Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Power and politics

Last week I went to the 30th Anniversary Party of Gram Vikas, an NGO we work alongside and I must say they certainly knew how to throw a party - it was 2-day affair which included speeches, stalls, competitions and cultural extravaganzas and was attended by over 1,000 people. Even Muralidhar Bhandare, the Governor of Orissa, pitched up and it was fascinating to watch the layers of security that preceded his arrival. Sniffer dogs ran under and over everything and everybody; no-one was allowed to go near the stage he was to use; the audience (apart from those of us in the VIP party) was made to sit cross-legged behind a double row of fencing; and, as the tension rose, ambulances, fire engines and dozens of armed police arrived. Finally, a stream of Ambassador cars screeched to a halt and, to the sound of drums and tribal wailing, the Governor emerged and made his way onto the stage. He can't speak Oriya and the majority of the audience couldn't understand the speech he made in English but he seemed a genuinely nice man - or maybe he was just a very good politician. Acknowledging that his position made things happen, he told us, with a wry grin, that roads to isolated villages are often built because, when he's told somewhere is inaccessible by car, he frightens the establishment by saying he will walk it. Either because he's important or because he is 80 years old, the requisite roads magically appear! He also has a great taste in shoes and was wearing exactly the same green Crocs as I had on.
As a VIP, I got to eat with the other "distinguished" guests and listen to them discussing Indian politics. One Communist Board Member was affectionately questioned on his party's contribution to India. "You were opposed independence in the first place and have voted against many ground-breaking pieces of legislation. What exactly have the Communists done for India?" By way of reply he pointed out that Kerala, India's only Communist state, is widely recognised as the best educated and least corrupt in the country. Whatever the politics, I realised that these people and their like had created the present day India. They weren't, however, entirely pleased with the result. A 75 year-old man lamented the demise of traditional clothing amongst metropolitan Indians which he put down to the onslaught of marketing by Western fashion houses. He went on to tell us that, although his family had been members for over 100 years, he had recently been refused entry to his club in Bangalore because it no longer admitted people wearing traditional Indian dress - a rule not even the British had thought necessary to impose. He wasn't anti-Western or even anti-British, just sad that India's ancient culture (including the way they dress) was being superseded by the homogenised global one and that no one in India seemed to be creative or interested enough to stop it.


Jaya & Liby said...

was in gram vikas 8 years and part of the 20th and 25th birthday celebrations! so was good to read about the 30th on your blog which i chanced upon.

also wanted to say, i am no fan of naveen patnaik the CM, but he does not live in California...

Susie Price said...

Oops sorry about CM - I must have been misinformed I assume by someone who is even less of a fan of his than you! Post has been amended.