New meaning to “white wedding” in India

Every now and again, societies deconstruct.  I think that societies experience "Freudian slips"" in a manner not unlike people.

My wife Shabana was doing a web search and stumbed across a sobering (though, sadly, not all that surprising) new business model in India (see her blog entry on it):  Renting out  people (preferably "tall, light-skinned men") to masquerade as relatives at well-to-do people's weddings.

the Best Guests Centre in Rajasthan

…offers three categories of guest. The “deluxe”, at £10, is a lofty, fair-skinned, English-speaking guest with an elegant line in small talk. The “standard” is educated, speaks Hindi but looks like the average local and costs £6.

The “budget”, at £5, is a Hindi-speaking school-leaver of darker hue, reasonably well groomed but less polished. They are under instructions to smile, be friendly, join in the dancing and singing, and appear to be having a rollicking good time.

The racial overtones here are obvious and disturbing, but I find the class implicit class assumptions most striking  The darker, less sophisticated "budget" guest is expected to be the down-to-earth party animal, the guy who not only keeps things fun but, I suspect, "keeps it real."

Today, Bollywood pays  lip service to  the virtues of the Indian  heartland (e.g., the  absurd idealization of village life of Shahrukh Khan's "Swades", a plastic propaganda film worthy of the Soviet tradition of Socialist Realism) at the very same time it brainwashes Indians into identifying with "Beverly Hills 90210."

Freud would have a field day.  So would Aime Cesaire and Frantz Fanon.

P.S.  I note for the record lest any accuse me of India-bashing that I don't think this phenomenon is unique to India.  I can imagine a similiar enterprise doing brisk business in Lahore or Karachi.

Still, I wouldn't be surprised if India is a little more schizophrenic than Pakistan about this due to its fervid  embrace of all things American, and the concommitant internalization of its neoliberal pecking order.   

Perhaps I'm biased–I'm married to a Pakistani and despite my being a "gora" (Urdu for "white") have had a connection to Pakistan all my life–but it seems to me that while Pakistan has more than its share of problems (which are dissected down to the minutest detail in the international media)  one at least sees some resistance to the global monoculture among those benighted Pakistanis.  Whether out of post-colonial foresight or just diehard conservatism, many Pakistanis still resist the Borg, perhaps in vain.   I'm not sure the same can be said of post-ideological India, which seems to eagerly await assimiliation into the neoliberal, postmodern Hive.

  • zarine

    Hi Svend,
    I am appalled at this and will passing this along to some folks I know.
    However, I am not sure I agree with the way you characterise resistance (or rather lack of it) in India to assimilation to a global monoculture. I would be grateful if you can explain on what basis you say this.
    While some “western” media outlets have done pieces on malls etc in India, I dont think there is any particular proclivity to assimilation in India. The econonomic boom and the resulting cultural shift is primarily an urban phenomena and rural India is untouched. Even where there is contact with the global monoculture, in my opinion the cultural shift has happened on India’s own terms – for instance, Macdonalds does not serve beef in its burgers in Delhi, taking into account the prohibition against eating beef among several Hindus in North India.
    Perhaps at this point I should say that I am Indian:-)

  • Svend White

    Salaams and thanks for the comment, Zarine.
    I mean no offense (and am painfully aware of Pakistan’s many, many serious problems) and certainly don’t pretend to be particularly well informed about India. I realize I’m an outsider who might be totally getting it wrong. Also, I am not one of these people who expect developing countries to be static and outside world trends. I realize that cultures change and constantly exchange ideas.
    Having said that, it does seem to me that India is rushing to embrace Western ways in a way that risks abandonning its own values and traditions. This is a gross generalization, I know, but that’s the best I can do without writing a book.
    As for India adapting its cultural imports, I’m sure what you say does happen in many ways and I realize this question is very complex, but it seems to me that a look at Bollywood today shows that in the vital arena of popular culture that isn’t happening at all. To me, it just seems like blind immitation, and often of the most undesirable aspects of modern American society (materialism, machismo, class consciousness, …).
    I think it’s a very unhealthy (and very colonial) phenomenon. And I’m glad Pakistan is somewhat “behind the times” in this regard.
    I wonder what Ashis Nandy says about this…

  • Zarine

    I am sorry it took me so long to reply. I agree that this is a complex topic and I am yet to see (they probably exist) any indepth analysis of the cultural shifts that have occurred in India post-’91 (when the economy was opened).
    In the meantime, I thought you may be interested in this interview with Arundhati Roy
    The interview examines some of the issues arising in India post-liberalisation.