Comfortably Numb in Bangalore
- Rheea Rodrigues Mukherjee
It took me a long time to write this update. Mainly because every other update I’ve done has had either (or a combination of) conviction, excitement, relevant pictures, and zealous passion.
It’s not like a lot hasn’t happened. In fact, too much has. I sense the world globally now. I think all of us who are privileged enough to centre most of our lives around the internet are living a life in an echo chamber. We disconnect into our cultural differences of course, but we realign right back as global equals on the internet. And maybe that’s why everything has been oh-so-overwhelming. After Trump and his subsequent toddler-playing in the White House, I am not quite sure what to say. If the leader of the most powerful country in the world is for all practical purposes a complete and utter joke, then it kind of puts things in perspective. It makes everything a cosmic joke, one where you almost can convince yourself that terror, death, oppression, and systematic cruelty shouldn’t be taken that seriously because, you know we’re half a dot in the universe.
In Bangalore, things are cruising along. The afternoon sun is threatening summer, but the evenings are still cool and pleasant. Everything seems the same: everyday infrastructure is annoying. Our power back up broke this month (and yes, not everyone can afford a power backup in the first place), which means having to put up with electricity cuts a couple time a week for a couple hours. I’ve been really busy with work which is a great thing. My design and content studio Write Leela Write that I run with Kalabati has been fortunate, we’re getting mostly exciting work. We’re doing branding, copy, and creative conceptualization for various industries ranging from food and financial to healthcare and non-profit. We’re even chronicling personal worker narratives for a leading textile company in Bangalore. It’s just another indicator that Bangalore is growing in terms of start-ups, new ideas, and actually wanting (and paying) to add depth to their brands and the little product babies they want to send out to the world. We’re probably one of the few creative startups that have gotten to see the non-IT part of the India’s start-up boom, even though over 80% of this boom has been swiped by technology.
But apart from that, there is gnawing sense of numbness, a failure to react as specifically as I used to about things going in the world. I can’t quite put my finger on it. I am waiting for some kind of crack, something that tells us this weird neo-liberalism is just a phase, that we’re more than generic tweets reacting to our world destruction. I was reading a great interview with essayist Pankaj Mishra, and he was talking about how individualism now has a sharper image of itself, what he calls neoliberal individualism. Here’s an excerpt, and you can read the full thing here.
‘They believe individuals pursuing their self-interest can create a common good. And the marketplace would be where these individual desires and needs could be miraculously harmonized. So it’s a kind of mysticism, really, neoliberal individualism. It basically argues that we don’t need any constraining factors. We do not need any intermediate institutions of the kind Tocqueville argued for in America. Neoliberal individualism says, all we really need is individual initiative, individual energy, individual dynamism and, of course, individual aspiration. So this is how neoliberal individualism is different from previous forms of individualism.’
The interview also talks very much about our current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. Speaking of Trump showboating, Modi had shook the country in November by demonetizing our 500 and 1000 rupee notes in a bid to rid the country of ‘corruption’. It was fundamentally an anti-people move and of course affected the poor who are most cash-reliant. He makes up for this by saying that India is going digital, however this is still a fictional aspiration and will likely stay that way for a long time.
What’s more is that we don’t have any numbers that show this did anything to remove the problem of ‘corruption’ in the country, nor does the government want to talk about the 100 loopholes that the people who were actually hoarding money had found. A fun example? People with hordes of black money just redistributed it to their staff, some even payed out a full-year's salary in cash. Staff/workers were happy to take a small percentage of this money, get the entire amount legally changed back to the new notes, and then give the rest back to the owner.
So basically a bunch of black money was divided into several chunks and changed legally through the staff as their valid ‘salary’ or ‘bonus’.
And lastly, nobody wanted to talk about the fact that the bulk to black money isn’t sitting in cash, they are safely tucked away in offshore accounts or lost in the handshakes of crony capitalism.
It was all the rage a couple of months ago, and now nobody talks about it. Well because, people like us on the internet and in the cities we were least affected by it. And the stories of real loss and inconvenience, well they stay tucked in and silenced. The larger question of our cultural compliance with corruption has not been addressed. India is too busy playing larger identity-politics and working with their 100 other hyper-local issues. If you’re curious for one recent identity-politics showdown, just type Jallikattu on Google. Have fun with that.
So yeah, as you can see my meandering listless update is a lot like how I feel. Maybe, it’s the calm before one fantastically hearty storm that makes me feel something again. And when I want to feel the true glory of cosmic irony, I tune into Justin Trudeau's latest video.