01 August, 2021

Yours Enduringly, India

In a land defined by images, many symbols survive

Yours Enduringly, India
In an age when symbols substitute for substance, it's not surprising that a few images of India, howsoever stereotyped, represent its very identity. The turbaned magician performing the rope trick, the emaciated snake-charmer with his basketful of hissing reptiles, the bejewelled maharaja - the stereotypes that so annoyed Romila Thapar when she wrote the History of India 25 years ago still persist. A few more symbols of India can be added to the list today: the ubiquitous STD/ISD PCO, masala dosa, salwar kameez and, sadly, not only as an icon but as grim reality, the poverty-stricken citizen forced to somehow, anyhow eke out existence, sometimes by begging.

But neither changing times nor unchanging circumstances have affected earlier stereotypes. The magician's been joined in performing wonders by godmen. Unlike the bhaloowallah with his performing bear, the snake charmer's not yet been driven out of business by busybody environmentalists. And, decades after privy purses and royal titles were abolished, at least one maharaja survives - as the mascot of the...

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