Need for more narratives…..( by Pritish Nandy )

Have you noticed how the multiple narratives in our society are yielding way to one boring mainstream narrative? We are slowly killing off the diversity of opinions, beliefs, lifestyles that make us the complex and wonderful nation we are, where so many alternate narratives have traditionally coexisted, interacted, and redefined us from time to time. Instead, we are becoming dreadfully dull, so busy conforming to the main script that we are losing sight of our own wealth of political, cultural, economic thought.

We all want to be on the same page. Those who are not are seen as marginal. As a result, politicians, bureaucrats, thought leaders, media, everyone seems to have acquired a sterile sameness of opinion that is numbing the growth of alternative thought and making our democracy far less colourful and exciting than it can be. 

I strongly disapprove of Narendra Modi’s politics but can we really deny him his political legitimacy given the huge support base he has in the state where he rules, where everyone claims he’s the best Chief Minister they have ever had? To defy that public opinion and see him only as a mass murderer is as simplistic and stupid as to say that Mamta Banerjee is so busy fighting the CPM in West Bengal that she’s not capable of running her railway ministry. She has amazing skills in mass mobilization. She has taken the Trinamool Congress from a tiny rump of the Congress to become the face of change, upstaging the mighty CPM entrenched for decades. At the same time, she is irreplaceable in UPA2. How can you under estimate her? Or, for that matter, Narendra Modi? These examples from two ends of the political spectrum show how naïve our mainstream narrative is.

We have glibly assumed that Rahul will inherit the Congress and become Manmohan Singh’s successor. We forget that the party, despite its obvious sycophancy, has a brilliant array of second rung leaders all ready to swing into action if the current Prime Minister ever shows the slightest inclination to step down. It will not be a cake walk for Rahul however capable he may be, and however much the media and the Opposition may believe he’s The Next Big Thing. We are not an easy nation to rule and no one figured this better than Rahul’s father who couldn’t run a Government with 400 seats in Parliament and the biggest fan following ever. The Congress too is a complex party. Behind all its fawning sycophancy lies an astute, cunning bunch of leaders who can make a nest of rattlesnakes look friendlier in comparison.

But it’s not just politics. It co-opts culture, art, music, movies. Economics too. In every area we tend to accept and pursue a naïve, simplistic mainstream narrative. In movies, for instance, we have concluded that only big budget films with big stars work at the box office. This has become a self fulfilling prophecy. As a result, we are busy killing off the entire body of mainstream cinema that doesn’t conform to this jejune formula. Ignoring the fact that India’s greatest cinematic achievements exist outside this domain space of no-brainer entertainment. In art, we have pursued the same logic of big versus good and ignored Somnath Hore for Subodh Gupta and Gaitonde for Husain. The great masters of classical Indian music have been already sidelined and only ephemeral film music remains centrestage, hoping to be remembered by history. And even though more and more Indian films are admired and awarded at international festivals every year, distributors and exhibitors are reluctant to put them out because the mainstream narrative has made them out to be no longer relevant.

Our mainstream economic narrative is becoming as boring. GDP growth, the rising stock market, increase in foreign investment: these are the new arbiters of our nation’s economic wellbeing. We are no longer looking at creating jobs, improving the quality of life of our people, encouraging talent and self employment, making justice, healthcare, homes more affordable. All the schemes the Government talks about are in thousands of crores but no one monitors them to ensure that they actually deliver on their promise, that they reach the people whose lives they are meant to change. We assume that the bigger the scheme, the more the people who will gain. But the actual beneficiaries are always the middle men who Rajiv once described to me as the spoilers. Six decades after Independence, the spoilers have only grown in number. We produce enough food in this country and yet millions starve and millions more beg for food because these spoilers make profit out of artificial shortages.

That’s why we need a sharp, critical, intelligent media. That’s why we need intellectual opinion that constantly challenges the dominant narrative and offers alternative insight. That’s why we need to listen to informed dissent, encourage multiple narratives to flourish. For that’s the only way the India of tomorrow will emerge, from debate, argument, and a healthy disbelief in the ideology of the mainstream.

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34 Responses to “Need for more narratives…..( by Pritish Nandy )”

  1. Multiple narratives are normaly stiffled by a powerful lobby. In India, the media is one such, thats why all news sounds and looks the same.There are very few who react and produce an alternative approach and also encourage it. The writer of this piece is one such.

  2. Sharmila,

    Thank you for Mr. Nandy’s article.

    The tone of the article seems inclined towards creating a status quo where those people who do not have any opinions should be given space and a voice in the mainstream narrative. Interesting that Mr. Nandy of all the people should say that. Very unselfish and altruistic of Mr. Nandy!

    These 80% waka-waka population will sway in favor of Mamta one day, Modi on another and Sonia the next – whatever sounds good in the morning – very clever and pragmatic people the waka-waka! Public sab janti hai?!!!

    I feel people who hold their own opinions and work on it are mainstream by default. They polarize the waka-waka at the right time at the right place – like on election day or the release of a movie.

    Mr. Nandy makes a valid point about the failure of the limelight to spot artists like Gaitonde or Hore. But when did artists like them or brilliant thinkers like R. L. Kashyap crave for recognition? They seem to be at perfect peace with their own vocations. And, in my opinion, they are probably safer without the intrusion of the media.

    Multiple narratives in mainstream media will flourish only if the 80% waka-waka swingers are carefully preserved. No single philosophy should be permitted to influence the masses.

    By Mr. Nandy’s definition above, an un-contradicted principle or doctrine is undemocratic. The waka-waka must be allowed the freedom to defend their right to have no-opinion against anyone’s personal opinion.

    That’s why any person, on the condition that he/she doesn’t understand or know anything about a subject, should be allowed to object and trash the thinkers. What’s a democracy about if we allow every talented person to rise above the ordinary and claim space?

    And for this democratic right of not training their minds the waka-waka are prepared to support a mainstream opinion for the one or two days of voting during an election or through a weekend of a movie release. But don’t ask for more. There would be no mainstream without waka-waka swingers.

    Besides, anyone in India can become a media celebrity, considering the near-impossible task of staying alive 24 hours.

    You don’t need to make a billion dollar Hindi movie to become a media celebrity.

    Just do something stupid and take a stand; within a few minutes there will be a mike and a camera pushing at your chin. And once begun, don’t stop.

    I remember, during the Lalit Modi-IPL controversy, Mr. MAK Pataudi appeared on practically every channel giving unsolicited opinions about the whole issue – without having anything worthwhile to say!

    If you were to ask me, the quickest way to become a media celeb is to crash your motorcycle or car into the TV news reporter when he/she is speaking into the camera. Nothing can be more ‘Live’!

    I love the waka-waka!

  3. Correction: There are no corrections! Can do, Mr. Obama!

    PS: Forgot to toggle the ‘Notify me’ check-box. Had to make another ‘Submit’

  4. Reader – Let me give you a small example. Do you recall young Arun Bajpayee, the youngest Indian to have scaled Mt Everest. Mainstream thinking does not allow even two hoots to be blown for this feat. If the media recognized this marvelous effort, the boy would be better known in India. However, just because the media does not think this event to be important enough and pushed this news to page eighteen of the dailies, there are some out there who are trying to promote this chap. Mahesh Bupathi is one such and I am happy that he is doing this. We need people to not just think outside the box but also differently in order to sway the masses. Hesh is doing this on Twitter, a place that cultivates different thinking and multiple narratives. It is after I have gotten on to Twitter and Ab;s blog that I have had a chance to interact with multiple narrators like yourself. Hesh is not going to get anything out of this, but he has chosen to do the right thing. Mainstream thinking also entertains sterotypism, nine out of ten do and act the same way, there will be one who prefers to do the right thing. This one may or may not yearn for recognition, it is his / her prerogative.

    • Sharmila,

      Yes, I know of Arun Bajpayee. And the best thing about it is how I know. Within hours of his return from the expedition there was an hours program with his interview on BBC World Radio.

      I was driving back from my office in the evening and as is my wont switched on the FM broadcast to check for the day’s highlights. BBC usually picks international news and political developments in Delhi and North of Bangalore.

