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Saturday, October 19, 2002

October 11th marked the birth centenary of Lok Nayak JP, one of the truly great heroes of modern India. Every Indian has to be thankful to him for his spirited and courageous fight against the 1975 emergency, and but for him we could not have escaped from the clutches of a dictatorial rule. His name and memory as a conscience keeper of our nation are imprinted in the minds of many grateful people.

But if you consider the attitudes of the well-off and the issues on which the media’s attention is focused, one has to believe that the 60th birthday bash of the matinee idol Amitabh Bachan, is far more important to the nation than anything else. I was absolutely amazed by the amount of time and coverage given by the mainstream media for this extravaganza! Some television channels have even had live coverage of the dinner in honour of the star in Mumbai in their national news!

It only shows the all-pervasive influence of the make-believe world of cinema on the psyche and imagination of ordinary Indians. There is something seriously wrong with a society which respects myth more than reality, fiction more than fact, lies more than truth and above all celluloid more than real life!

The media giving disproportionate coverage to irrelevant non-events is not an accident. In many ways the mass media reflect the prevailing attitudes of the affluent and well-heeled sections of our society, in other words the ‘elites’. Increasingly we seem to worship power and money for their own sake, and have no qualms how they are acquired or used. This in turn leads to complete apathy to the condition of the bulk of our citizens.

Without being a socialist or Marxist, one can seek to build a society which provides fair opportunities for vertical mobility for every single child born. Instead, the privileged classes in our country are zealously guarding their often undeserved ‘elite’ status. Curiously, these false elites develop a sense of insecurity in the midst of the underprivileged many. We seek to fortify ourselves and somehow hope to protect our children from the poverty and filth around. But the moment we walk out of our homes, we cannot but be affected by the overflowing drains, menace of mosquitoes, traffic congestion, pollution in our cities and corruption everywhere. This only leads to more insecurity, apathy, and alienation.

The other, extremely disturbing response of the false elites is narcissism and self-absorption of a revolting kind. Our preoccupation with designer-made dresses, fancy cars, fabulous jewels, extravagant weddings and huge birthday bashes to the exclusion of everything else is a testimony to this extreme insensitivity and surrealism.

Certainly, films offer probably the only source of entertainment and escape from the travails of life to the bulk of the people. Great actors and indeed, great achievers in any field need to be respected and admired. But a society that loses its sense of proportion in these matters is either decadent or sad.

The net result is that the million or so elites in all walks of life – politics, business, administration, professions, and academics – are increasingly disconnected from our people. We are slowly becoming colonists in our own country. By all means, let us have a good time. Seeking happiness, or even pleasure, is our birthright. But can we look at the bigger picture, and focus on building a harmonious and peaceful society, which ultimately spreads more happiness and good cheer around?