Sampath G

A searing satire on an India that is like this only

In Uncategorized on February 26, 2012 at 10:20 am

First published in DNA on Sunday, Jun 24, 2007, 3:18 IST 
By G Sampath
Whitewash: The Tabloid That Is, About The India That Isn’tGautam Bhatia
The Viveka 
240 pages
Gautam Bhatia’s Whitewash is one of those rare books where everything said by the back cover blurbs is true. “A remarkable debut. At 73, Bhatia is the brave new voice of Indians writing in Gibberish” says the Rioters News Agency. True. “Bhatia’s subtle prose has strong resemblances to the early works of Ramesh Pande, Waterworks Engineer with the Bhopal Municipal Corporation” writes R Pande from “BMC Journal”. Very true.
And according to the “Meerut Literary Review”, the book “is a tragic love story filled with tenderness, joy and hope.” And so it is. But you’ll have to look really hard to see the undercurrent of tenderness and hope that Bhatia feels for India beneath the “subtle prose” and joyous gibberish with which he lashes it for 240 pages.
Whitewash is a satire on steroids. It is written in rage, and with despair, neither of which you will feel unless you really love the subject of your satire. In this case, it is contemporary India, which Bhatia finds distasteful and irresistible in equal measure. A satire, by definition, is an attempt to locate the moral conscience of the society it satirises. Whitewash does so by extrapolating from reality, exaggerating it, and thereby dismantling the lies and the myths that we use to cover up unpalatable truths and assuage our guilt. One measure of a society’s stature is its heroes and Bhatia begins his diagnosis of modern India’s ailments with a CT Scan of its idols.
“The new heroes” he writes, “are ordinary money-grubbing parasites, whose sole ideal was to be a millionaire by the age of 30…there are no New Jawaharlal Nehru Stadiums, no Satyajit Ray Chowks. Only Ansal Plazas and Raheja Towers. Builders commemorating their own actions in their own lifetime, to give you a taste of the new India.” If all-conquering greed coloured by narrow self-interest describes the lens through which we apprehend the world, Bhatia raises the power of the lens by a factor of 100 and shows us how the world would look. By that gesture, he directs our attention to the inherently distorting nature of the lens, which must be discarded if one wants to access the many-sided truth about modern India.
To capture the diversity of this truth, you need a literary form flexible enough to take in anything and everything. The only format that offers the freedom to talk of everything under the sun, for no particular reason, and in any sequence — is the newspaper. Architect that he is, Bhatia has structured Whitewash as a tabloid, with different sections: News, Features, Sports, Technology, Health, Business, Real Estate, New Indian Rioting, and so on. And yes, there are plenty of advertisements, too. And as is often the case, here too the ads are more interesting than the ‘editorial content’.
Humour is the strongest weapon of satire, and Bhatia deploys it, especially in the medium of the advertisement, to mirror the absurdities of daily life that we have taught ourselves not to see. Here’s a sample “Tender Notice” from Indian Railways: “With the setting up of the new coastal line from Bombay to Goa, Western Coastal Railway requires immediately 400 nos. defecators of varying ages for the 246 Dn. Panaji Mail to Goa. Defecators must be seated in defecating position along Western route after train’s departure, and remain in position till train has passed.”
Bhatia spares nothing and nobody, not even himself: “I too,” he writes, “learnt to survive in the only way possible. I became a modern day hero — an Indian without obligation or ideal. I learnt to cherish all that was of value to the new India; money, split air conditioning, microwaves and Haryanvi guards for the house — all the buttressings that recreated an image of myself as a promoter of my own middle-class cause.”
Given its tabloid format, Whitewash may not lend itself to linear reading. You dip into it at random, and no matter which page you pause at, there is an Indian absurdity waiting to leap out and bite you. Politicians, businessmen, NGOs, doctors, page 3 celebs, bureaucrats, the media, cricketers, policemen, lawyers, astrologers, judges, Vaastu, hair-loss clinics, diplomats, writers, George Bush — they are all summoned one by one, handed two tights slaps and despatched with a kick on the backside.
On the downside, some of the visuals are rather tackily done. And the humour at times is school-boyish. But these are minor blemishes in an otherwise scintillating work bursting with comic vitality.
Henry Miller, in Tropic Of Cancer, called his book “a gob of spit in the face of Art”. Bhatia’s book entertains similar salivary ambitions, but with respect to India’s dysfunctional middle-class. He calls his book “a personal catalogue of graphic, visual and verbal slime”. Every consumer should consume this book
  1. Greetings from across the sea! This is just what I was searching for, and you got it right. Thankyou

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