      But that day, to my surprise they honored this boy with a full length audio documentary.

      I agree, there are these exceptional moments when a broadcaster must stand-up and say, “Like it or lump it Mr. Listener, I am going to broadcast this! And its my channel… you don’t run things in my studios… I do!”

      About mainstream thinking:

      I think we are mixing a cocktail.

      Political lobyyists who appear on NDTV, TimesNow or Headlines Today or Aaj Tak etc can hardly be called mainstream thinkers. Bunch of jokers, I would say who are watched closely only by stock-market brokers and government contractors.

      These so called spokespersons of various parties are not even analysts in real terms although they appear in forums on TV.

      The actual think-tanks and spin-doctors watch there ideas being sold to the masses by different channels piece meal.

      The quality of multiple narratives that Mr. Nandy has expressed a desire for is, in my opinion, simply impossible. Those guys hate media exposure. But, having said that, I must add that this is a recent withdrawl.

      Earlier when the media was not so easily sponsored, papers like TOI, IE, The Hindu etc had excellent articles on the centre pages. Some of them even surpassed the editorials in quality and content!

      Now we have word caricatures of Jug Suraiya or a cheap gossip columnist from Filmfare writing on today’s fetishes in the center pages of the flagship – the TOI daily.

      And thats a spoiler!

      • Not getting mixed up. In Bajpaye’s case it is a non typical case of ” This news is not sensational” enough thinking. Yes, the news anchors despite being mad hatters encourage a certain way of thinking. That is why Is say all news sound and look the same. What drives this stereotypism is the obvious commercial consideration. I still find Twitter, the modern medium that encourages multiple narratives without worrying about consequences.

      • Off late TOI has been a shocker, Mainstream thinking seems to be diverted to their hotlix site.

  5. In this case of Bajpayee, who comes from a humble background, recognition would help him scale new heights. Maybe Hesh would even promote him via Globosport and hope he does.

  6. Sometimes the most untrained illogical mind can come up with master ideas. The IT gurus of this world were not subject to mainstream thinking in the days when the rule book was the rule.

    • Sharmila,

      I am trying to differentiate between public interface as in appearing in newspapers and on TV, against being known and respected in one’s own industry.

      There are millions of people like me who enjoy knowing what they know without trying to be known.

      There are others who are known and honored in their respective fields without ever drawing the general public’s attention. They might appear in the news for a day or two after being awarded some recognition but they will quickly withdraw into their own world.

      And finally there are some who never ever make it outside a closed circle of their industries whos-who, like for example the brilliant corporate managers of the Royal Dutch Shell Group who practically run the people’s destiny in 115 countries. The public will never hear of them or from them.

      These geniuses and gems of the real world are not bloggers or on twitter or facebook or orkut. It requires an event of scale to bring them into our lives in real time.

      I am a subscriber to more than 9 journals in my industry. And occassionally one of them writes a few lines in them to give us a feel of the future. And for mere mortals like me, that feels like reading the mind of God!

      I think ‘Multiple Narratives’ as you say, should open the doors to such people. Not rhetoricians like me.

      • You will be surprised how many geniuses are there on Twitter. From Steve Jobs to the unknown Joe, each come up with their own brilliance from time to time. Yes, there are unknown geniuses who never interact on any platform, not even via a journal and are lost. But, I wish they would as knowledge is really about sharing.

  7. Yes, you are right, in certain areas like Movies, waka waka does not think but blindly follows reviews. Again Twitter helps in ensuring the right opinions are voiced and spread.

    • I am not in the internet anywhere except your page. I don’t do twitter, I don’t do AB and I don’t do Facebook.

      Probably because there is nothing on earth you don’t discuss! And also because I cannot say anything without a correction!

      30 years ago, I scored 97% marks in Maths and Science at the first attempt. I won a monthly scholarship from the Pune University for Physics.

      That success rate has now come down to 50% first time.. another 25% the second.. another 12.5% the third and 6.25% at the fourth and another 3.125% at the fifth attempt which still gets me at only 96.875%… nowhere near what I was 30 years ago!

