PEN award winning Indian author takes potshots at media

New Delhi: In any functional democracy media should ideally become the voice of the voiceless, but acclaimed author Siddhartha Deb feels the press in India behaves like a cheerleader of corporations and political parties rather than a conscience keeper of the nation.

Deb’s non-fiction novel “The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India” has just won the prestigious 2012 PEN Open Book Award for “an exceptional work of literature by an author of colour”.

The novel, which talks about the stories of varying lives in contemporary India, gives us a gripping analysis of what is happening in the country, where  he says an uncertain world is being built from its newest industries and oldest traditions.

Shillong-born Deb, who often takes potshots at the exclusivist ‘elites’ in India, has also written about the rampant inequalities that mar the otherwise optimistic narrative of a rising free market superpower.

The author said the media in India appears to have relinquished its role of discussing the least talked-about issues and concerns of the marginalised Indians.

“Mainstream media in India, both print and television, serves the interests of large corporations and political parties. It does so by successfully filling the minds of its audience with trivia, fear, hatred, and titillation,” Deb told  PTI from New York where he teaches creative writing at the New School.

Deb says, “Why should it (media) have anything meaningful to say on agriculture or farmers or food or the environment?” asked the author, whose essays and reviews have appeared various leading newspapers of the world.

“It’s really the result of a deeply imitative and insecure elite that cannot imagine a more glorious future for their country than for it to become a giant parking lot with nicely demarcated dividing lines,” says the Bengali author, who in his own word influenced by a “Goethean sense” of world literature.

Deb is also the author of two critically acclaimed novels – “The Point of Return” (2003) and “Surface” (2005). “The Point of Return” is semi-autobiographical in nature and set in a Shillong like hill-station while “Surface” talks about a disillusioned Sikh journalist and also set in northeast India.

Deb is, however, not hopeful about the ongoing anti-corruption movements in India. “The anti-corruption movements do not seem to be questioning power or hierarchy but simply demanding it all for themselves. What could be more corrupt than the lives we lead every day?”

The author admits being personally attacked and receiving feedbacks bordering on hate mails.

“… the weirdly personal attacks posing as reviews, or the hate mail and online comments… they all come from Indian elites feeling aggrieved about something, about my left politics or about my ‘success,’ but in the end, they amount to nothing when compared to the lovely, thoughtful responses I receive from people all over the country (and in other countries), some of whom are even perceptive members of the elite I am critiquing.”

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