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Anuja Chauhan
Anuja Chauhan

SCHIZO-NATION

The Spiegel effect

And now our shrill hate brigade—which leaps up and takes offence with the nimbleness of partying teenagers leaping up and grabbing free shots on a Thursday night—has taken offence to the fact that the Snapchat CEO, one Evan Spiegel, might have said, two years ago, that Snapchat wasn't meant for poor countries, like India and Spain.

I think that's just so rich. A country which two years ago, when this statement was purportedly made, had 58 per cent of its people living on less than $3.1 per person, per day, is objecting to being called poor.

What is one supposed to call it then? Wealthy? Loaded? Rolling in riches? Guys, let's get real, shall we? No matter how many vulgar weddings our multi-billionaires throw, no matter how many more floors Mukesh Ambani adds to Antilla, no matter how many American TV serials Priyanka Chopra does, no matter how much moolah our cricketers get auctioned for at the IPL, or how many dudes from desi engineering colleges become global CEOs, the fact remains that we were and are a country where poverty, along with its trio of ugly besties—disease, ignorance and exploitation—is a huge problem.

So why are we getting such a moral high from deleting Snapchat from our phones? (Why, some outraged people who don't even know what Snapchat is, are downloading it just to delete it!)

The father of our nation admitted freely to our poverty. He went about in a loin cloth, for heaven's sake, vowing he'd only clothe himself fully when every Indian could clothe himself or herself fully. (Not for a moment am I suggesting that our leaders go about similarly stripped btw, the sight of those portly bellies, yoga-toned shanks and 56-inch chests would be too much to endure, even for the sake of Bharat Mata.)

The Spiegel effect Illustration: Bhaskaran

But, you get what I mean. We knew we were a poor country then. We weren't trying to deny it, or push our poor folk under a plush Persian carpet with a thousand knots per square inch or anything. We were a mixed bag, some rich, some middling, some poor, and we knew, that just like in a game of Chinese checkers, you have to carry everybody across the board in order to win the game. If you leave even one checker behind, you lose the game.

Now, we've become several different countries. The super-rich, who of course are countries in themselves, with annual turnovers that are more than the GDP of most third world nations. Then there's our world-famous and hugely smug middle class, some 300-million strong, with its much touted purchasing power, which has seduced all the big MNCs to come to India, sniffing for profits. And finally, there's the great unwashed, who nobody even acknowledges (except the hapless Evan Spiegel, who surely should've been savvy enough to know better.)

I think our hate brigade has taken offence to being described as poor, because in today's environment, being poor is the worst thing you can possibly be. It's worse than being from an SC/ST/OBC or minority, because at least there's a quota for those. It's worse than being unworthy or untalented, because you can still win awards—just look at the performance our film jury found worthy of giving a national award to, this year. It's worse than being a liar, a murderer or a rapist—because then you can always bribe people, or pay them off (witness the growing band of boys-who-will-be-boys, all out on bail, unrepentant as ever).

It's no wonder, then, that among the 'cool' kids nowadays, the old affectionate swear words like Ch@#%a and G##$u and L@$#u have all been replaced by a pitying uttered 'poor' or 'gareeb' or 'chindi' or 'bhikari'.

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