      Burning out with age…

  8. Sharmila,

    Slept over Mr. Nandy’s article last night and with the sunrise dawned another light…

    There is a sizable chunk of neo-rich affluent intellectuals (mostly IT) who have mushroomed in cities like Pune, Banaglore and Chennai over the past few years of economic liberalisation in India. These people have surplus income to afford flats and villas in enclosed societies plus good education and luxuries for their children.

    I think Mr. Nandy’s article is asking the media to be inclusive of these people’s (mostly cynical) opinions.

    Logically he is right. They are tax payers unlike NRIs. They are making money. They are wailing and whining all over the internet about immoral politicians. They are crying for a voice in the government’s policy making process.

    And the media is not helping. Nor is the internet, twitter, AB or Facebook.

    These new generation of economically upper middle-class are intelligent, educated, sharp and successful.

    However, they scorn the politics of the day. They mock the foolish beliefs of the uneducated. They do not tire laughing at the general Indian-ness around them. And they do not have the time or inclination to risk their lives for mainstream politics.

    They would like to criticize and run if they can. And they are intelligent enough to know their constitutional rights.

    I think, Mr. Nandy is risking his credible voice for a treacherous and venomous section of the society. They are not even a vote bank. They never vote. They are not even opinion makers like the media. They are whiners driven by envy of anything and everything. And turncoats too. They can be bribed, threatened, extorted and tempted by any strongman over a mere phone call.

    These neo-rich have discovered lately that their money doesn’t buy them ethics. And they are expecting that to come the same way as the money came in the last five years – through Foreign Direct Investment!

    The recession will eventually sink into their lives this year or the next. Thats when they will show their true colors – causing civil unrests through their wordsmithy!

    NRIs have the option of stepping back and watching the circus. They are mere tourists and moneybags for the local citizens anyway – never considered in the local development plans.

    • Yes, great points. This is a whole new perspective of looking at the point he is trying to make and there is a good chance he is targetting this lot. I will send him this comment on Twitter and lets see what he says. NRI’s can step back and watch the circus, one day though, I hope they realize the I and join the circus.

      • Sharmila,

        Your last line should be put up on a frame as a permanent reminder:

        NRI’s must realize that one day they have to join the circus.

        It’s a grave threat and an opportunity, depending on one’s perception.

      • Here is an example of the developing scenario:

        Mr & Mrs KNG (a rare case of a Gouda who opted for Computer Science instead of the family business) purchased a small penthouse on the 9th Floor of a condominium for a whopping INR 65,00,000/-.

        Within an year he sold it for a mere Rs. 21,00,000/- and moved into a rented apartment.

        What happened is this. After paying cash+white and 30% in taxes, Mr KNG was left with a staggering loan account with a private multi-national bank and overdue payments on credit cards.

        The debt recovery agents sent some goons and forced him to sell the property to the owner of the agency, threatening humiliation, court cases and gaol.

        Mr. KNG moved out with his wife and two daughters in a months time. Today he writes furiously against the Home Minister Mr. P. Chidambaram.

        This case also proves another point I had made some time back about the economic realities in our nation.

        The prices are not decided just by a supply and demand gap in the market as most simplistic analysts prefer to believe.

        The price is decided by what the richest buyer is willing to pay – as in a stock market. We have customers for anything and everything.

      • I think it presents immense opportunities, for one there will be more tax for the coffers.

  9. sharmila Says:

    Reader – I agree, the powerful are the ones who drive and control not only pricing but demand and supply too.

  10. Sharmila,

    A powerful person in a democracy is a person who is suffered by a captive consumer.

    And, in my opinion, this applies to any field – from basic necessities to luxuries.

    I attended a course on ‘Negotiation Skills’ once, conducted by a very respected Dutch facilitator in our regional office at Sharjah.

    One of the first things I learnt and always practiced since then is that I do not negotiate at the point of gun. If I am held captive and then someone pretends to be negotiating, I simply withdraw my offer.

    My wish or desire is not open to negotiation. I withdraw the desire. I do not pay ransoms.

    The price hikes occur because someone is ready to pay. The Government’s political stranglehold on prices of essential commodities is an instrument of blackmail.

    A trader will always sell to highest bidder. The best quality products are exported because apart from tax free revenues the price is 300% more than the local market.

