Byline By M.J. Akbar : Three Cheers, Bengaluru!
Where is Geoffrey Boycott when you really need him? Hiding in South Africa, I bet, instead of taking on the yobs who are making Shilpa Shetty cry in England. Boycott, the dour-faced, sour-tongued Yorkshireman who used to bat for England in the days when England had batsmen, and is now a cricket commentator, rarely misses a chance to tell his television audiences in India about his obsession with Shilpa, a semi-successful Bollywood actress whose USP, in her own words, lies in her curves rather than her thespian skills.
In India, according to confidential sources, each time he has come out to bat for Shilpa, Boycott has had to retire hurt. This was the moment for Boycott to take charge of the airwaves in London, and tell Jackie and Jade Goody how precisely to pronounce Shilpa: a drunken sway, that is, shway, followed by a long a. He could have added that the accent comes from Bangalore, the Internet city that has taken thousands of jobs away from the Goodys, as well as from the Tweedys which, I hope, is the real reason why Shilpa makes Jade feel sick.
There used to be a time, dear Jade, Jackie, Jo and Jack (do the Channel 4 producers make up these names in pursuit of alliteration or are they for real?), when Grandfather Tweedy, along with Grandmother Goody, used to keep dirty black Indians out of their Bangalore compound, unless the dirty black Indians were servants. Sorry, Jade, Jackie, Jo and Jack, but Shilpa is an independent girl now, and when you call her an “Indian” do so in that nice way you use “American”. We don’t even want to hear the little twist you attach to “Frog”.
Shilpa has already changed the name of Bangalore, an Anglicisation, to the original Bengaluru, and given the profits that software companies in her city like Infosys and Wipro have just declared, she is about to take a few thousand more jobs that the Goodys would have got if they hadn’t invested so much of their time into becoming yobs. That is the sort of sickening news that should really make your skin crawl.
In my search for unimpeachable objectivity, I turned to the newspaper that has fought the Crimean War and protected civilisation each time civilisation needed protection from the brown, black or yellow races, The Times. This august organ, unable to verify such a lofty incident for itself, reported that Indian media had “also noticed an exchange between Jade Goody’s boyfriend Jack Tweedy and Shilpa. In the incident, featured in the Celebrity Big Brother highlights, Tweedy’s comment was bleeped out — although there were reports that he had called her a ‘…ing Paki’. A Channel 4 spokeswoman denied that he had used that phrase.” I wonder why British media had not noticed this. Maybe British media was at the pub when this was happening. The Times clearly did not have the time to ask Channel 4 for original tapes to find out for itself.
Instead, in the following paragraph, a large number of big words were used to disguise one small word. “A spokesman for the programme said that the social interactions and dynamics of the group were integral to the Big Brother story and viewers had a right to see them. However, there was a need for this to be balanced with the duty not to broadcast offensive material.” Social. Interactions. Dynamics. Integral. Knock me down with a beanstalk celebrity: Is this television or a thesis on cultural dissonance among the remoter tribes of Samoa? That sounds suspiciously like a huge number of letters to screen four letters. Still, we do have an admission. Clearly there was “offensive material”.
What would Shilpa have taken offence at? She is a big girl now, and fully aware of the facts of life, including one or two that might have escaped ordinary journalists. It must be the “Paki” bit. Did Jack believe that she was a Pakistani? No. Jackie, his girlfriend Jade’s mother, had been calling Shilpa an “Indian”, if you recall, and unless Jack is totally deaf he must have heard his virtual mother-in-law use the epithet. Is it possible that Jack doesn’t know the difference between an Indian and a Pakistani? That would make Jack an utter ass. While we cannot rule out that possibility, we should discount it.
Let us assume that the splendid British educational system, in which the teaching of history has improved by quantum leaps during the decade of Tony Blair, has informed Jack that although Britain did rule a united subcontinent, India and Pakistan went their separate ways in 1947. We can only conclude, therefore, that “Paki” has now become a term of abuse that stretches across national boundaries, like “Blackie” or “Nigger” in Father Tweedy’s youth. If the yobs don’t want you in their neighbourhood, they call you “(expletive deleted) Paki”.
I think I know what really broke poor Shilpa’s heart and turned her large lustrous eyes into limpid pools of unshed tears. It was the fact that her fellow-celebrities refused to eat the chicken/turkey that she made. That was insult upon injury. There is some confusion about whether the bird in question was a chicken or turkey. Even the hallowed Times cannot make up its mind. However, it was dead, and it was in the oven, and Shilpa had cooked it. Or did Shilpa cook more than one meal? But to get to the point: Jo O’Meara had a few things to say about that chickturk, but mainly that it was undercooked and too spicy. I really can’t see what Jo was so upset about.
This is precisely what she gets each time she steps out to a London restaurant for curry. I would not be surprised if Shilpa had taken advice from other Indians, and been told unambiguously that when she did cook for others on the show, she must not think of herself, that she must sacrifice her normal Indian tastes, and deliberately under-cook and over-spice the bird. Otherwise, the British would never recognise what is passed off to them as Indian food. The food critic in Danielle shifted gear to health faddist. She taunted Shilpa for using her hands while cooking. Danielle, who was obviously the class idiot, was not too sure whether Indians or Chinese ate with their hands.
No one has taken poor Danielle to a Chinese restaurant, obviously. But yes, Danielle, we Indians do eat with our hands when we are not pretending to be British. Danielle may be uninformed about Chinese culinary habits, but she is no novice when it comes to the sly invective. Channel 4 did not choose her for her intellect, but they had to select her for some reason. “You don’t know where her hands have been,” Danielle said. Oooh. We are talking civilisation here, are we Danielle? Danielle, my dear, why don’t you have a nice long shower, with a proper scrub, and discover the merits of soap and water? They are good for the soul and terrible for germs.
The results are not yet in, so one doesn’t know how much this cultural crisis has helped the ratings of Celebrity Big Brother. But it has certainly helped the ratings of Shilpa Shetty, whose film career has been a bit on the wane of late. You could not click open a television screen in India when the story broke without those heavy-lidded, poignant, tearful eyes looking at you, followed immediately by a shot of bare back or flashing midriff. Jade, Jackie, Jo and Jack have been good for Shilpa. A few weeks ago Shilpa Shetty told an Indian journalist that she wasn’t dating anyone at the moment. This was your chance, Geoff Boycott, to don the shining armour, and slay celebrity upstarts with the ferocity of your Yorkshire accent. You blew it, Geoff.