like Eat, Pray, Love. A reasonably accurate Western description of contemporary India is in the 1997 book Are you Experienced by William Sutcliffe, a hilarious account of a British teenager’s three months backpacking here. There’s an indication about what foreigners find so fascinating about India. After the protagonist’s wildly thrilling holiday where he’s made many important discoveries despite himself, he wants to share this huge revelation with his mother. He trails off midway after the gut wrenchingly painful realisation, that she has no real interest in hearing him.
The Western romanticisation of India might just be a wistful yearning to connect and share more, the way we do in a racuous, familiar way. According to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, a TED speaker on “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness” it’s the quality of our social life that makes us happy, not fame or wealth, or work. In America, one in five people describe themselves as lonely. In my own meandering experience, I find it’s true that Indians have or make more time to stay in touch with family and friends, which foreigners might find appealing.
Consider the new British Airways commercial currently on YouTube made by filmmaker Neeraj Ghaywan. A flight attendant forms a deep connection with an elder passenger that makes her fall in love with the country. The ad highlights the tradition of Eastern hospitality, but also makes a point that in India, you can form meaningful relationships entirely by chance. In Hymn for the Weekend as well, vocalist Chris Martin seems overwhelmed with the ordinary people who welcome him into their lives. Travellers seeking alternate routes to fulfilment in India should maybe ditch the pious, levitating men — and try and get some real friends here instead.