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Category: Reflections Date: 04 Dec 05


The talk at the dinner/lime meandered from here to there and settled at our end of the table on the Bollywood awards.


“Are you going?” asked the lawyer. “Hell, no,” I replied. A heated discussion ensued. I said I disapproved because I can’t believe people pay money to watch “stars” show off, that I’d rather see their films (if they are good) than gape at them.


He retorted that the event was significant because it countered the feeling among the East Indian population that they were marginalised because, after all, here they were openly and demonstrably celebrating their heroes.


But at that late hour, with some alcohol in my head, I came across more as a killjoy rather than a charming hostess. (Why does my brain always let me down? Why can’t I just dress up, serve food and shut up? Oh well. One of these days I will achieve that Stepford wife/Martha Stewart status that makes women likeable in this regressive, girly, bling bling age).


That night, under dying candlelight, when I should have been light and frivolous, I forcefully said we base too much of our identity on stars of sport, entertainment and beauty pageants.


I thought (but thankfully refrained from saying aloud) of the electric jolt of envy I feel when I go abroad and see busloads of schoolchildren being taken to book and science fairs, art galleries, photographic exhibitions, readings by famous authors, poets; of the pang I get when teenagers are well informed and passionate about politics and poverty, about G8 issues and globalisation.


Why can’t more of our children aspire beyond a beauty show, sporting or singing personality? Why can’t they, too, get a chance to absorb the world, and engage in it, change it as is their right?


I remembered an observation by an eminent local doctor that in other countries, people put up monuments to their great leaders, philosophers, thinkers, prime ministers, revolutionaries, people who shape history and civilisations, like Adam Smith, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Robert Burns, Karl Marx, Lafayette. We put up two statues. Of calypsonians. Worthy, great men, but is calypso the only reflection of our identity?


We can’t compare ourselves to ancient civilisations, or even new, rich ones like America. Our little new world goes back only a couple hundred years (not counting the native Indians who were wiped out by our colonisers). Still, how are we to grow up if we don’t acknowledge the grit, intellect, work ethic, toil and ideals of people who shape our destiny, who pulled us out of our slave and indentured states and opened the door to the world for us?


Like them or not, men like Dr Eric Williams, Dr Rudranath Capildeo, CLR James, Sir Vidia Naipaul and Derek Walcott deserve monuments. There are so many others I don’t have space to mention here. I don’t know how much of this I thought, how much I said aloud.


I thought of the raw talent of our people, and where we could be if we began hero-worshipping people in academia, in science, in technology, in agriculture, in industry.


Look how we reacted to our football game. Now think of our collective power if our heroes were also critical thinkers who had a huge vision of the world, who said, “We’ve achieved a peaceful democracy, but how do we make it a more literate, healthy, equitable one.”


Last week Time magazine convened a three-day global health summit in New York to devise practical solutions to the health crisis in the developing world.


They invited 400 people, policymakers, journalists, public health officials and, yes, entertainers to talk about big questions like why poor people die. They invited Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan, Bill Gates and Madeleine Albright.


The magazine ran a piece starting, “In the time it took you to read this article, 13 people died of tuberculosis, 20 people died of Aids and more than 5,500 babies died from preventable infections.”


I think I communicated some of this to my humane, brilliant lawyer. That is why I get angry with our perpetual obsession with “entertainment.”


Nothing wrong with it, except it isn’t balanced with the big questions.


We agreed on that.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur