Wednesday, November 24, 2010

FT, Martin Parr and whether ex-Mumbaikars suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome

I finally got around to reading the FT Weekend Magazine on my way back from Paris.

The tantalising cover and the bold “Seven Days in South Asia” had me most excited. I mean, how often do you see a North Indian woman in a violent pink sari and comic sunglasses on the cover of FT?

Unfortunately, the story was a let-down. It was written in the style of a diary of the FT editor Lionel Barber about his weeklong trip to India and Pakistan. During the eight days – yes, it was eight days but I guess, “Seven days in South Asia” just sounds better – he essentially hobnobbed with the rich and the powerful of the two countries starting with the governor of West Bengal, followed by Mamata Bannerjee, Mukesh Amabani, Anil Ambani, Anil Agarwal of Vedanta Group, Ananda Mahindra, Ratan Tata, PRS Oberoi of Oberoi Hotel, the Ruias, Jyotiraditya Scindia, Manmohan Singh, the governor of Punjab Salman Taseer, and finally Asif Ali Zardari. As all these interviews had to be reduced to a four page story, what we get is mostly his impressions and a few quotes to support those impressions. All that is fine by me. But why the comic, cheeky cover image which suggested insights into the self-perceptions of ordinary Indians? To me, the cover seemed disingenuous and misleading.

The image was shot by Martin Parr. Chirodeep, a photojournalist friend of mine, had first told me about him. Then in a space of a week, I found myself gazing at this works twice. First on the FT cover, and then again at an exhibition at Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which was a part of a month-long photography festival in Paris. Parr’s photographs at the exhibition were from one of his early acclaimed series published in 1986 about British tourists holidaying at Brighton.

The exhibition was about extreme photography: or images that pushed either the photographer or the audience to the extremes of their physical, social, imaginative and/or emotional abilities, and how just by doing so, made the experience a little bit mundane.

Which is why this image by Gabriele Basilico stayed with me for long after I had left the exhibition. It caught my eye the moment I entered the room, mostly because from a distance it looked like Mumbai to me. A densely packed neighbourhood with mid-rise buildings in a semi-ruinous state, where else could it be? It turned out to be shots of bombed-out Beirut from 1991. But honestly, even at a closer look, it kind of looked like Mumbai on an ordinary day to me. It was appalling to think that we Mumbaikars live in what most people would consider “extreme conditions” on an everyday basis.

But don’t extreme conditions come with some form of associated trauma? Which makes me wonder whether I am suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, now that I am not living in Mumbai anymore?

What would its symptoms be? If I had to guess, they would be:
A)    A rush of joy at the sound of traffic noise
B)    Tap water-related paranoia
C)    Morbid fear of silence
D)    And a constant bursting into happy tears at the sight of crowds

If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave to use the comment space.


Deepa Krishnan said...

Nice piece! Agree about the photo. I am constantly trying to stop filming teams from propagating their preconceived notions. Doesn't always work.

globalbabble said...

I know. But it is so complicated to understand that life goes on quite normally under the supposed debris of a city. It takes time, effort and engagement to go beyond that. But it is often difficult for parachuting photographers to get that.

AK said...

(Sorry about the wrong location)
Thanks globalbabble. I used to follow your blog regularly and it is nice to see you liked my idea.

Feel free to contribute your stories. I am sure you have more variety since you have lived in different continents :-) and on top of it you are a writer unlike most of us who are simply moonlighting, he he he

globalbabble said...

Hi AK,

I found your blog recently while going through some old comments to a blog entry. I think you should write more. I really think your once upon a time idea is great!

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that P.R.S.Oberoi would even be mentioned. He did not work until he was 40, treats his employees like dirt yelling and screaming at his managers, and throws his people on the street once they reach retirement age.
His employees respect only in fear of him because they know he will snuff them out if they look the wrong way.

He left his employees on the street during 26/11 and only did something when the Taj owner took action immediately to take care of employees.

I hope he is not the future of what India's wealthy will become.

globalbabble said...

Hi anonymous,

I am guessing you have some insider knowledge of Oberoi's HR policies.

Well, to be fair, Oberoi summoned Barber to his room and proceeded to tell him all about himself. Barber pretty much stayed out of politness - so it kind of fits in with your descriptions of the man.

As for India's rich - don't you think we all are rather fuedal and petty towards those under our power? I know a lot of uncles and aunties who treat their household help like dirt. It is just that some people like the Oberois & Ambanis have greater power over others.