    Poor quality products are hoarded and sold piece-meal to meet the revenue targets.

    These revenue targets have to be rationalised.

    The objectives of the traders are in conflict with the desires of the consumers. This conflict is caused by government’s intervention – allegedly in the interest of the people which is a bluff that has to be called.

  11. Sharmila,

    A boring black and white mainstrem narrative has its drawbacks.

    But I guess one of the difficulties in introducing more color is where those colors can come from.

    The Indian diaspora is a rainbow that cannot be removed from its location; it disappears if the conditions are changed. No historian or narrator can accurately describe the diversity that one experiences in India.

    • Well Said. The diversity in this part of the world is staggering. An opinion or even a thought varies from state to state. We could have multiple opinions on one matter.

  12. Aishwarya Says:

    Sharmila,

    The one thing that blogging and Twitter has proved is that people still welcome the voice of the wise, of the sane, and of truth. There are big names from all fields tweeting, and yet the most retweeted are the ones that make the most sense, not the ones with the most followers or the one who tweets every second. Lisa Ray, Rahul Khanna, Gul Panag, Pritish Nandy…sharp minds…ones who call a spade a spade…loved by Tweeple because they say what they feel fearlessly, uninfluenced by the voice of the majority.

    Perhaps they could encourage citizen journalism in dailies and on TV. In talk shows, like the one hosted by Barkha Dutt, the audience ask astute questions and make statements that leave even the most intelligent panel flabbergasted. Some of the first pics and reports that we see on TV from the site of a mishap is provided by eye witnesses, not necessarily journos. Perhaps the media should only provide information and leave the interpretation to us.

    Politicians seem to be taking so much space in the news that the ones truly deserving are not seen or heard. Come to think of it, all politicians should be instructed to come barefeet (strictly no slippers allowed) and the place of gathering should be devoid of any furniture or adornments, especially chairs and pots! What these people wont do for media attention?! Next time, such crazy acts should receive no footage in the news. Better still, politics should be included in Animal Planet and NatGeo.

    On second thoughts, no…why insult the animals??

    Aish.

    Reader – Amazing comment on the rainbow and our diversity.

    • Aish – That is right. All the people you mention are the favorites on Twitter and you have sighted the right reasons for their popularity. A fearless opinion from somebody who matters is qquite rare and I am happy that there is a forum now for them to voice it. re – Nat Geo, yep, it would be a downright insult to those magnificent creatures, and you know exactly which one!

    • Thank you Aishwarya,

      A rainbow is perhaps more romantic than I feel about it.

      More accurate might be that the stories about India have always been like the six blind men describing an elephant. Some of them are even as far off the mark as Christopher Columbus…

      • Aishwarya Says:

        Reader – In so diverse a nation, why the boring greyness? Why the haan mein haan milaana? Why the recent withdrawal in multiple narratives as you mentioned above?

      • The withdrawal I feel is because of the visible conflict between credibility and integrity.

        For example, a celebrity who knows how to handle the media exposure might meticulously focus on being credible in his/her public statements.

        While serious thinkers might try to protect the integrity of their visions – avoiding contradictions and justifying their beliefs. They don’t mind if their ideas are difficult to believe at first sight. They don’t look for a following, they are only trying to sell their learning.

        There was a time when these thinkers were given pride of place by the news media.. and their words were even quoted in the parliament by Prime Ministers.

        These days, members of parliament bring newspapers that print scandals and scams to the parliament.

  13. Where is Sharmila?

  14. It had all been Sharmila,Reader and Aishwarya show so far.So,I thought to get in a bit of Salman here 😀

    Anyways,I missed for quite a few days again.Actually,I am leaving for India on 28th of September.And hence couldn’t find time before.But today I somehow got myself back….blogged for a while…..read AB’s blog……..and came to you di.

    Our focus has really shifted these days.If we produce enough to feed our people then why is it so that we just pay scant attention when it comes to the role of intermediaries.Or is it that these spoilers have grown so much in number that it is now beyond control to monitor their acts.Whatever may the problem be,its solution is a must.Or else the situation may worsen more and more………

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