Saturday, May 11, 2013

Remembering the Decency in a Race - Thanks to Bollywood's Lagan

I’m in a foul mood. You could say that I am at my bigoted worst. It all started with a boo-boo by the restaurant. We served a customer his main course while he was still on his starters. He wasn’t happy and his remark to me was, “You got to be joking – this isn’t the hawker centre!”

Unfortunately for both of us, this customer happened to be a Caucasian (French, I believe.) So, when he said what he did – something inside me snapped (I have the reverse Pinkerton Syndrome). However, he was the customer and since Thuy is back in my life – I bit my lip and resolved the issue. My poor colleagues got an earful of what I thought of the said customer’s ethnicity in the few Chinese dialects that I can curse in.

I was pretty offended but pulled through. Then two of my colleagues on the service team had a run in with the French kitchen help. Apparently this kitchen helper forgot his place in the scheme of things and thought it was OK to have a minor temper tantrum in the hope of intimidating them. It took self-control not to make an issue of it and the restaurant manager told me that the said Kitchen Helper is protected by the restaurant owner. Didn’t help my mood.

Anyway, I’ve placed my heart on my Facebook status and decided to listen to music on Youtube and then I decided to watch the last few moments of one of my favourite Hindi Movies – “Lagan,” which stars Amir Khan.

The story line of the movie is simple. The dastardly British in British India have decided to screw the poor Indian villagers, who are struggling to make ends meet because the monsoons have not arrived. The Brits make a bet with the villagers – if they can beat them in a game of cricket, they will have their taxes erased. However, if the villagers lose (which was the most likely outcome), their taxes would be tripled. The climax of the movie is of course – the cricket game, which against all odds, the villagers win.

This movie or at least the last twenty minutes were exactly what I needed. Let’s face it, I am by instinct, an anti-colonial. When I was young, I used to cheer for the Japanese side whenever they showed documentaries on the “Fall of Singapore.” There was always something very appealing about watching the White Boys get marched into POW camps (hey – you never hear little Yellow people talk about it being good for you when they do it – it’s a different story when the White man does it). When it came to the Vietnam War, I would always feel very excited whenever the little Yellow People in black pajamas took the US army.

Mum and I think most of my family have NEVER understood this hidden aspect about me. Every time my poor mother suggest that it might be time for me to join a multi-national PR agency, I shudder – there’s something repulsive in the idea that I only become a respectable person if my livelihood is dependent on someone taking orders from New York or London. I know I’ve suffered for it financially but the work I’m proudest of is whenever I’ve been in opposition as a one-man show to a big multinational agency run by some Pink Blotchy in London or New York.

Having said that, I have Caucasian family and friends whom I love dearly. One of my best friends asked if I missed London and my reply was and remains, “I don’t miss London – I miss you.” Having said everything that I’ve just said, my short f&b career, which runs alongside my media relations one, has been by most accounts fairly successful because I’ve managed to develop a good relationship with Caucasian customers (helps that I speak English and German)

I like to think that the few success I’ve enjoyed in life have come from an ability to see people as people rather than as a particular ethnicity or religion.

However, tonight wasn’t really one of those nights where I was in the frame of mind to see people for what they are. I was seeing things through ethnic lenses and I guess I felt angry.

Anyway, Lagan on a superficial basis, is a wonderful movie if you’re in the mood to watch Pink Blotchies get their just deserts. The Dastardly British tried to screw poor people and received justice.

However, if you look at it at a deeper level, the movie provides you with a wonderful platform to remember a decency of a people.

The two characters in this unfolding drama who remind you about the decency of the British people are the sister of the villain (who falls for the hero, played by Amir Khan) and the umpires of the final cricket game.
What both show very clearly is that very British characteristic of believing in fairness. 

You could argue that the sister is doing what she does because she wants to be with the hero. However, she’s also motivated by a sense of fairness. She goes out of her way to teach the villagers the basics of cricket – so making sure that they know what they’re doing at the end. She’s a decent woman who tries to do what is right. Her heart guides to see people beyond ethnicity or social status.

This is seen most clearly at the end of the movie when the British Garrison is dissolved and the troops are leaving. She steps out of her carriage and offers to touch the feet of the hero’s mother (unheard of in 1893 when the movie is set), embraces the girl (her rival in love) and speaks a smattering of Hindi (which is more than what most modern Brits can do). Her love is unconditional and it brings her to take risk to ensure that there is fairness in the equation.

The umpires in the final cricket game would, under normal circumstances, be uninteresting and unimportant. They are nothing more than cricket umpires. However, the fact that they remain cricket umpires despite the political undertones of the game, makes them exceedingly important.

They are fair to a fault. They make the most crucial decision towards the end of the game, namely to rule that there was a “no ball” – hence the hero and his batting companion remain in the game for the final ball. When the British protest, the umpires reply is, “It’s a no ball and I’m not discussing this any further, SIR.” The Umpire remains emotionless and signals that the hero has a hit a six (thus winning the game for the villagers) without a hint of emotion.

Although it’s an Indian movie depicting the Brits at their worst, Lagan managed to remind me of the decency of a people who, on the whole were kind to me. After watching the scene several times, I remembered that I was better than my own prejudices.

Say what you like about Bollywood but there are moments when the often simplistic storylines have a way of making you remember the good things in life. Towards the end, I felt less angry with the world and grateful for the friends and family that have touched my life. 

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