Of Underdogs and Dogs
By Kamal Sunavala

It is strange how some things never quite go away, including bad habits. The world seems to have been quite unable to shake this particular one off. Badmouthing. Whether it be things or people or countries, this form of verbal bashing has not only sunk deeper into our psyches but seems to have taken on a literary life of its own. While I admit that it does produce a laugh now and then over some brandy and cigars, surely it would be folly to admit this habit into our lives and then wake up only too late to discover that the unwelcome guest has stayed forever. Without any attempt to confuse you further, let me elaborate.

Two decades ago or even as recent as seven or eight years ago, India had won the distinction of being laughed at by the international media. There were always reports of its poverty, slums, dirt, disease and poor table manners. Yes, people appreciated the great culture and beauty it had to offer but ask those very people to spend more than just a holiday in India and they would run straight out the door. India had got used to that bashing. Not that it didn’t give the world reason for it but it seemed that the balance was somehow always tipped in favour of cleaner, more advanced western countries, especially the US. Never mind that sixty years ago, when India was a young country, America was still busy trying to push her women out of the workplace and couldn’t quite figure out why native Americans should have any rights at all. Europe sat back and waited for India to fail. And for nearly fifty years took great delight in poking childish fun, every time India stumbled and fell and tried - almost in vain, it would seem - to stop its population from exploding in more ways than one.

Something I read in the Times of India today made me sit up and remember all this. On one of the inside pages, at the bottom, was a small article from a Czech news agency which this grand paper chose to print - Man hides out from police for five years by living under mother’s kitchen floor. I read it over and over. From all the things that are happening in the Czech Republic, large and small, good and great, this is the one piece of non-news that made it to an international paper read by millions of people in at least three countries around the world. And this brought me to remember, that for a while now, I had seen similar pieces of news being carried out in other papers as well. Things to make the Czech Republic look smaller than it really was. In size and significance. A young fledgling country being told that it was so unimportant that it was ridiculous. People living under kitchen floors, parents who couldn’t speak English, a country that treated its gypsies badly and the list goes on and on. The world had found another underdog to kick in the ribs.

India was off that underdog list now since it had fought and scratched its way up the ladder and into the board rooms of the steel and iron and uranium giants of the world. Suddenly it wasn’t wise to blacken the editorial pages with India’s poverty. Instead it would be better to talk about grand Indian weddings where even Bill Clinton was a guest. It would be better to talk about how Indian Yoga had changed the world. The puppy had turned into a fierce dog and there was no sense in trying to kick it anymore.

I want to give the new underdog a message. It takes a while to grow up and be the darling of the pack. Bite, scratch and fight. This isn’t a world of people filled with good manners and generosity. And most certainly not to be expected from countries who change their opinions and their headlines without so much as the blink of an eye. The irony of course, most definitely will lie in the fact, that when the Czech underdog becomes a dog, it will not think twice before kicking the next one in line.