The show did little harm, so why be obnoxious?

One of the criticisms is that Modi went for this day in the forest because it was a huge publicity stunt.



By Bikram Vohra

Published: Tue 20 Aug 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Tue 20 Aug 2019, 11:49 PM

The dichotomy in the attitude to Indian Prime Minister Modi stays sharp and specific. Even his adventure into the 'wild' with Bear Grylls has been panned by those who have to ipso facto find something to cavil about.
The savagery with which someone like journalist Chitra Ramaswamy writing in the Guardian displays is almost amusing in its ferocity except for its intrinsic axe to grind hurtfulness. Why would you think it necessary to go for him in this fashion when for a 70-year-old he did nothing more harmful than spend a day in the Jim Corbet National Park. Perhaps he did not wrestle with tigers or tackle a snake or have a leech sink its jaws into him and the advance publicity given the one-hour saga raised expectations to a pitch that the show did not reach . no crocodiles snapping at his heels.
For those who ho-hummed the effort forget that as a country for whom conservation of flora and fauna is not even a low priority, this exercise at least impacted on the puny awareness that we do have a responsibility to keep the planet safe from cruel exploitation. Through the eyes of the Prime Minister, even if it was a curiosity factor that worked in favour, the show received 3.6 billion impressions, which is more than the Super Bowl, the Ashes, the World Cup finals in cricket and soccer and beaten only by the Olympics as a singular event.
Sure, certain parts made one cringe, especially Bear Grylls' cloying affection and his sickly-sweet hosannas, but the message was infinitely more important. We have to wake up to global warming and the havoc it is creating with predictable climate. Suffice it to say that the background to the telecast in which India was being battered by incessant rains and floods, the ice pack in Greenland was melting like an ice cube in the sun and Europe was sweltering in a heatwave all combined to give it a credibility and relevance. Modi bashing became secondary and assaulting the visual content only indicted the haughty self-indulgence of individuals sitting smugly in their homes sipping aperitifs and intellectually mocking the relatively harmless initiative.
One of the criticisms is that Modi went for this day in the forest because it was a huge publicity stunt. Why is this prism valid? He went, didn't he and took a chance of an untoward incident occurring during the trip. How much safeguard can there be going downstream in a rubber dinghy that is, at best, flimsy. Maybe there were divers posted at various points. Why not? He is the leader of the biggest democracy in the world. 
Right, he is not Stanley Livingstone nor Corbett nor 'The Crocodile Hunter' ... Steve Irwin who died at 44, after being pierced in the heart by a stingray . can happen. The blurb for the trip in Uttarakhand states it is a "frank and freewheeling journey" that will throw light on wildlife conservation. Good enough for me.
It was a pleasant little hour, much like tea and biscuits with granny, one which as Paul Eddington of Yes Minister fame would have said, was memorable for doing very little harm.
We all watched it and were not bored even if certain portions nudged the hem of being gratuitous. For an uninitiated audience, it was a wake-up call and at least placed conservation and the need to protect our forests and rivers and the wildlife within and ensure that pollution is kept at bay, on the priority list.
Look at it this way. We have turned out rivers into toxic waters, denuded our mountains, ravaged our mines, destroyed a thousand species of animal and bird life and generally done the dirty and continue to do so.
Ramaswamy writes: In this monstrous propaganda stunt, strongmen Bear Grylls and Narendra Modi sniff elephant dung in the wilderness while a terror attack plays out in Kashmir. God help us all.  If a Prime Minister decides to walk the walk and bring a modicum of attention to the public's flawed values in India towards conservation, why propaganda? By that token, everything he does and says can be so construed.
Then she says with dollops of semi-liquid sarcasm: The strongmen set off on an adventure that, unfortunately, none of us will forget, crossing five miles of grassland teeming with tigers, "the absolute ninjas of concealment", as Grylls calls them. Not one is seen. Perhaps the ninjas of concealment are repelled by the swarm of camera crew, Secret Service, and the sight of two chest-beating men failing to listen to each other. Anyway, that doesn't stop Grylls from banging on about how dangerous the enterprise is. "You are the most important man in India," he gushes. "My job is to keep you alive, sir."
Okay, a bit sticky in sentiment but what did you want Modi to do, wear a loin cloth and swing from vines like some sort of reincarnation of Tarzan. Then you would have said, oh, how unedifying for a Prime Minister.
The unflattering review might make the writer feel powerful in this muscle flex but it is a reflection of the pettiness that anglicised Indians engage in when dealing with things Indian. It is a vanity forged in distance from the mother country. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland and this 'ailment' in self-flagellation is very common with Indians residing abroad. I have lived outside India these past 35 years and I see a lot of this lip curling contempt for what has been left behind, coupled by a fragile flag wave every now and then to balance things out and alleviate the guilt. 
Clever writing can be deceitful especially when the intent is pre-conceived. You want to not like a person or a system or an event and you uncap your pen with that mindset. So how are you being honest to your reader.
bikram@khaleejtimes.com
 


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