Re­think­ing those In­cred­i­ble In­dia ads

To ex­pect truth from ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies is a far­fetched thought, but vis­i­tors to our cities should be warned none­the­less


hat would your idea of an ad­ver­tise­ment for the In­cred­i­ble In­dia cam­paign look like? It’s a ques­tion I some­times ask friends at a bar, when we’re drunk enough to be hon­est about how we re­ally feel about life, our coun­try, and ev­ery­thing in be­tween. Their re­sponses are al­ways in­ter­est­ing, but also re­veal­ing be­cause they em­pha­sise how much we value the idea of sav­ing face. We want the world to look at In­dia as a place of love and af­fec­tion, beauty and car­ing, clean streets and cleaner peo­ple, be­cause any view that de­vi­ates from this ideal state only makes us look bad.

We do this in our pri­vate lives, too, of course, lower our voices and smile at the neigh­bours to pre­vent them from find­ing out about the men­tal ail­ments that run in so many fam­i­lies. We bring out the best China and bor­row money to feed rel­a­tives be­cause what they think about us mat­ters a lot more than any­thing else. It’s also why mar­riage cer­e­monies con­tinue to stress out mil­lions of In­di­ans, as they pre­pare for life­long debt just to create a fleet­ing im­pres­sion of suc­cess.

The In­cred­i­ble In­dia ads do show In­dia in a pos­i­tive light be­cause the ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies tasked with cre­at­ing them are paid to do so. As tools to be bran­dished by our tourism min­istry, they func­tion rather well. It’s sad that we can’t re­ally be hon­est though, be­cause hon­esty about who we are as a coun­try and a peo­ple would frighten a lot more vis­i­tors from turn­ing up. We have to rely on our an­cient and glo­ri­ous past be­cause the present would be dev­as­tat­ing for most sane peo­ple to stom­ach. We have to show tigers and tem­ples be­cause show­ing them our streets and how we com­mute would make them can­cel their bookings in a hurry.

My friends usu­ally de­scribe their ideal ads as ones fea­tur­ing peo­ple spit­ting paan, leer­ing at women and jostling for space at rail­way sta­tions. They end th­ese de­scrip­tions with a laugh though, be­cause they recog­nise the im­pos­si­bil­ity of th­ese hon­est snapshots of daily life ever mak­ing it to those ad­ver­tise­ments. Hon­esty is for tweets by tourists who com­plain about how they are rou­tinely fleeced, fol­lowed and ha­rassed for all kinds of rea­sons.

In re­cent times, com­mu­nal vi­o­lence has de­terred do­mes­tic tourists from vis­it­ing cities in the North East. A tourist was al­legedly killed by stone-throw­ing pro­test­ers in Kash­mir. A Bri­tish cou­ple was beaten up in Bi­har and there were two at­tacks on for­eign tourists in Ut­tar Pradesh within two weeks. There have also been a re­ported 245 deaths of tourists to Goa in 12 years. Th­ese re­ports are rou­tinely dis­missed with state­ments about how all coun­tries are dan­ger­ous. No gov­ern­ment ever ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal flaw that lies in our abil­ity to treat other hu­man be­ings with re­spect.

The of­fi­cial web­site of the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has this for­eign travel ad­vice to of­fer at present: ‘Women should use cau­tion when trav­el­ling in In­dia. Re­ported cases of sex­ual as­sault against women and young girls are in­creas­ing; re­cent sex­ual at­tacks against fe­male vis­i­tors in tourist ar­eas and cities show that for­eign women are also at risk.’ A gov­ern­ment that took this ad­vice se­ri­ously would do some­thing to make not just for­eign vis­i­tors feel safer in our coun­try. In­stead, more and more In­dian women talk about how un­safe they feel in their own coun­try. Their com­plaints are dis­missed, too, as ru­mour-mon­ger­ing gen­er­ated by ‘anti-na­tion­als’ try­ing to tar­nish our fair coun­try’s rep­u­ta­tion.

What would your idea of those In­cred­i­ble In­dian ad­ver­tise­ments be? Would you like them to fo­cus on our an­cient glory and nat­u­ral won­ders alone, or show the world that our coun­try still has some­thing pos­i­tive to of­fer? Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to lie for a change? To tell the world that our ob­ses­sion with pol­i­tics and religion is turn­ing us into a coun­try of hate­ful fa­nat­ics? That our in­abil­ity to deal with sex­ual re­pres­sion makes our coun­try dan­ger­ous for women? That we are racists who sim­ply haven’t come to terms with our racism?

The ad­ver­tise­ments will no doubt con­tinue to lie. Af­ter all, we live in a coun­try where a high-rank­ing min­is­ter once asked us to down­play the hor­rific gang-rape of a girl who lost her life, be­cause of how it was giv­ing the coun­try a bad name. Peo­ple don’t mat­ter to us. Only per­cep­tion does.


In re­cent times, com­mu­nal vi­o­lence has de­terred do­mes­tic tourists from vis­it­ing cities in the North East.

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