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Asian Times
Colin Todhunter
Just do what? - I don't know. Who cares? Let's have a Pepsi and settle down for the "news"

In 1970s Britain, when I was a teenager, there was a nightly news programme called News at Ten. It was a national institution with massive viewing figures, in a time before satellite and cable TV, and the information superhighway. Millions relied on that programme for their view of the world. Events in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were daily news, and South East Asia was the hot spot in the Cold War. Beijing, or Peking as it was referred to, and of course, as now, the Middle East also featured. Those places were on the other side of the world, and I probably could not have located them on a map. I also recall thinking that the year 2000 would never arrive. It was a lifetime away. Twenty five years seemed like a lifetime. When young, even a year can seem like an eternity.

The year 2000 has been and gone, and the world's hot-spots have changed - well some of them. Eventually, I not only managed to locate Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and China on a map, but actually went to those places. I never thought that I would, but I did. I have been to those places and more. I remember standing in Tianamen Square looking up at the portrait of Mao, thinking to myself that the first time I saw that picture was on News at Ten back in 1973 or thereabouts. That was in 1994. It felt a bit surreal. All the more so as a McDonalds restaurant had been built at the opposite end of the square, in full view of Mao. And when New Years Day 2000 came, that felt scary. Time moves fast.

My first recollections of India were in 1984, again through the TV screen, and on News at Ten. The American owned Union Carbide factory hit the headlines and I remember an exodus of thousands of people escaping from the poisonous fumes that spewed out from the plant and hung over Bhopal. I visited the city in 1998 and stood outside the main gate of the now closed Carbide factory. Across the road is a slogan that reads "Hang Anderson", the man in charge of the plant at that time. In front of the slogan is a quite small and humble looking statue of a veiled woman covering her eyes, and carrying a baby. Another child is at her feet. It is a memorial to those affected by that particular outrage. I always remember those TV images of Bhopal. They were awful. I never once thought that I would ever go to India, let alone Bhopal.
More recently, I witnessed the Twin Towers in New York collapsing on my TV screen. I have never been to New York, but I compare the reaction of that event with what happened in Bhopal, and have no doubt whatsoever that the victims or their relatives in New York will fair better than those in Bhopal. What if Bhopal had happened in America? It would have been a different story. But then again, by its very nature, it would not happen in the USA. That kind of thing is allowed only in the so-called "Third World" (if it can be got away with). Things still drag through the courts. And what has happened to "Anderson". You can guess - not a lot.

When I saw theTwin Towers fall down on the British news, I thought that it is better to be a victim in New York than in Bhopal. Both tragedies came from the sky, but a cloud will seemingly forever hang over Bhopal. America's billions will help to ease the pain in New York. Justice is unfair. A dead New York financier carries much more weight than thousands of dead urban slum dwellers. But should any of this really come as a surprise? Sections of the West enjoy unprecedented levels of wealth, three billion live on less that two dollars a day, a fifth of the world's population does not have access to clean drinking water, and local economies are being disrupted by the dictates of Western financiers who control the world economy. All are inextricably linked. The humble rickshaw man in Dhaka, the factory worker in Orissa and the villager toiling away in the fields of Uttar Pradesh have one thing in common - like so many others, they are increasingly labouring under global capitalism.

News at Ten brought the world into everyone's living room. Maybe the quality of news on the TV has got better or worse since that time. I suppose that in some ways it is better. TV stations and companies have mushroomed throughout the world. But how many of them rely on the BBC, CNN or Western news agencies to set the agenda or to get their stories from? Now the USA are getting worried because the Al Jezeera network in the Middle East dare to set there own news agenda - it is not pro-Western - or to be more precise, pro-American.
The last time I was in the UK, I watched News at Ten. It is still going strong. The average British citizen is still subjected to the nightly horrors of the world - but as ever, presented in a reassuring way and entertaining way. Too much gloom, doom and analysis is bad for the soul. I suppose you would have to watch the programme to see the paradox in action. You would probably have to watch much more than that though - the advertisements either side of the news also have the required soothing effect. There is a certain light hearted fizz to it all.
And so to the commercial break. What better fizz is there than Pepsi and Coke. They are the ultimate in emptiness with their hedonistic, Coke is Life, Just Do It, attitude (both slogans have been used by one or both cola companies at some time). Their advertisements represent a triumph of blandness over meaning. Just Do It implies Don't think and Enjoy! and has just about as much substance as the air bubbles in a can. Just do what? - I don't know. Who cares? Let's have a Pepsi and settle down for the "news" - public theatre largely void of serious analysis. That's entertainment!

That living room where I watched TV in the 1970s seems a long way away at times. And it is. These days events are not viewed from the cosy armchair of the privileged West in front of the TV. They are not taking place in some far off place that might as well be on another planet. What once appeared to be a lifetime away in the world of a boy, is only ten hours or so by plane. Didn't Mao once say something about every journey beginning with the first step? Who knows where any journey may lead. Each person has to make their own choice. I know where mine is leading - and it is not to McDonalds in Beijing, Delhi, Mumbai or elsewhere to get a Pepsi or Coke - that's for sure. Globalisation without ethics or equity may be the logo for the rich and powerful, but seemingly not for everyone.

© Colin Todhunter September 2002

- The Madras Diaries
Traveller Tales on the Road in India
a new book by Colin Todhunter
available now
£4.99 or $11.99 CND
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Read Colin's Collection of India Stories now available, with new unpublished additions in Hacktreks first work in print.

Travelling through time...
Colin Todhunter

The spirit of travel is not about getting from one physical point to another, but about embarking on the road to nowhere

All Aboard the Tamil Nadu Express: next stop - insanity!
Colin Todhunter in India
He had met a woman in the hotel, and was totally mad about her.

From Copenhagen to Byron Bay:
A tale of two women
Colin Todhunter
"In India first you get married and then you work these things out", he said with amazing casualness.

Poison Kiss
"There will be a small financial re-numeration" Mr Sunderjee says...
Colin Todhunter finds himself the unexpected 'star' of an Indian movie.

The unique experience of going
to the gym in India

Colin Todhunter

Me, God and Jerry Seinfeld: spaced out in India
Colin Todhunter

I got the impression that he thought he was a living God. He was lost in space.

Chennai Tax Office and the Trail of the Banana Pancake
Colin Todhunter
'as people get to where they think they want to be, many realise that they didn’t want to be there in the first place or at least want to be somewhere else - somewhere better'.

Back to the Future on Triplicane High Road
Colin Todhunter

I found women with love in their eyes, and women with flowers in their hair, but not both together.

More Journeys in Hacktreks

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