I recently bought a packet of instant dosa mix which promised me ’10 pieces’ for breakfast. I thought it was interesting that the word ‘pieces’ was used instead of the more sensible ‘dosa’, but forgive the brand for this blatant lie as the advertising industry has never been known for ethics or conscience. Naturally, when I prepared the actual dosas, I found that the ’10 pieces’ were actually two whole dosas. Perhaps the implication was that two dosas needed to be cut into small enough pieces to feed ten children adequately. The fault was apparently mine; I was overly optimistic when I should have adopted realism instead.
This isn’t to brag about advertising though, because I’ve long accepted it as a wasted effort. Even con artists of questionable intelligence need to make a living, so why be under the illusion that what they do matters to anyone? No, this is what those dosas reminded me of.
Earlier that week, one of our many honorable ministers with access to a smartphone tweeted a video of a new 10-lane highway somewhere in southern India. It was retweeted and praised until some people – especially those who could count and insisted on counting – decided to spoil the party by pointing out that the highway had just six lanes. They went on and on about the four lanes they missed, and the memes kept coming, which made me wonder why we have such a problem with exaggeration. Is it really so bad to lie about something that makes some of us look good?
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There is nothing wrong in exaggeration as it is an intrinsic part of our culture. It’s everywhere if we stop and think about how things are described to us. It starts when we are young and follows us to our graves, only we rarely notice it. It is in our school and college textbooks, on the innumerable hoardings and banners that litter our streets, on taxpayer-funded advertisements in government-friendly newspapers, and in every third or fourth word that comes out of the mouths of our politicians. it’s everywhere.
Look at our hospitals, for example, and how they advertise ‘world-class’ facilities throughout the year, easily fine-tuning reports of labor problems, severe staff shortages, or inflated billings. Quitting, which has given rise to over-insurance. Companies should stop offering cashless transactions.
Peruse our tourism brochures with their endless promises of crystalline waters, unspoiled beaches, great Indian warmth and hospitality, then compare those details with photos of Goa’s beaches on New Year’s Eve, our most famous heritage sites Mountains of garbage around, unrestrained crimes against vulnerable tourists, and hospitality that depends on the color of the visitor’s skin. See how we describe our police force as one of the most respected in the world, neglecting what our local chaukis are really like, and what most of us need to do to file a simple FIR have to jump for
It is also interesting that we attack ministers for exaggerating achievements that have nothing to do with them, while ignoring their personal achievements that do not exist. A cursory glance at their declarations of income, educational or criminal records should prove almost immediately that they are almost always the least qualified people to hold public office and represent us in Parliament. And yet, we applaud his speeches and vote for him anyway, and do so repeatedly, only to complain when he exaggerates the number of lanes on the highway?
I think it is time we acknowledge and accept that hyperbole is a part of our lives and start celebrating the audacity with which we deploy it. Yes, our ministers really have 56 inch chest. Yes, they have some of the most advanced degrees in the world in arcane subjects like political science as a whole. Yes, they are all people of conscience and truth who are rarely accused of serious crimes like murder, rioting, extortion or genocide. Yes, our police force is one of the most respected in the world for the high level of competence displayed on a daily basis and for the complete absence of corruption at any level.
We should use social media to publicize these exaggerations more often, and make India look better than it really is, as it is our duty as patriots. We may be among the most racist, corrupt, bigoted people on the planet, but no one outside our borders has any reason to know, right?
When he’s not boasting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost coquettish. He tweeted @lindsaypereira
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The views expressed in this column are those of the individual and do not represent the views of the paper.