Let Them Eat My Dust - Farah Khan Ali's Tweet And What It Says About India's Rich

12/05/2015 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
PUNIT PARANJPE via Getty Images
An Indian man leads his pet monkey on a leash along the seafront in Mumbai on January 21, 2015. India is part of a global trend that is advancing towards an increasing urbanisation, with more than half of the world's population living in towns and cities. AFP PHOTO / PUNIT PARANJPE (Photo credit should read PUNIT PARANJPE/AFP/Getty Images)

"It's like penalising a train driver because someone decided to cross the tracks and got killed in the bargain," thus tweeted Farah Khan Ali, jewellery designer and sister of Susanne, attempting a sub-140 character précis of Salman Khan's infamous car crash and subsequent conviction.

The frightening sincerity of Ms. Khan's remark ought to shine at least a flickering light on how the privileged classes perceive our less well off. It is said that Lady Diana Cooper, British socialite was once approached by a poor man while she was waiting for her Rolls Royce outside a hotel, who pleaded that he hadn't eaten for three days. "You must try," she shot back, "If need be, you must force yourself."

A few months back, the people of Venezuela, reeling from the economic destruction caused by plunging oil prices, had to deal with this dismissal by its Food Minister of the desperate, unending lines outside grocery stores-

"I've been in tons of lines. I went to my favourite sports team's game this weekend, and I had to get in line to get a parking space. I got in line to buy my ticket. And then... I made a line to get into the stadium. And you know what, I made a line to find my seat. And then you know what, I went to go buy an arepa [Venezuelan sandwich]... and I had to wait in line there too..."

It's not good enough to dehumanise the masses. If we can help it, we don't even want to see them. The unspoken logic behind Mumbai's 'sea view premium' is at least partly to cloud out the slums that dot every area in the city.

'They' certainly don't need to see us. The collective, despondent sigh at the Supreme Court's decision banning the use of black films on car windows could in large part be attributed to this one, uncomfortable fact. Before the democratisation wrought by multiplexes, the architecture of cinema halls willingly pandered to this emotion, with patrons of 'balcony' seats never having to be seen by buyers of cheaper seats in the 'stalls'.

We can fairly credit our colonial masters for some of this froideur. Recently, a judge of the Madras High Court was denied entry into a club in Chennai because he was wearing a dhoti. This system of sartorial sifting owes its invention to the sahib's gift for being rude in the least offensive way possible. But (as with cricket and parliament), with our gated communities and uniformed chauffeurs, we have taken the idea from the Brits and run away with it.

It is possible to live an entire lifetime in Delhi or Mumbai in the enclaves of the rich without any intrusion from 'the 99%'. Despite being a member of the ridiculously-named Royal Western India Turf Club, I confess I was secretly delighted at the worry among its elite frequenters when Uddhav Thackeray announced that the Shiv Sena would convert the Mahalaxmi racecourse, one of the few open spaces in Mumbai, into a public garden. (Of course, it never happened.)

A few days after 'the tweet', Ms. Khan's reaction to the resulting furore over her words was to spin them into concern for the housing of India's poor, with her very own antidote to the travails of footpath-dwellers: "...maybe we need to earmark roads where the homeless can sleep peacefully without the fear of being run over, roads that are bylanes." These, as Marie Antoinette found out, are attitudes that spark revolutions.

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