Oprah Winfrey's India

In an interview with Barkha Dutt, Oprah Winfrey, you said that she wanted to show your audience a "broad picture" and connect to the heart of people. You unfortunately missed one important group - your hosts.

While I agree that you are an American talk show host who deals with celebrities who might not hesitate to bare all, you were dealing with real families, real people and real emotions during your interviews. People whose lives will not change by your interview. It is insensitive to be invited to a person's home and comment on what it is lacking and ask them intruding questions about their personal lives. No one wants to be reminded of their misery. It would have been wonderful to talk about how well a 11-year old girl held fort and acted as the translator. 

It is also rude to comment on people's habits. Yes, we eat with our hands, just like you eat a sandwich or a slice of pizza. Yes, we have animals, we have birds, we have people in our country - just like you do. And no, we don't all look the same - all you need to do is to pay attention. We do speak english, along with multiple other languages.

As you might have learned, the Western way is not the only way of living. Not everyone needs a shower head or forks. Some people are happy living the way they are. 

I understand that it is difficult not to want to see the stereotypes. After all, that is all the media feeds you. But, you being Oprah Winfrey, we expected better. We expected you to work a little bit harder to understand the customs of the people you are visiting, and to shed the (unintended ?) "holier than thou" attitude. NO, having a saree made for you or wearing a kurta doesn't qualify. They play right into the hands of the myopic Western view of the East. We are a country of perseverance and strength. Of diversity and of sympathy. Of tolerance and understanding. Of contrast - so stark that it shocks us sometimes. 

Yes, we have our problems, but who doesn't ? Yes, our problems are probably a lot more complicated than a lot of others' but do you realize that we are 65 years old ?

You tried, but like multiple people before you, you failed. It is impossible to "experience India" (to use your own words) in 2 weeks. Trying to understand us and our country is like being in a relationship - you only get out of it as much as you put into it. Your show packaged the India that people want to see - not the India that is. It did nothing more for people to understand Indian culture than "Friends" does for the rest of the world to understand American culture. Which is why, I know, that someone in spite of watching your show will still come up and ask me if my family owns an elephant. 

Having said that, I appreciate some of the sentiments that you echoed at various points during this interview with Barkha Dutt, your heart and intentions are in the right place. Actions, however speak louder than words, and your actions, unfortunately told a different story. 

A note to my fellow Indians : all of us (including me) need to lighten up about how the West perceives us. There is some truth in what is being said, we just need to look beneath the layers of fluff that it is packaged in ! 

No comments: