We, Indians, now worship ourselves and those who worship themselves as heroes

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

We take to new technologies easily in India. In fact, energetically and enthusiastically. Especially when the new gadget is such as can be held in one’s hands.

When the transistor radio arrived, it became a rage in no time. The large and heavy radio set needed to be installed. Which meant it needed a house, a house with furniture. But the transistor transcended and democratised airwaves. It equalised the one-roomwala or the hut-dweller with the well-housed, the well-equipped. The transistor connected the villager and the city capitalist equally and simultaneously with the world.

The story is told of how, during the Emergency in 1975-77, a bullock cartowner could listen to BBC’s Indian language broadcasts while travelling on what Americans would describe as a ‘dirt road’. The transistor that dangled between the bullock’s horns gave him all the news that the State-controlled All India Radio and Doordarshan did not.

The mobile phone is, of course, the jewel in the crown of India’s romance with the handheld gadget. There being no limit to the number of mobile phones one can have, the Indian ‘cell’ now exceeds, in numbers, the population of India. But the mobile phone as a phone is not what makes it the wonder that it is. That role comes from it being a screen for visuals and as a camera that not just photographs, but also sends those photographs like a TV studio to anywhere and everywhere. And as the creator of the selfie, it has become India’s No. 1 techno-craze.

The ‘selfie’ has beaten all photographic devices in winning India’s unconditional love. The dollar-billion kind and the stunningly poor, the politically powerful and the politically null, are all, by now, selfiemasters. And they are all equally hooked to it.

Say Cheese

The highest and the lowest smile their smiles with the same child’s excitement into the selfie shot. The selfie has, like the transistor of old, transcended and democratised photo-waves. It has equalised the photographer and the photographed. It has fluxed the painter and the painted, the sculptor and the sculpted. It has brought a new meaning to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous lines, so that one can say, ‘I am the dancer and the dance.’ The selfie has clicked into India in a way that is entirely ‘between the selfie and India’. It is as if it has run into a grain in our psyche, a vein in our make-up, a fibre in our being that was waiting for this natural clasp. A selfie is a photograph. It is about a click. But there is a difference, a huge one. A selfie is about a click clicking itself. Anyone would be fascinated by the phenomenon.

But there is more to it than just that fascination. There is something happening in, and with, the selfie phenomenon in India that is not about the photograph, but about us.

What is that? What is that trait in us that the selfie has so easily clicked into? What is that something in us, a people, us as a ‘type’, that has made us such natural adepts with the selfie, its lovers? Two things.

First, the huge majority of us, like anyone else in the world, see, watch, observe. We are the audience in the cinema, the spectators in the sports stadium. We are the viewers of television, the readers of papers. The selfie changes all that. Webecome the ones that are seen, the ones that watch, the ones that are observed. In and through the selfie, we leave our seats and mount the screen, the stage.

We move from being the ones who say ‘Wow!’ to the ones who wow — even if we wow just ourselves. Getting on to a train, boarding a flight, why, just strolling in a public park, travelling in a bus, the joy of being not ‘down here’ but ‘up there’ is no ordinary joy. The selfie has made players of us, actors, if you like. Or sports stars. To us in India, more than elsewhere, this transposition means a huge deal.

I, Me, Myselfie

Second, we like, love, adore our actors, our Virat Kohlis. And to be Virat Kohli or Priyanka Chopra is to be on Cloud Ten. The selfie makes heroes and heroines of us ordinary mortals. And not in some misty dream sequence out of a film, but for real, in real time, in real space. We are the producer called Selfie, director called Selfie, actor called Selfie, and spectator called Selfie, in the non-stop film called Selfie. We have become our own entertainment.

B R Ambedkar bemoaned in the constituent assembly our practice of hero worship. We now worship ourselves as heroes. And those who worship themselves. Hero worship has merged with self-worship, So, jab tak suraj chand rahega, hamara selfie datey rahega.

The writer is a former governor

ET