NEW DELHI—I don’t enjoy telling people in New Delhi which country I study in. No, not because there is an anti-American sentiment here, not because I could be treated differently, or because I could be fleeced by shopkeepers and charged three times the normal rate for a can of Coke. The reason is Dubyaman.
Dubyaman, or the “knickered knacker,” is the title of the infamous comic strip of the Times of India, now the world’s largest-selling English daily. The comic strip—a take on the way Texans pronounce “W” as “Dubya”—mocks President George W. Bush, who plays the role of Dubyaman, with special Dubya-powers like Dubyavision and Dubya pronunciation. Dubyaman is a commentary of Indian political affairs, but more than anything else, takes delightful digs at Bush’s not-so-in-depth knowledge of international affairs. As Dubyaman tries to save the world, he is continually saved from embarrassment by his trusted sidekicks Colin Powell and Dick Cheney.
Reluctantly saying that I study in America immediately brings a smile to people’s faces here, as they now associate America with Dubya-ness. Since few Indians know that Bush attended Yale, and most know that he attended Harvard Business School, I’ve stopped daring to mention that I study at Harvard. The last time someone wheedled that out of me I was met with guffaws and the kind of belly-laughter you’d associate with a person slipping on a stray banana-peel on the dirt-strewn pavements of Delhi (yes, that’s considered funny here). Having my work-desk right outside the office of Jug Suraiya—Dubyaman’s proud creator, and associate editor at the Times of India—doesn’t help matters at all.
But while few Indians could care less about Bush administration policies on local issues—although Dubyaman is a great source of laughter at America’s expense—most Indians resent America’s fickle support for India’s Kashmir claims. Post Sept. 11, with Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf being appreciated in the West for his efforts to tackle terrorism and slammed by his own people at home, the general sentiment in India is that of despair: it is doubtful that international pressure can bring about an amicable solution to the 55-year-old Kashmir tug-of-war.
For India, giving up Kashmir is unacceptable. The Indian psyche resents any form of loss to Pakistan, be it on the cricket field or the battlefront, and politically, losing the slightest portion of Kashmir would open the floodgates to trouble: United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) militants and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would be encouraged to escalate their attempts to form independent nations in eastern and southern India. For Pakistan, it is equally unacceptable to give up claims to Kashmir. Kashmir is Muslim-dominated, and Pakistani friends in India tell me that mullahs in Pakistan would never allow any Pakistani leader to even consider dropping the Kashmir movement.
Nuclear deterrence not withstanding, no Indian really feels safe. And at the same time, Indians don’t really care anymore. In New Delhi, nothing has changed since I last visited two years ago, right after the “Kargil” war between India and Pakistan. And the rapid Coca-Colanization of India continues: people still flock to movie-theaters to watch Hollywood blockbusters, HBO and CNN pull in as many viewers as the Doordarshan, India’s oldest channel, and McDonald’s milkshakes sell as much as the lassis you’ll get at a local dhaba.
Arundhati Roy, Delhi resident and author of the Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things, recently wrote in an Indian magazine about how she would not join the huge groups of affluent Indians and foreign diplomats who were leaving the country when the threat of a nuclear war in South Asia was looming large (a threat that I like to believe does not exist anymore). She said that if she were to leave, and New Delhi were to be obliterated by a nuclear bomb, then she would never be able to bear the loss of all her friends, including the friendly trees and squirrels that she grew up with.
Somehow, one can sense that the “don’t-care” attitude, or at least that of putting up a brave front, has really grown on the common Indian—both those who can afford to leave the country, and those who cannot. No one in New Delhi really seems to worry about a nuclear threat anymore. Life goes on, whether the international community helps solve the Kashmir issue or not (an issue that Indian politicians say they’d love to solve without international interference, and for obvious reasons). And until a solution is found, if at all, people will continue with their daily routines—teenagers will watch Bend it Like Beckham alongside Star Wars, sipping on milkshakes and lassis; adults will chew paan (betel nut) and continue to procrastinate at work; everyone will perspire in the soaring heat and curse the government; and everyone will enjoy a good laugh at the expense of George “Dubya” Bush.
Ravi P. Agrawal ’05, a Crimson editor, is a government concentrator in Adams House. He is currently interning at the Times of India in New Delhi. Having learned to stop worrying about the bomb, he is now braving 42 degree centigrade temperatures.