Perspectives- #1 Chimamanda Adichie

This series, ‘Perspectives’ will have everything that I learn these days, which I feel I could share with you all. It could be well-written pieces, small things that I felt were significant enough, awesome articles or books that I stumbled upon etc.

I am fortunate to be a part of an amazing group of students, who never cease to amaze me with their thoughts and opinions. Even better are the teachers who introduce us to something new every day. That said, I would like to pen down my perspectives about a particular piece that supposedly took the West by storm when it was published. This piece is by Adichie describing the way the West chooses to portray the Third World.

I am sure we all would be familiar with the way India is stereotyped in the West by the West. We are vividly reminded of Slumdog Millionaire and Rajesh Koothrapalli from the Sitcom The Big Bang Theory. We have joined our American friends in laughing at the idiosyncrasies of Rajesh while reminiscing fondly about our days in India. More often than not, we might have also wondered if whatever we saw on screen was in any way reflecting the reality of the country we came from. But then, hey! That was only for representational purposes and must be taken in a comical sense. Similar is the image of SRK dancing to the tunes of Lungi Dance, singing about mixing lassi and coconut. Leaving aside the blatant fact that the lungi is different from the veshti (which is white or off-white in colour) the song and that particular movie was an abomination to the portrayal of Tamilians (please note that I am not using the terms Madrasis or South Indians, because I recognise that South India is more than just Madras). Owing to the above internal and not-so-internal conflicts of thoughts, I found the piece by Adichie relatable.

This piece is an attempt to bring to light the realities of what Africa, as a continent is. She is honest when she says that Africa is a group of many cultures and nations but then they are also strikingly similar in many aspects. Very much like India, right? A land that is a melting pot of cultures and languages. So much that India has a dance form that is unique to every state.

She talks about being expected to defend or be aware of something that happens in Egypt while she is from Nigeria. That is what we get to do in India. Many a time, I had wanted to pull Rohit Shetty and Honey Singh and slap them hard for the way they lacked in research while claiming to portray something. More so, especially because Shetty also took the name of the city which he claimed was instrumental to his story (or the lack of it). We also have such stereotypes in India. Madrasis, Settu, and a couple of other colorful names form very much a part of these stereotypes prevalent in India. Don’t even get me started on the North East India angle of it. While this mixture of cultures and languages might be common to insiders, the outsiders seem to be ignorant about these. Honestly, even insiders take geography for granted at times, but moving on.

Adichie then moves on to Madonna, who had adopted a child from Malawi. It is surprising how celebrities do a lot of things for the sake of symbolism or making a point, without actually intending to make a difference. This act of making the news somehow seem to have irked Adichie a lot. It irks me too, to be honest. The most recent example that I could think of is how our own Superstar keeps us on our toes talking about politics and the apparent system. The point being that there are many other ways, which are way better, to mean well to the people whom they say they care for, that would actually make a difference in their lives. Adichie goes on to tag such actions as ‘Cringe-worthy’. I felt she was justified in doing so. How big an impact is that if one child of Africa is given a better life in terms of money, health, and education? Isn’t these clear examples of giving them fishes instead of teaching them how to fish? And how is it good that the child grows up, in total oblivion to its own culture or identity?

The Western media portrays Africa as a perennially impoverished region. It seems to the viewers as if Africa is synonymous with poverty. In a way, they seem to glamorise the concept of poverty. The author takes a dig at this by calling out their hypocrisy when it came to wealth hoarding and appeasing and supporting of weak African leaders. She seems to imply that the cause and effect of such atrocities are the West itself. I feel the West has always had a major role in almost all the internal conflicts that are happening in today’s political world. Typical of someone who practises the ‘Divide and Rule’ policy.

Taking a leap to the above-mentioned idea of portrayal, I wondered how true it is that when someone says Africa, the immediate image that we get are that of thick jungles, malnourished kids, unclean streets, and chaos. This applies to almost all the third-world countries. Are we really the land of the snake charmers? By the way, I found India lovely and charming in Coldplay’s Hymn for the Weekend. But these form just a minor aberrations from the usual.

Do we take the effort to think beyond what is shown to us? Do we realise that there is much more to any place than what is portrayed by words or visuals? I think not. This is the author’s anguish as well. She seems to be thoroughly annoyed by the showbiz symbolism that Hollywood is famous for at the cost of her people in her own land. I found that anguish justified. There are many sides to any and every story, they say, and I second that fact with all my heart.

 

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