Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More on Slumdog and my Unjob

Lots of press on Slumdog Millionaire, its Oscars and India's defensive response. "The slums aren't so bad, the police stations are very modern, no blind children beg in Mumbai, we have a space program, etc." True, it's too big of a country to squish into a pigeon hole, but we thought the movie captured the essence of our experience there, the beauty of it too, but mostly the lack of respect for human life. It brought back the same kind of trauma that had us ceremoniously wishing we'd survive, chanting over peacock feathers and tossing them into the wind. Just after this photo was taken, agreeably one of the most beautiful sights we'd ever seen, I got upset by one of the hundreds of starving dogs we saw, this one appearing to be hours from death. The hideous poverty in Agra took the bloom off the Taj Mahal rose.  

I was interested in medical insurance as part of a school project and can still hear a man my age talking about health care. "The government doesn't care about its people. Our lives mean nothing." Ironically, we had to move out of the US to find a government that sees health care as a right and not a privilege, but that's another blog.  

Oh, and we saw plenty of blind children begging. People with disabilities are desirable in the begging rings as they earn more. The slums in the movie looked elegant compared to the muddy tarp-covered pits we experienced. We had a driver with us as we traveled through the north and had to stop every few hours to pay off bribes to the corrupt police. And as for the space program, one of the main challenges in my telemedicine project is that the satellites needed to transmit lifesaving medical data are inaccessible to the clinics who need them and owned by the government.  This man paid 50 rupees per day to the policeman at the "toll station" would let him and his monkeys perform for tips/tourists.

The movie was also accurate in painting the "do what you have to do to get by" phenomenon we saw in India. There's a lot of will to succeed there. There's a whole other tragic thread to the Slumdog story about the child actors being paid under $1000 US dollars each for their parts in the movie. Again, consistent with our experience and the story....the Western world is enjoying easy exploitation and arbitrage of a developing nation and yet we're shocked when our "we want something for nothing" attitude comes back to bite us. The movie's depiction of how tourists as easy targets were (admittedly) true.  

Ultimately, it IS great that people in, say, the heartland of America will see Slumdog and become more interested in India, more compassionate, more open to the diversity that we have here in Australia.  
I also wish Micky Rourke would have won an Oscar for The Wrestler. It was equally pithy. It's a shame I learned how to use Intrade the same day as the Oscars and I was so certain he was a shoo-in for best actor of Sean Penn in Milk. When Tom got home from the office and I told him about my (recoverable yet unfortunate) online gambling loss, he said it's like I have an "un-job...really, just like the opposite of a job". Ah, you just have to laugh.

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