To appreciate just how implacably bizarre India can be, there is nothing like those morning new capsules. Yesterday, in a few fleeting seconds of NDTV’s morning Hindi newsreel, one learned that it was safe to “take a selfie with the PM, but not with a DM”, and that Lucknow’s Tunday Kababi outlet pulls in Rs 25 crore per year in receipts. Moving on, one found India 24×7 obsessed with bicycles. The trusty steed of an MLA who used to cycle to the Assembly had been stolen (so what, file an FIR). Meanwhile, some kids had created a motorised bicycle with an agricultural pesticide pump (very good, but isn’t that a moped?). Another channel sweeping past under the onslaught of there mote said that a Hyderabad woman has sent money to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal to buy a pair of shoes, after seeing social media pictures of him in sandals at a reception for Francois Hollande.
Turning to more serious matters, when a Sudanese driver in Bengaluru killed a pedestrian and, after he escaped, the mob attacked a Tanzanian student, the focus was on the police. They did not file the Tanzanian’s FIR and stood by while she was manhandled. So what else is new? Nothing but the colour of her skin marked her apart from thousands if not millions of people who have been shrugged off by the police.
But that’s precisely the point: her colour. Muslims, Dalits, women, Indians from the Northeast and other minorities have selflessly served society’s perennial need for the Other but now the African community, whose numbers are increasing, is here to share their burden. The Other is easily identified by a single diagnostic test: it is a generalised collective, never a unique individual. The identity of Others is not perceived, so they can be treated as faceless, interchangeable units. That is why it is normal for anger about one Dalit or woman to result in injury to another Dalit or woman. And why, in the eyes of a racist mob, one black person can stand in for another. Our racism is vintage, only the targeting of black people is new. They weren’t so readily available earlier.
Al Jazeera used to be the world’s only news organisation reporting on itself, as it followed the bizarre trial of its staffers in Egypt — a saga which is about to be filmed as a political thriller. This week, the BBC has waded in, too, with its entertainment desk reporting that Matt LeBlanc, one of the Friends, is to be co-presenter of Top Gear, the BBC motor show created by Jeremy Clarkson. It even canvassed public opinion about this unusual choice — as one respondent wrote, an actor has been selected for a factual show. Really, the best way to be objective about your navel is to ask other people to examine the lint.
The brilliant lawsuit initiated by the Marshall Islands, in which it proposes to take India, Pakistan and the UK to the International Court of Justice for insufficient commitment to nuclear disarmament, will probably not amount to much. The tiny nation has futilely sought suitable compensation from the US for poisoning its Bikini atoll, and was both sympathised with and laughed off last year for protesting that it did not want to go the way of Atlantis because of global warming. Now, news of the lawsuit impending in March seemed to get about as much time on TV as ANI gave it. And on social media, India’s passion for conspiracy theories took over: they’re so tiny that they couldn’t have thought this up on their own, so some big power out to put the screws on India must be behind it. Whatever, the news makes you want to visit the islands and meet its enterprising people. Pictures of the atolls are most alluring but it is sobering to learn that on average, the land is only six feet above sea level.
To complicate the story further, the Marshall Islands Journal reports that Ban Ki-Moon has suspended the voting rights of the nation at the UN, for not ponying up with the membership fees for years. Much more liberal than Indian clubs, the UN. They let you run up a huge tab. But really, it’s just a big club in a great location.