Even politically correct nay-saying nabobs have now begun to grudgingly admit that India, in addition to being a Nuclear Power, is also a Pretty Power. You may well ask: What is the connection between beauty pageants and a nuclear weapons programme? Everything. Just as a country is only taken seriously by the international community when it acquires weapons of mass destruction, in the same manner a country whose women are judged the most beautiful in the known universe will find that it is suddenly no longer the butt of jokes in faraway capitals.
Indian Female: From India, where half the children go to bed hungry every night, and newly-wed women are regularly set on fire by in-laws.
TDO: Oh, India! Congratulations. It is an honour to have a person from the most beautiful country in the universe travelling in my vehicle. Can I have an autograph?
IF: Miss World pageants are sexist cattle markets. Actually, women in India suffer a double burden of discrimination by society and family. Only 38 percent of female adults in India are literate.
TDO: Here we are at the airport, what a lucky day for me to have an Indian passenger. No, no, no, no payment from you. You get to ride free, you are from India.
See what I mean? Semi-nude and nuke: this is a deadly combination. If deftly handled it can be used to strategic advantage and help India finally secure its permanent seat in the Security Council. The nation that produced Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Yukta Mookhey can now no longer be kicked around as if it were some third-rate banana republic. After all, Indians are now using more fairness cream per head than any other non-aligned nation on Earth. White MagicTM Skin-lightener Cream commercial: "An All-Albino Republic by the Year 2020."
As a newly-radioactive nation, India’s defence expenditure is nearing 10 billion dollars a year, and it is a matter of pride that no other country in the neighbourhood, other than China, spends as much. It is only a question of time before India catches up with China, not only in military spending but also in population size. China may have put a satellite into orbit, but India has won more Miss Worlds and Miss Universes than the Mainland, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan put together.
However, there is no time for complacency. To preserve its lead in beauty contests on the one hand and in the nuclear arms race on the other, India has to pay attention to two other parameters in which it is lagging behind the rest of the world: cellular phone and Internet penetration and toilet prevalence rate. In both cases, India’s indices are one-hundredth of the level for OECD nations.
It is no longer tolerable that a multi-award-winning nation still has people pooing on the railway tracks, and not using cell phones. We must frogleap. And the most cost-effective, time-saving method which will allow us to catch up with the rest of the world will be to integrate the strategy to spread telecommunications to every village with the campaign to improve public hygiene and sanitation so that they go hand-in-hand.
Future village-level internet/fax/phone call stations can be located inside public latrines so that both functions can occur in tandem via modem. Given the billions of cumulative hours that the Subcontinent’s chronically constipated citizens spend uselessly every day waiting to log off, I dare say that loos equipped with improved bandwidth Office 2000 hardware will ensure that there is efficient time management. Indeed, just as Cyber Cafes save time for those who want to have a bun on the run while checking mail, these multi-tasking lavatories will save time, save money and save space. While we are making waste, we can also make haste.
VSNL (A Govt of India Undertaker) would do well to moot this strategy without utmost delay and make it as easy as humanely possible for the common man to log on and off. The rest of the Subcontinent could easily replicate this pilot project with a two-pronged strategy to achieve both connectivity and basic hygiene. Look at it this way: we will have toilets on our information superhighway and they’ll all be Y2K OK
Romila Thapar addresses invitees at the
Southasian relaunch of Himal Southasian,
IIC, New Delhi, January 2013.
The archive: 25 years of Southasia
China, Southasia and India
On May 19 2013, newly appointed Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived in New Delhi for a series of meetings with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The visit is Keqiang's first outside of China since assuming power in March.
From our archive:
Purna Basnet discusses Chinese engagement in Nepal vis-a-vis security issues in Tibet and broader geo-strategic plans in Southasia (April 2011).
Fatima Chowdury relates the story of Calcutta's Indian Chinese community through the lens of political and economic upheavals in Southasia and China (May 2009).
Simon Long notes the importance of the Sino-Indian relationship for the rest of Southasia (September 2006).
J.N Dixit ruminates on the strategic concerns of the 'Middle Kingdom' in the wake of India's 1998 nuclear tests (June 1998).