The problem with demi-gods and demi-goddesses is that along with their rabid fans even the distant ordinary personnel are in severe awe of them. When the talk show queen Oprah Winfrey descended on to the land of diverse culture and odds crisscrossing each other, men & women not only welcomed her but eventually turned out to be her stooge. Just like her popular chat show, the host-turned-guest was in complete control of the situation from the beginning till the end. While the fine points of her well-intended visit were chalked out in detail, the proceedings and her discourse particularly seemed nothing more than desultory talk to me.
Yeah I raise my hands much before, acclaiming that the writer of this post doesn’t have any intention of locking horns with the world’s most influential woman. There is this specific form of painting where the real picture is not clear to the audience unless and until it is rotated and hinged at a particular point. Similar instance comes forth in case of diva of our times, Oprah Winfrey who made sure that eyeballs were fixated and also tried to provide wholesome entertainment by what she conceived to being caught up in India amounted to.
Let’s go around picking poor victims one by one. Alas! They were not able to sense the ominous presence of sarcastic humor that tainted the very way a typical Mumbaikar or Delhiite or for that matter an ordinary village folk lives life in a country where democracy might be an accident but at least it is not as traumatic as the apartheid.
In midst of the mayhem called Jaipur Literature Festival, Ms. Winfrey also tried to rake in with hers school of thought, courtesy being that of an interaction between eminent journalist, Barkha Dutt and Oprah. If being toady is a shameful act in private it is even more outrageous in complete public glare. Can you imagine organizer of the event, Sanjoy Roy making his way across the stage to receive Oprah and hug her, the man couldn’t even wait for the guest to arrive. Have you heard of something called protocol Mr. Roy? Don’t know what sort of wisdom dawned upon Barkha and Namita Gokhale who held their positions for that matter.
The wannabe who has penned down this piece is definitely nobody to comment on someone like Barkha Dutt and for that matter I think the journo delivered her duty fabulously. Oprah was actually looking for a prompter from which Ms. Dutt was reading (obviously there wasn’t a single one Barkha is a master of words and that impromptu address came naturally to her)!
Is that car going to hhhhhit (‘hit’ with more emphasis on ‘h’) us? This is what Oprah thought about India on the very outset of it. Point taken mam, we don’t follow rules but then who are you to smirk at us for the same. So driving on roads in India, according to the one who has credit of aiding Barack Obama in being elected as the President, is that it is very similar to that of a video game. ‘Chaotic’ was the exact term to be used in this context. Realizing that such opinionating could jeopardize her ambitious trip Ms. Winfrey soon switched to cathartic mode being touched by the notion that people in India not only practice religion, they live it.
So just like our conniving politicians who either harp on to religion or caste trail when they have no other issue to talk about, the natter empress also inclined towards the religion thing. Brownie point goes to her comrade, Deepak Chopra as well for assuaging those interests. Dressed in ethnic Indian attire comprising of a golden suit with exquisite embroidery worn with pink dupatta not to forget her bangles, Oprah tried to mingle with the verve and mood defining Indian, vivacious and enthusiastic as if ‘Tom Cruise hopping on the couch act’ was about to recur in just fraction of a second.
Apparently picture of a woman on a camel that read, ‘Come to India’ was the stimulus that induced the lady into surging ahead with the vision-board that urged to visit the mystic land indeed. It’s not that one is hell-bend on criticizing her, after all that can pave way for boosting the sagging fortunes of Indian tourism you see! So the optimistic cap is still on hoping to stumble upon something more substantive from the lady’s end. By the way I’m still waiting for three things that were about to be illustrated when Barkha directed her first question to the master, regarding what struck her the most about India. So it started with emotions related to chaos and wrapped up around the underlying calm, quite diplomatic one must admit. The JLF audience was also an overtly insouciant one, dumbstruck and caught up in the frenzy of clicking photographs so much so that the words being mouthed out there didn’t seem to make a jarring sound at all. When question of marriage was hurled at her, Oprah again seemed to play it safe. While attributing respect to the system of arranged marriage fun was poked at the ability of Indian women being able to carry along with that.
Yes, Oprah is known for being outspoken and those views can be taken in a flow of mirth but then why such a big hue and cry about an international celebrity who is yet to acknowledge the importance of the very set-up of Indian society and its various aspects.
In fact one must commend CNN-IBN anchor, Suhasini Hyder for her intense and terse question managed to put the guest in the hot seat into a state of tizzy for a moment or two. Though it started off on a rhetorical note with that vision-board thing again (was that tailor-made by some speech therapist?), the conversation soon drifted to Salman Rushdie row. My heart-felt sympathies went out to Shivangini, one of the viewers who committed a mistake of sending across a question, curious enough to know whether Oprah would ever contest elections for the position of President. Dissent was expressed by a suppressed gnarl which was unlikely on the face of Oprah. Poor Shivangini, hope she wasn’t petrified when she watched the segment. Therein lay the moroseness of the scorning humor with which Oprah Winfrey enticed all and sundry. Even a mundane camel ride would have been much better than her superficial perception of India, for god sake we are no entertainers and this country is not a show!
Surely Atithi devo bhavah but then the guest can’t go on blowing her own trumpet with blather; very much like a grain or two in a heap of chaff. Atithi perhaps didn’t do much of research before coming over for her much hyped visit to India. Apart from the slums, to the glitterati of Mumbai to JLF, India has more scenic places to boast off. Why talk about Indian women in their ‘submissive’ form when her strong alter-ego has already taken on the world or ready to climb the echelons of success in the form of Late Kalpana Chawla, Indra Nooyi, Nanina Lal Kidwai, Deepa Mehta, Chanda Kochar, Anu Aga, Kiran Bedi and so many Beauty Queens, their accomplishments being a source of inspiration for so many others. India is not only about the Bacchans, Taj Mahal, slums and party thrown by Parmeshwar Godrej. To see the real picture our foreign tourist would have to stop feigning know-it-all attitude. Surely she wouldn’t like chants of Atithi tum kab jaoge welcoming her on next trip for another Chapter.