Hutnyk on Tue, 16 Sep 1997 18:07:57 +0200 (MET DST)

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In support of the post from Carol Udhaya... [on aaa-anthropology]

I have long argued that the few superstar Western critics of *Mother
Teresa* (Greer, Hitchens) were only the tip of an iceberg submerged by a
racially exclusive media swamp. There has always been a very strong and
vocal anti Ma T critique in West Bengal. The critique is important
because the way that Ma T-enhanced views of Calcutta circulate needs to
be continually exposed. The task knocking down stereotypes is always a
fraught one, since they keep on bouncing back up, but it can be noted
that the *bad* reputation of Calcutta curiously coincides with the rise
of the anti-colonial movement in Bengal. No accident this. The Brits
were forced to move the capital to Delhi in 1910. Old Kipling may have
called the place 'City of Dreadful Night', thus ushering in an epoch of
doom-gloom clichés, but he also wrote of the city: 'Built on silt, but
Gold'. A reference to the wealth plundered from India and brought out
through its port.

There is an amazing distance between the global image of Calcutta as
received on television, in books, films, travelguides etc., and the
understandings that are generated by the various resident groups. There
are many 'local' Calcuttas - city of film, city of books, city of adda,
city of theatre, city of politics... etc. But Ma T is like a frequency
jamming device. I was amazed that the four hours of CNN coverage of
Global Teresa's funeral didn't manage to spot one single red flag in the
city, nor barely mention the Communist Party Government, though Jyoti
Basu (CPM Chief Minister) did make an appearance (there are elements in
the CPM that see Ma T as tourism potential I guess). How far down the
list of descriptive words used internationally for Calcutta would the
c-word be on most people's first scan? Usually its words like: teeming,
squalor, poverty, crowds, millions and shit. Maybe a more reflective
mind would offer spiritual or vibrant (but I always think that 'vibrant'
is a word you use when you want to say 'shit' but know its a prejudice).
Calcutta really does suffer from a bad press, and the recent Teresa-fest
was the most astonishing example yet. The view of Calcutta as site of
squalor is one that gives an alibi to those who 'care' but rest content
without ever having to do anything about redistributive justice on a
world scale. Ma T looks after the poor, some kind souls volunteer to
help her out (like that sloane media icon), but this is only the
charitable face of imperialism-as-usual. This is up there with Patrick
Swayze in the film 'City of Joy' for illusion and duplicity - he said he
did his movie 'for' the people of Calcutta, accepting just $1 million
rather than his usual $7 million fee (don't ask me why he didn't just do
'Dirty Dancing 2' and donate $6 Mill to the city). Look out for Aroup
Chatterjee's forthcoming book exposing the inner workings of Mother
Teresa Corp. Ask: What miracle? Saint who? Where? That 'old crone', who
'peddles the Pope's heinous policy of compelling the faithful to breed'.
Spare me.

Ummm. On a related note, can I add(vertise) that I wrote a book about
volunteers doing charity work and the representation of Calcutta. Its
called 'The Rumour of Calcutta: tourism, charity and the poverty of
representation' Zed books, London 1996.



John Hutnyk
University of Heidelberg
Mail: Schiffgasse 4
69117 Heidelberg

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