Dear Mr Modi, enjoy a bite of Big Apple and then come home

Stay for a while before you take off again, sir, for we need to know you are in office

bikram

Bikram Vohra | September 29, 2014


Prime minister Narendra Modi, along with external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, with the organisers of the Indian community dinner in his honour, in New York on September 28.
PIB photo

The unmitigated arrogance of the returning NRI. Instant coffee observations. Begins at the airport where the stampede out of the aircraft is viewed with globally travelled contempt. Then the slowness of the Immigration, way down from the impressive speed of the recent past.  Empty seats beyond the counter, like pulled-out teeth, greet the Indian traveller.

Narendra Modi’s magic not working, shout scores of tired passengers, their mumbling ricochets off the huge lotus sculptors that adorn the airport. Too right, echoes journalist Padma Rao, Modi is away, the bureaucracy will play...golf or hooky. Too damn right, says the taxi driver as we run the frozen gauntlet of yellow and blacks that look like old slippers or burnt-out vessels, tells me it is back to old tricks, corruption is rife, everyone is on the take once more, life has not changed, better days do not lurk (?) around the corner, his kids go to a government school the teacher hasn’t come to for four days, there is no substitute so the kids come home sans homework.

Indian news is eclectic. How did a man get mauled to death by a tiger in the zoo? No answers. Why do 2,500 students have to be penalised for complaining about dirty toilets? Bollywood celebrities on a quiz show don’t know where Rajpath is? We have had 68 parades on January 26, you morons. Yet, thousands will adore them.

Have no idea why everyone is going so out of whack about Modi’s US trip, like okay nothing is going to happen, shibboleths and soda water but the awe and reverence on the TV news channels would make you think it was a kind of second coming. The shrill, breathless anchors even speak in whispers or screaming excitement when they refer to him. Here we go, into reckless adulation again. One guy has just said that all America is waiting with baited breath. Where, in Montana or Dayton, Ohio or Hicksville? Why can’t we keep it in perspective? Have a good trip; stop acting as if this is some magical milestone.

Then again, why not get excited. After all, 40,000 people want to enter a Madison Square Garden (they cannot cease babbling about it) where you can get in 18,000 for a prize fight. Modi beats Madonna. Mayhem at Madison. And Miss America will fete him...say what? Miss America?  All good except for the mildly disquieting impression that everyone is behaving like a poor relative invited to a rich man’s wedding, you are a better man than I, Gunga Din...or is it Barack Obama?

Come on, people, the 40,000 are Indians in great measure. Americans scarcely know their own president.

Then they bring that tea boy to top gun angle and my cup on that is empty, it is over, get on with it. Modi knows what he is doing. Even the insipid Nawaz Sharif delivery at the UN won’t deter him. The references to Jammu and Kashmir were expected, muted and had no fire in them, but will Indian media give Sharif a helping hand by going on about it and trying to read far too much into the five-minute rendition to no applause? You bet they will over-analyse it to the point it becomes like an inflated balloon. Ignore it. He said nothing unexpected.

And I finally watched Kaun Banega Crorepati and I have come to the conclusion after profound consideration that Amitabh Bachchan and Narendra Modi speak with the same cadence and inflection. Suspect he is teaching the PM the intricacies of dialogue delivery. Modi is getting to be a classier verbal act. Heard him talk to India’s billionaires, he has mastered the loping rhetoric. Bachchan, meanwhile, touts ‘to be released’ movies through this quiz show. ‘orrible.

This is the bottom line, sir

NRI arrogance drips from us on these trips home like rainwater on a spaniel. We moan and groan, we judge and play jury and then salve our guilt with band aids about how we are delighted to be home, wherever we roam but we are booked out to Heathrow and right to Stratham...phew.

Also, since this is a take from an NRI who truly loves coming home and therefore can afford to be inappropriate, why, I ask, in a nation loaded with brilliance and common sense, a nation where genius in the arts and sciences is into overload, have we lost our historical courtesies. The gentleness has gone. Everyone looks angry.

No one says thank you. Expressing gratitude is a weakness.

We don’t keep appointments and think nothing of being an hour late.

The poor are still treated badly and exploited. You try to shake hands with a cabbie or a porter and he looks at you in shock.

We break promises with casual indifference.

The new rich, like Roman legions, have taken over the baths and are crude, rude and ill-mannered and gross in the way they spend their wealth. The rage they must ignite in millions of Indians who don’t get a decent meal a day (forget about a square meal) is worrying.

My house help has a wedding and has borrowed Rs 50,000 at 9 percent interest a month. That is 108 percent a year. He says he will pay the interest every month or risk being beaten by hired thugs, laughs at me when I suggest the cops should be called, agrees he may spend 20 years paying it back. Tells me it is rampant. Zat ees ze bottom line, Mr Prime  Minister.

Enjoy a bite of the Big Apple, Mr Modi, then come home and stay for a while before you take off again, Sir. We need to know you are in office. You are the principal and we need to know that playing truant is not an option.  Remember what happened to Adam?

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