Monday, April 4, 2011

The Ugly Indian?

The world cup which brought so much joy to Indians who hooted their car horns on every major thoroughfare, danced the bhangra on every city street corner and burst crackers in almost all villages, apparently had glum reception across the border in Kathmandu, while the denizens of Dhaka had as many rooting for Pakistan, a nation from which they separated after a bloody liberation war in 1971 which saw the death of nearly 2 million Bangladeshis, as for India or Sri Lanka.

Apparently, Nepalese who hardly ever watched World Cup Cricket in the last century, have taken to the gentlemen’s game and in recent years started cricketing clubs in their towns and villages. However, even they did not feel it made sense to support their neighbour with which they share history, cultural and religious traditions and much else.

Bangladeshi fans painted the Pakistan colours on their face, the day that nation played at Mirpur and waved the Pakistan flag, much to the disgust of many other Bangladeshis who felt such display to be in bad taste given the fact that March 2011 marks the 40th anniversary of a murderous crackdown which Islamabad ordered on unsuspecting Bengali civilians in notorious nights of long knives named `Operation Searchlight’.

When India won the semis or finals, some Bangladeshis did celebrate. However the support was never comparable to what came forth for Pakistan.

Some say this lack of enthusiasm for India stems from the Big brother attitude the nation takes towards smaller neighbours. Others contend it stems from a smaller neighbour syndrome – which has smaller neighbours building up a list of real and perceived grievances against the larger country.

Perhaps there is truth in both contentions. The list of such grievances for all our neighbours, except perhaps Bhutan, is indeed long. On the facebook, the other day, I saw a perfectly moderate, liberal minded Bangladeshi lady friend of mine commenting with fervour on someone’s blog branding India, the `new enemy’.

Their ire was caused by Indian border guards who shot dead a Bangladeshi illegal migrant trying to cross back to her home across the border. But the incident was perhaps merely the focus of many, many more such small and big incidents which had built up in their mind against a nation whose music, movies and individual people they perhaps love more than any other’s.

I still remember, a young Bangladeshi reporter who was my companion one afternoon at a mall in Borneo, asking me out of the blue “Dada, now India does not want to take us over anymore, right? You already control us economically…” Another, incident, which will remain in my memory for many years, is an over cocktails conversation with a young business tycoon from the same country, in New Delhi, where he told me and an Indian bureaucrat friend, “We know many of the things we feel you (Indians) have done deliberately to spite us are normal actions, but in Bangladesh we feel those `cunning Indian Brahmins' have been plotting to fix us.” He was talking about some inadvertent trade measure India had taken, which Bangladesh thought was a well planned non tariff barrier against its jute products.

But then we keep doing things to make the neighbour's feelings of being at the recieving end, far worse. TV cricket commentator and cricketer of yesteryears, Navjyot Siddhu recently compared the Bangladeshi team to insects and many others of his ilk kept harping on `Bangladeshi minnows', even though that young team gallantly beat England and gave the Indian team some food for worry in their group encounter with the 'Bangla tigers'.

This brings me to the question which many of us who have travelled to other South Asian nations, often wonder - are Indians perceived as the new Ugly Americans – arrogant, selfish, meddlesome brutes and is that why our nation’s popularity all around is falling?