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Deep Fried in Nani's Desi Ghee

A spirited response to Ramachandra Guha's critique of NRIs

Deep Fried in Nani's Desi Ghee
illustration by Sorit
Deep Fried in Nani's Desi Ghee
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

A 'native intellectual', suggested Frantz Fanon, the great freedom fighter from Martinique, is essential to the development of any great nation as it comes into its own after decades of colonization. Fanon, a complex thinker by nature, evolved a whole theory of how intellectuals could and should participate in the life of their country. They had to find ways to engage with ordinary people and their aspirations and to think about the many meanings of freedom, justice and democracy beyond simply replacing white rulers with black or brown ones. Native intellectuals would need, above all, to discard their smug complacency, learn to be self-critical and forge international alliances with like-minded others. (Though from Martinique, he himself worked alongside the Algerian anti-colonial movement).

But these old freedom fighter types, our own Gandhi and Tagore included, really were rather long-winded and needlessly sophisticated. Who can blame them? They missed the cyber age where we do things faster and with a lot less agonizing over details and nuance. Here, in India, we can now produce the New and Authentic National Intellectual (NANI) in double-quick time, futta-fut. Here's how you can become one in Ten Easy Steps:

1. First, position yourself at all times as the Real Indian, the one who stayed behind selflessly to serve nation and countrymen while others have departed for foreign shores. You have remained (or returned) to live the simple life in your old family pile in Alipore or Prithviraj Road or Benson Town.

2. Locate a handy counterfoil, a Ravan to your Ram. These are easy enough to find. Rummage through the heaving NRI hordes coming back to (your) home this December. A couple of likely prototypes immediately present themselves. In practice, they may be polar opposites and sworn enemies, but that should not deter you from handily clubbing them together. So, take a rabid Hindu chauvinist and a secular academic-activist and pop-psychoanalyse both as alienated losers who have lost their way by living away from the motherland. The fact that their politics and views may have been formed during their long years growing up or studying in India is neither here nor there. Where the academic is concerned, long years of published research into Indian history, culture or economics is also irrelevant.

3. This will also enable you to place yourself as the Eminently Reasonable man in the middle between two Extremes. The truth, of course, is geographically certified, to lie 'in-between.' Anyone who thinks that this position (like Tony Blair's Third Way) is somewhat facile and easily arrived at is an extremist to begin with anyway.

4. A NANI, while selfless, also needs to eat. Fear not, you do not actually need to lecture at an Indian college or work for the Indian civil services to earn your daily bread. That would needlessly fetter your creativity. Write popular books which will be widely sold in the free and individual West where they love their 'native' writers anyway. (If one of these books can praise NRFs or Non-Resident Firangs who devote their lives to India and her 'tribes,' so much the better). The royalties will keep you in Fab India silk kurtas for the rest of your life. Please note that this is different from and vastly morally superior to actually living in one of these grey northern lands and getting your grubby monthly paycheck (from which income tax is actually deducted) there.

5. If you need to do research for your books in well-resourced libraries, you can easily get lucrative visiting fellowships or short-term teaching contracts at Cambridge or Harvard or Yale. (After all, you cannot really be expected to produce your words of wisdom sitting at the decaying National Library or even swish Teen Murti alone). This way, you can retain the glow of rectitude that being a Resident Indian gives you. Jet-setting and networking with the Global Great and the Good is, in any case, a form of national service.

6. Relatedly, don't worry too much if you yourself have undertaken your undergraduate or graduate study at one of these prestigious foreign institutions or even if you have taught there for a while. But please, do take due care to underplay this where you can or it may seriously affect your ability to be perceived as a real NANI. You need to be able to roundly denounce the Indian academics who live and teach abroad without any hint of compromise on your end. You, after all, are sweating it out on the coalface at the IIC or Habitat Centre while they are swanning around in New Haven or Warwick. These suckers actually teach for a living.

7. Now, while you dutifully condemn religious chauvinists (as all refined people must, dear boy) you must not lose sight of your real bete noire. This is what you term the 'Non-Resident Political Radical' (NRPR) -- professionals and academics based abroad (there being, of course, no political radicals or 'desi leftists' in India itself). This type of academic don is the real threat to national well-being and security. In terms of the calendar year, they may spend just as much time in India as you do abroad, but they must be reminded at every possible turn that they, unlike you, are Inauthentic and Deluded. So write vitriolic denunciations of Indian academics abroad at every available opportunity, including in academic books published abroad. Remember, you cannot do this too often.

8. Remind everyone that you yourself have your fingers on the Pulse of the Masses. (If challenged, point out that you have servants which even the most well-paid of these NRI types don't, certainly not the dons). The Masses, you can assure us unequivocally (because, after all, you talk to your bai, driver and mali) are unanimously in favour of every unfettered aspect of globalization. Oh, yes, even when it means loss of land or livelihood, polluted water supplies or ill-treatment in a Gap supply-chain sweatshop. Small price to pay for India Shining after all. And remember, Non-Resident Capital is far superior to Non-Resident Indians unless the latter happen to be providing the former. These useless NR-academics don't have two pennies to invest into a Bangalore start-up anyway.

9. If Indian academics who happen to be based abroad raise questions about the possible downsides of unchecked globalization, you can toss them into the dustbin of history in one fell swoop. Again, conflating different historical and political contexts is a handy tool--Cuba, China, Burma, Kazakhstan, the Congo--all are socialist 'autarkic autocracies' which these deluded dons want to transform our beloved nation into. (You can take the opportunity to reveal the hitherto little-known fact that Burmese generals are apparently seeking to convert their country into a socialist utopia, along with the big oil companies who are, of course, well-known supporters of socialism). Like McCarthy did for the United States, simply imply that all dissent is part of a vast anti-Indian left-wing conspiracy. If the (non-existent) desi leftist writer or intellectual based in India happens to also dare to voice critique, write a vicious denunciatory screed and dispatch them into obscurity forthwith.

10. Finally, and this is important so that you too not become alienated like them, end your perorations on a constructive note. This can be done with a soothing paean to all 'humans' to which category the 'right sort' of NRI are deemed to belong. Humans are people who agree with you. They don't get up your nose, yank your goat, or articulate critique. Above all, they are unlikely, in any way, to challenge your undisputed supremacy as Pundit of the Postcolonial Nation.


Priyamvada 'Main Hoon Don' Gopal is a suspected NRPR who has just tumbled off the plane from Cambridge/London at Bangalore Airport. A shorter version of this piece appears in print; it first appeared on the website on December 18

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