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(29): India as “Ƙasar Waje”: Reality or Apparition?

Muhammad Muhsin Ibrahim
@muhsin234 (Twitter)

“It looks foreign”, my Indian friends so often tell me while describing how scenic and highly-developed a particular place is. It happened first while my wife and I were touring the capital, New Delhi last winter. We were entering the subway system called the 'metro' when my friend guiding us said we would feel as if in a foreign country down there. It didn’t dawn on me then until I heard the same expressions time and again from more friends. They obviously forget that everywhere is foreign to me as I am a foreigner, a Nigerian. My country is thousands of miles away. However, each time the incident occurs, it reminds me of a similar preconceived notion of foreign superiority back in Nigeria. In the same vein, Nigerians would quickly brag that their particular possession was made in a foreign country, not in Nigeria!

Pragmatically speaking, the whole concept of “Ƙasar Waje” as we call a foreign country in my local language of Hausa leaves me wondering. It reassures me that truly humans’ knowledge is apparently limited. If not, why the thought that anything, nay, everything foreign is more beautiful, quality-wise better and pictorially much unlike what is ordinarily obtained around us? Is even the idea itself real, imaginary or a downright apparition?

It is worth noting that meaning is, by and large, context-defined. This, therefore, determines in our psyche what looks more foreign or more local. Almost everyone empirically thinks that out there is prettier. For instance: my coming to India was deliberate and purposed; I came for a postgraduate programme in theatre and television. Although I have yet to be a fan of Bollywood, the close relationship between my study area and the film industry added more to my jubilation. Right from my first day, however, lots of things, admittedly speaking, looked the contrary. I have now realized the immense power of the visual industry the more. 

The flamboyant Indian film industry has remarkably succeeded in lifting the face of the country and hiding the situation of the large chunk of its billion plus citizenry. It has manipulated the psychology and vision of many people around the world. Now India and its people are often seen in an entirely different, ‘filtered’ way. Only in a few films like Slumdog Millionaire, one comes across a typical portrayal of some, in fact many, Indian environments. I have travelled to a number of cities and towns here, so my disclosure is not unfounded or hearsay-based.

Beyond the PR achievement, so many people falsely believe that Indian women are the arbiter of beauty. This is also untrue: no doubt some are utterly good-looking, but the unattractive ones are also so many. Not all Indian women are Katrina Kaifs, Deepikas, Priyanka Chopras in the same way not all Nigerian women are Omotolas, Ini Edos, Fati Ladans, etc. Relying on what is shown on the media is extremely misleading. India is one of the dirtiest spots on the planet with millions of vagrants and homeless people who largely depend on scavenging for survival.

However, some places are frigging beautiful in terms of their technologically-designed structures, architecture, and nature including many Mughals designed mosques, tombs, ports and palaces; Hindu’s historical temples and so on. But numberless other places are extremely ugly, decomposing, dungy, dingy and disgusting that may force one to throw up. India has the largest number of people without access to toilets who indiscriminately urinate and defecate wherever they can get a little cover over their heads or even in the open spaces. There are swamps, roadside mechanics, an array of shops and vendors, street beggars and almost everything befitting a typical, less developed setting. India has a long way to become a utopia.

An elderly man I used to chat with once told me that “India is equally a developing country like Nigeria, only that it is more developed—a little bit—than many countries in this category”. This is right. India is no way a developed world like the U.K, U.S, Canada, etc. The wildest dream of so many Indians is to go to those countries or even others not yet categorized as developed like the U.A.E, Oman, New Zealand, etc for greener pasture. Hence, Indians are everywhere in the world; they make larger population in Diaspora than any country to the extent the diasporic community is officially recognized, specifically named Non-Resident Indians (NRI) and appointed a minister in the government.

Dear reader, wise up and don’t be deceived anymore. There are slums, homeless and ghettos even in the said developed world. Nowhere is wholly a perfect haven. To my fellow countrymen and women, I wholeheartedly believe that no city in India is bigger, more picturesque and more sanitized than our Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. It might be bigger, yes; but far from being more hygienized. I also believe that there are many places in, say, Lagos, Port Harcourt and even ‘my city and pride’, Kano state that look that “foreign”. So, wake up from your inferiority-induced slumber and start appreciating what you are blessed with.

As today marks the 54th year of Nigeria as a sovereign nation, please let’s pray for peace and prosperity for the country, for my country of residency (India) and for the world. Happy Independence, Nigeria and God bless!

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