Is it true that there are cows on the roads? Yes, there are cows on the roads. If you are lucky then you might get two dogs and a dozen pigs too. If you are not so lucky then you might find a tiger and it can eat you too. Welcome to India. This is how India has been and will be for quite some time. When you see a cow, pig, dog, or a tiger on the road then take a picture. Because that is something you might not see on your next visit. India is changing and it is changing real fast. But that’s not the point. Whenever I try to read any reference to India or an article written on India by foreign media then it is hard for them to get through 200 words without mentioning a few of the standard things.

And those few things are the things which were being mentioned about India ever since I knew I was an Indian. Now that I have access to material published much before I was born, I see that material was no different. Without doing extensive research, these are the most regularly used phrases, clichés or references used by the foreign media. You already know about the cow reference. We are left with nine. Here we go. 

  1. License Raj  and the Burra Sahibs: This is history, Done and dusted. The license raj still exists in some sectors and most of the government offices still are full of burra sahibs. That is changing slowly but surely. When someone mentions the license raj again in any of the articles then two things are certain. The author can’t get creative enough to go beyond the obvious or the author is trying to fill up the word count on the article. In some cases it could be both.
  2. Economic reforms of 1991: Let me settle this once and for all. India achieved economic independence in the summer of 1991. This summer is dubbed as a golden summer when four persons with the utmost power came together and burnt many of India’s self-built economic walls.  Alright this is hard to avoid but it has been 20 years now and the summer of 2011 will be its 20th anniversary. Yet we need to get away from it. Please.
  3. Comparing India to an elephant: Does anyone here think that elephants are slow? Has anyone seen an elephant run and wreak havoc? If you are comparing India with an elephant only under the assumption that elephants can’t run then you are so wrong. And if you thought the elephant is the animal to represent India, then you are wrong again. The tiger, not elephant, is the national animal of India. Now don’t tell me that there are only 1,411 tigers left. I might add that to this list.
  4. Bollywood and cricket : India is not all Bollywood. There are several film industries in India and Bollywood is just one part of India’s cinema. Many innovations in Indian films have come from down south. The most expensive film to date, Robot, is a film made in Chennai, and that is not Bollywood by any means. Don’t make the mistake of representing the whole of India with just Bollywood. I know it will take some time for people to get there, but get there faster. Coming to cricket, what can I say. It’s not your fault. It’s ironic that Indian media chose to highlight the splendid performance from Laxman against Australia when the whole world was focused on the Commonwealth Games. Yet that should not be an excuse for you to hyphenate India with cricket and Bollywood.
  5. India’ demographic dividend: This is rather new and came into existence only few years back. India’s population was supposed to be a burden, but  it turned out be a boon. India’s population will be young and will remain young for a generation, giving an edge to India which other Asian nations like Japan and China don’t have. That’s good to know. Now get over it.
  6. xxx million people are living on under $x per day: This beats me. The statistic has been stale for I’m not sure how long, but I am amazed at the number of articles and people still using this statistic. I read that 300 million people are living on less than dollar per day or 220 million people are living on less than one dollar per day. There is nothing wrong with this statistic. It has become monotonous and the writers have to find new ways of providing perspective.
  7. Bumpy roads, pot holes and traffic jams: People take potshots at India’s potholes. We understand. India has poor infrastructure and there are investments coming in to get past that. Traffic jams are ubiquitous in Indian cities. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither were Tokyo, New York and London. Phrases like “Potholed road to prosperity” should be rephrased.
  8. Curry: India is diverse. Many Indians eat curry and some don’t. This reference is infrequent but should be avoided. Referring to curry is like referring to Burgers or French fries. You don’t refer to either burgers or French fries when you refer to France or Germany, do you?
  9. India has more cell phones than toilets: Providing the number of subscribers is a mandatory requirement for the cell phone companies. That gives us the figure of 700 million odd subscribers and 50-100 million of them could be using more than one connection. There is no such requirement for the plumbers’ associations of India to provide the number of toilets they have installed. Or what kind of toilet it was. I might even say that the count for toilets just came from someone’s hat. Just curious, why are you counting toilets anyway?

It is not even fair for a country which reeled under foreign rule for 200 years and expect it to  come out clean and lead the world in the 21st century. After all India has enjoyed a mere 63 years of Independence. There are countries which enjoyed a longer spell of independence or were always independent and yet lag behind India on several parameters.

Try writing something without mentioning any of these 10 things above. Maybe then you would be able to write something new. I know. It is hard to get away from the stereotypes and the clichés the foreign media has been used to for as along as India existed.  Start trying and please stop counting toilets.

PS : I have to give some credit though. India used to be often hyphenated with Pakistan. There was hardly an article about India without a mention of Pakistan. That changed and changed for good. India is now mentioned along with China and the US and I acknowledge the shift. India should be remembered and recalled for its umpteen entrepreneurs who are bringing tectonic shifts in the way people live. India should be known for its frugal engineering and great money-saving innovations

[Image from Flickr user : Mehul Antani]