Do we know the world.

Indeed a very good article from Sunday Times which talks about our views of changing perception with time. How much we know and how much we have to learn. Basically, we have to see a lot more to understand.

Written by : Shobhan Saxena
[ 11 Feb, 2007 0046hrs ISTTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

 Reality is a question of perspective. It depends on your location on the GPS. Earlier, people with yellow hair and blue eyes believed that all Indians had a tiger in their backyard and filthy men made venomous cobras dance. We hated this kind of Orientalism.

We always believed that we had too much culture here and we didn't need to learn anything from anyone, at least not from the "ignorant" West which saw us as a nation of medieval freaks. Now, with the changing times, the perceptions about us have changed.

Now the world probably thinks we all live in slums, smell of curry, speak in funny accents, work in call centres and leak customer data for money. We don't like this. We feel others do not understand us. But we seem to be more ignorant of the world than the world is of us.

That's why when two Indian hacks go to Kabul to make a film, they get into trouble with the quintessential side-kick Arshad Warsi cracking some jokes about Afghan men liking other men and the Hazaras being ruthless barbarians who kill people by "stroking long, rusted nails into their heads".

Funny, isn't it? Not for the Afghans who banned Kabul Express. Imagine going to Afghanistan, standing in a fallow land which has turned red due to an eternal war and indulging in some gay-bashing.
 Our angle is so skewed that we miss the complete picture: This land has been a crucible of global wars from the Great Game between the Tsars and the British, the Cold War, the bloody battles between the Russians and the Mujahideen and the ideological clashes between the leftists and the religious zealots.

We know nothing about their music, poetry and food. We know nothing about their customs and language. The only thing we know about them is that they like to kill each other and they love to play Buzkashi, a game where wild horsemen fight over a dead goat.

We know that much because we saw Mr Stallone playing the game in Rambo III. We understand our next-door neighbours through Hollywood.

We cry till hoarse about the world stereotyping us as "the Indians", but the fact is that we don't understand the world as it exists. Forget Paraguay and Morocco, our understanding of China is quite warped.

Ask an average Indian about China and he would probably say: chow mein. We see China, the world's biggest nation, as the land of noodles, fried cockroaches and snake soup.
 The middle classes may associate China with new age mumbo-jumbo like Feng Shui, Tai-chi and the Laughing Buddha, and a booming economy that shines in the Shanghai skyscrapers. But that's it. We dismiss Japan, the world's second biggest economy, in a few words: judo-karate, Su-Doku, haiku, sushi, sak√©, kamikazes and harakiri.

Of course, we know about their cars and electronic watches. That's it. For us, Brazil, the biggest Latin country, that's three times the size of India, is a nation of semi-nude, samba dancers and crazy footballers. In our imagination, Argentina means Maradona. That's it.

A nation is an imagined community. The world lives in our imagination. The "others" are imagined people. But, so limited is our imagination about the others that we don't think beyond certain stereotypes.

We associate the Australians with kangaroos, the Russians with vodka, the French with romance, the Italians with fashion, the Latinos with sex and the Africans with HIV. And the Middle East is all about oil and beauties behind the veil. You cannot have an imagination worse than this.

We don't know what we are missing. China's rich culture rivals ours: thoughts from Confucius to Mao Zedong, writers from Zhuang Zi to Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, short poetry, long operas, Mandarin guitar and classical music. It's quite sickening to reduce Brazil to a carnival of hot babes on its beaches.
 It's a melting pot of cultures: from Europe, Africa, Asia and Amazon jungles. The beach is the most democratic place in Rio, where the rich and poor, homeless and intellectual, musicians and writers all meet and mix with each other.

The country has great traditions of music and arts. And politics: one entire generation grew up fighting the military dictatorship. But we don't care to know and understand all this.

In the age of globalisation, such a little understanding of the world is dangerous. Not for us, but for others: a white man straying into an Indian village is beaten to death for no reason; two Africans carrying meat in their bags are attacked for having "beef with them".

It's a dangerous way of looking at other people. At one level, people are the same everywhere. They are all trapped in their human condition: living, liking and helping each other; loving, hating and destroying each other. But if we do not know the details of their life, they don't look real. They look like freaks.

Anyone who has the power to make you believe absurdities has the power to make you commit injustices.
<b>Voltaire </b>

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