A year ago the press reported that Lakshmi Mittal was the world's third-richest man. There was much coverage about this, as there had been some years previously when Azim Premji was the world's second-richest man. Lots of fuss made, much pride in these Indian men.
As there should have been, of course. But as I wondered here last year, would we make a similar fuss if we found that the world's third-poorest man was also Indian? Would we congratulate him? Why or why not? This question I asked then intrigues me still: "Why should a list of the richest men be celebrated (or made at all), but a list of the poorest men not?"
And you can extend that kind of questioning in other directions.
One example: India and the West Indies play out a thrilling draw in a cricket Test. Immediately there are testy articles about how India should have won and it's so sad that Indian captain Rahul Dravid wasn't publicly sad enough himself about not having won.
Again, why? Why should the captain's feeling for his team and the game be judged this way? After all, suppose he was simply thrilled to be part of nail-biting entertainment, of such a closely-fought game. Why should he not express that? Why should we assume that for a captain in that situation, the necessary state of mind is sadness, and public sadness at that?
Another example: you decide to buy your friend Manish Chaddha's car. Since he's your friend, you mention to him that a small discount would be nice. And he obliges, taking Rs 50 off the agreed price of the car.
We've all done things like this, I'm sure. But suppose he mentions to you that since you're his friend, it would be nice if you gave him something more than the asking price. Would you oblige? Or would you suddenly say to yourself, who is this Manish Chaddha anyway?
Logically, I see no difference between you asking for a discount and your friend asking for a higher price, both feeding off your friendship. Yet which of these are you likely to hear during a car sale between friends? Which, to you, sounds more reasonable, more acceptable: what you ask or what Manish asks?
Last example: if you write about some aspects of India, you can bet somebody will up and say you're looking at the "dark underbelly", that you should "put a positive spin" on what you write and "focus on the good".
Fine advice, but why? Why are the "good" stories more acceptable than the "dark" ones? And turn those phrases around: do the people who write about some other aspects of India need to be told that they are looking at the "bright face", that they should "put a negative spin" on what they write and "focus on the bad"?
The truth is, there's no dearth of both sorts of stories, and both say things about this country that are equally valid, equally valuable, equally important. (Or not). Why should one kind of story get "a positive spin"?
I've gone off in different directions, sure. But are they related in any way? ("Maybe not" is an acceptable answer). And who is this Manish Chaddha anyway?