I haven’t read Joseph Steiglitz, and I’ve only meandered through portions of Thomas Friedman’s works, but if globalization means that you often find yourself in a place that could be anycityanywhere, it isn’t worth it. Even if you’re having a good time. This past Saturday I was in New Delhi, which is certainly not anycityanywhere, but more like governmentcitykindaboring.
I and my friends went to a lounge bar called Shalom. Nice tapas and mezze, made even better because we had a chance to imbibe decently mixed vodka tonics and later inhale apple-strawberry tobacco through the shisha pipe. At some point in the evening I stretched back on the low-slung cushions to look dreamily at the ceiling and escaped the self-important and ignorant chatter of the twenty-somethings I was with (I don’t think I ever had that much delusional confidence when I was just out of university — just what are they feeding these children?) and it struck me: I could have been in about 75% of the cities in the world.
Now, a lot of people think that’s a good thing. And big picture, it does seem appealing. But you start to look at the details that are just the bloody same, from the diaphanous colored fabrics layered over stretch spaghetti-strap tops that all the women wear, down to the DJ mixing cds (vinyl! O poor vinyl!) to produce an aural experience filled with one recognizable, decent piece of downtempo lost in a blizzard of pseudo worldbeat hypnotica. I looked at my own shirt, a beaten polyester and cotton blend with double chest pockets that I bought in Chennai no less than five! years ago and prayed that the gods of the random button would allow just one more song from Chicane’s Behind the Sun to make its way through the speakers.
Let’s face it, like airplane travel even in business class, globalization is lowering the common denominator, dumbing us down, and making elite sound like a bad word instead of something to strive towards. Sure we all get to sip $11 cocktails and congratulate ourselves on our spiking salaries and trendy gear (note: I have my own collection of trendy gear, so I’m just as guilty), but the real achievers, the ones who just might be remembered in the next century, are opting for ever more extreme forms of hedonism, are writing quality literature, and doing mind-blowing stuff that we think we too can do, but in reality will never come close to doing.
On the other side of it, as if to mock me, we took a ride the evening before on New Delhi’s glittering metro, disembarked at Chandini Chowk and hopped on to bicycle rickshaws for a ride to Karim’s near the Jama Masjid. Ten rickshaws navigating past the Red Fort and of course about halfway there it was apparent that for all the Hindi and pseudo-Hindi spoken by our group, perhaps only one rickshaw-walla actually knew how to get where we were going. So a few u-turns and sweeps through crowds and more crowds, with monkeys crossing wires above us and a large truck that looked as if it was belching clouds as it came towards us (it was in fact belching some sort of DEET. The truck said “Govt. of New Delhi Dengue Spraying”), and we finally dismounted into a sea of children pulling on our sleeves and pants until we ducked into Karim’s. Someone from the LA Times had written it up in the late 90’s as a return to the days of the cuisine of Mughal kings, which apparently translates as “meat central.” It was hot, we were tired, and I just wanted a shower, and we must have left at least 3 plates of chicken muglai for the dogs. And then out into the post-mosque masses and in to the AC of the bus that’s somehow managed it’s way into the maze of streets, so that we could escape.
But that’s one of the other sides of India, isn’t it? Running from a wretched mass of kids who bang on the door of your bus begging for some roops because that’s all they’ve ever been taught to do in the face of your globalized ass.