For those of us consumed by news and current affairs through newspapers, television and other media, it is difficult to make sense of an educated, young, globally well-travelled, well-to-do, urbane Indian who says he never reads or follows the news. Neither political nor of any other kind. How can anyone—you argue rhetorically in your head—not be curious about Narendra Modi vs Rahul Gandhi, the damning Ishrat Jehan case, the mammoth Uttarakhand tragedy or even why Google reader died on us? Here you are, Messrs Arnab Goswami and Rajdeep Sardesai, for all your “important” and “exclusive” news coverage and analysis, some barely understand the professional calling that leaves you purple and passionate every evening at prime time.
In the pursuit of a story on Indian couture, I find myself in the Noida studio of designer Gaurav Gupta, 34, whose name now finds mention in various contexts of fashion. For someone who debuted seven years ago after an education at Delhi’s National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) and London’s Central St Martin’s and work stints with global designers Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney, his march has been fast and interesting.
In 2011, Gupta was interviewed for a documentary produced by the UK government for the London Olympics. He was the only Indian designer to represent contemporary fashion and art in a series about globally known people who had a special relationship with the UK.
When the same person emphatically underlines that he hasn’t read any newspapers for the past six-seven years and that his television at home doesn’t have a cable connection to enable watching news channels, I feel momentarily challenged for a response. How do you relate to the popular culture of India that you work in? Your contexts must be entirely fuzzy. More importantly, if you don’t follow the news, how will you decide who you will vote for next year? I ask.
“I can see you are laughing at me in your head,” he says, sensing my thoughts and laughs himself. “I am ignorant, but by choice. I work within the context of feeling, not facts and for me feelings have no nationality.”
He lives with two young friends and work associates (one male and one female) in a Delhi apartment and they call themselves design and art junkies. “We have a TV without a cable connection so that we can watch films and shows that we really want to. Talking to people, occasional chancing upon magazines and papers and frequent travel are our main sources of information,” says his work associate and house mate Navkirat Sodhi, a poet and writer herself.
One such “occasional chancing” happened recently when Gupta took a flight to Mumbai. “I suddenly felt very cut off and picked up a newspaper only to realize that the person sitting next to me wanted a conversation about politicians. Soon, he convinced me why Nitish Kumar (“he is the politician from Bihar, right?”) was better than Narendra Modi of Gujarat as India’s next prime minister. “I bought his logic, I had little background information anyway,” says Gupta candidly.
“Don’t get carried away by everyone who says they follow political news. Some say only to look smart but in reality they don’t,” adds Gupta.
He is right.
He may be a minority but not an exception. “I never read about politics, never watch news on TV and have never read a single book in my entire life,” says a general surgeon I met in less than a week of this conversation with Gupta. He doesn’t want to be named. In his worldview, my profession is familiar, but inconsequential. Every journalist to him is either a pawn in the political mess of India or its perpetuator. He has no idea about anything in the Ishrat Jehan case or who she is/was, thank you.
In retrospect, I realize that besides the gathering momentum of various modes of entertainment that have dwarfed general interest in news and current affairs, an infectious cynicism about “news as politics” and “politics as news” may be running deeper in Indian minds than we know. Quite a few seem to view news as synonymous with political back-stabbing, crime and corruption and easy to miss. These assumptions are not entirely untrue but by not caring who they vote for and why, if they vote at all, some urban educated like Gupta and the doctor can actually turn around the tide of a general election.
Even as Indian politicians display their fangs and manicure their claws before the general election next year, they might want to wonder how to engage with the educated urbanites who want nothing to do with them; for whom, in a bizarre irony, Modi, Gandhi, Kumar and L.K Advani imply the same difference; who may live in Delhi but aren’t sure which political party Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit represents.
Blame the beast, they say. This one is called democracy.