Why should we be upset when things are made to sound better than they are, if they make our country look good?
A screenshot of the clip of the ‘10-lane highway’ tweeted by the honourable minister. Pic/Twitter
I recently purchased a packet of instant dosa mix that promised to give me ‘10 pieces’ for breakfast. I thought it was interesting that the word ‘pieces’ was used, rather than the more sensible ‘dosas’, but forgave the brand for this blatant lie because the advertising industry has never been known for morality or a conscience. Naturally, when I prepared the actual dosas, I found that the ‘10 pieces’ were really two whole dosas. Maybe the implication was that the two dosas needed to be cut into smaller pieces so that ten toddlers could be adequately fed. The fault was obviously mine alone; I was unduly optimistic when I should have embraced realism instead.
This isn’t a rant about advertising though, because I have long accepted that as a wasted effort. Con artists with questionable intelligence need to make a living too, so why begrudge them the delusion that what they do is important for anyone? No, this is about what those dosas reminded me of.
Earlier that week, one of our many honourable ministers with access to a smartphone tweeted a video of a new 10-lane highway somewhere in South India. It was retweeted and applauded until some people—specifically those who could count and insisted on counting—decided to spoil the party by pointing out that the highway had just six lanes. They went on and on about the missing four lanes, and the memes kept coming, which made me wonder why we have such a problem with exaggeration. Is it really that bad to lie about something if it ends up making some of us look good?
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There is nothing wrong with exaggeration because it is such an intrinsic part of our culture. It’s everywhere if we ever stop to look and think about how things are described to us. It begins when we are little and follows us to our graves, only we rarely notice it. It’s in our school and college textbooks, on the numerous hoardings and banners that blight our streets, on taxpayer-funded advertisements in government-friendly newspapers, and in every third or fourth word that comes from the mouths of our politicians. It’s everywhere.
Look at our hospitals, for instance, and how they advertise ‘world-class’ facilities right through the year, conveniently leaving out the fine print about unending labour issues, serious staff shortages, or reports of inflated billing that have prompted more and more insurance companies to stop offering cashless transactions.
Look at our tourism brochures with their endless promises of crystalline waters, untouched beaches, legendary Indian warmth and hospitality, then compare those descriptions with photographs of Goa’s beaches on New Year’s Eve, mountains of trash around our most famous heritage sites, unreported crimes against vulnerable tourists, and hospitality that depends upon the colour of a visitor’s skin. Look at how we describe our police force as one of the world’s most respected, blithely ignoring what our local chowkies are really like, and the hoops a majority of us have to jump through to file a simple FIR.
It’s also interesting that we attack ministers for exaggerating achievements they have little to do with, while condoning their personal accomplishments that simply don’t exist. A cursory look at their declarations of income, educational or criminal records, ought to prove almost instantly that these are almost always the least qualified people to hold public office and represent us in Parliament. And yet, we applaud their speeches and vote for them anyway, and do this time after time, only to complain when they exaggerate the number of lanes on a highway?
I think it’s time we acknowledge and accept that exaggeration is a part of our lives and start celebrating the audacity with which we deploy it. Yes, our ministers really do have 56-inch chests. Yes, they have the world’s most advanced degrees in mysterious subjects like Entire Political Science. Yes, they are all men of conscience and truth who are rarely accused of serious crimes like murder, rioting, extortion, or genocide. Yes, our police force is the world’s most respected for the high level of competence it displays on a daily basis, and the complete lack of corruption at any level.
We should use social media to propagate these exaggerations more often, and make India seem better than it really is, because that is our duty as patriots. We may be among the most racist, corrupt, bigoted people on the planet, but there is no reason for anyone outside our borders to know that, is there?
When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.