Tuesday, October 29, 2013

OUTLOOK at 18: Very Dim

OUTLOOK magazine has just celebrated its 18th birthday with an issue that is loony even by its own weird standards.

The “Lead Essay” by Pratap Bhanu Mehta is a loosely linked collection of slack-jawed observations about magazine journalism. Samples:

  • “Writing, writing, writing. The only mantra a magazine has to recite and keep reciting over and over. But how this mantra works is, of course, a more complicated question.”
  • “The number of words a story requires depends on what a well-told story can bear. Story-writing is not a number crunching exercise.” 
  • “Multiple partialities is (sic) not the same thing as objectivity. In a democracy or in any story, it is usually a good idea to make sure all issues and points of view have been considered. But a mere presentation of different points of view is not objectivity. In an age where (sic) everyone’s opinion is a little too readily available, it is not clear that reproducing multiple opinions makes the magazine interesting. The Indian media seems (sic) to think its commitment to objectivity is over simply because it got opposing sides to air their views. Credible mediation requires the ability to sift through opinion.”

The next article is a stupefying piece by British propagandist John Keay, headlined “Leadenhall Street Irregulars.” The subtitle is “1818: The Company licks its chops, counts its acres; Evangelists, in a righteous fury, outvoice a few sane Englishmen.” (The Deal, an oil on canvas painting of Clive and the traitor Mir Jafar at Pilashi, serves as illustration.) 

For those who are not aficionados of British propaganda, let me introduce Keay. He is one of the very few “historians” still wedded to the idea of an Aryan invasion of India.  (Either that, or he is an MI6 stand-in extending the shelf-life of outdated but still serviceable propaganda.)

To defend the idea of the Aryan invasion, Keay in his History of India (a 2000 “Harper Perennial”), asserted that the Ramayana was composed after the Mahabharata instead of several millennia before it. He even dismissed as “interpolation” the “condensed version of the [Ramayana] story told in the Mahabharata.” It had to be, he argued, because “Rama’s capital of Ayodhya lay astride the Uttarapatha and five hundred kilometers east of the Kuru/Pandavas’ Hastinapura,” offering “precious evidence of the continuing spread of Aryanization during the first millennium B.C.” (He seems to be ignorant of both works, for no such deduction can be made: the Mahabharata also shows familiarity with the entire territory of India.)

Keay's article is stupefying because it appears in 2013, in what is ostensibly an Indian magazine.

I wonder if the people responsible for the editorial content of OUTLOOK – Krishna Prasad, Editor-in-Chief, Satish Padmanabhan who edited this issue, and Editorial Chairman Vinod Mehta – realized the extent to which Keay is repeating old imperial propaganda. Or do they agree that the British acquired their Empire “in a fit of absence of mind,” and that 1818 marked the beginning of “Pax Britannica?”

The British advanced those claims to hide their murderous rapacity.

If there was a British peace after 1818, it was that of the crematorium. The great slaughter of the Sikhs that brought the Punjab under the British was still 40 years in the future. A decade after that, the uprising of 1857 gave way to a “pacification” that killed some ten million civilians. That was followed by the unprecedented bloodbath of Hindu-Muslim “riots” the British engineered to Partition India. In leaving, they started up the conflict in Kashmir and created the ISI in Pakistan to carry on killing. And from beginning to end, British rule was marked by massive man-made famines that killed over 100 million people. Pax Britannica indeed!

After Keay’s article comes one by a teacher of history at Delhi University, Anirudh Deshpande, also focused on 1818! It is headlined “Pride, Flash, Glory and Dust” and examines the proposition that the Maratha power “went down in a blaze of futile fury, court intrigue and dangerous folly.” (If the year 1818 had some mystical appeal to the powers that be at OUTLOOK, they might have focused more interestingly on the birth of Karl Marx or the founding of The Friend of India in Serampore, in which The Statesman of Calcutta is rooted.)

The rest of the issue is a wild mélange ranging from interviews with a variety of 18-year olds to articles on “a drive down NH-18,” the place with the 180018 Pin code, notes on several couples who married at 18, and a “new parent-child jam band” showing that 18 “ain’t so angsty.”

There is a shaggy dog discussion by a panel headlined “We can’t wait for anything anymore.” Anjolie Ela Menon has too short a piece on changes in Indian art over the last two decades; 18 authors tell of themselves at 18; Canadian pop star Bryan Adams talks to an interviewer about his middling 1996 hit “18 till I die.” There are also several pages of random facts connected to 18, pix of various celebrities at 18, and bits about OUTLOOK staff.

The vacuity of the issue is stunning if we consider that the last 18 years have seen the following momentous milestones:

  • The Indian population rose past a billion
  • We became a nuclear-weapons State 
  • Mobile telephone networks encompassed us in unprecedented connectivity 
  • Archeologists found structures off the Gujarat coast that could date back 9500 years 
  • China and India led the emergence of developing countries as the driving force of the world economy after the 2008 financial meltdown plunged the major developed countries into recession.
  • The BJP gained and lost power in Delhi. The Communists lost power in Kerala and West Bengal and the National Election Commission ruled that the Party is no longer a national entity.
  • Communal violence rose to a new high afterthe demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the post-Godhra bloodletting in Gujarat. 
  • Terrorism rose to new heights with Mumbai a primary target. 
  • K. R. Narayanan and Prathiba Patel became the country’s first dalit and woman Presidents. 
  • Pakistani squatters in Kargil were driven out. 
  • “Super cyclones” hit Andhra and Orissa, one taking a toll of some 2000 lives and the other killing about 10,000.
  • India and the United States became strategic partners and Washington executed a “pivot to Asia” as it responded to the new calculus of global power. President Jiang Zemin became the first Chinese Head of State to visit India. 
There’s only one good thing I can say about OUTLOOK at 18. There’s nothing in it by either Arundhati Roy or Suhel Seth.

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