With the collapse of The Shillong Times Archive – admin found this on Orkut, a minor footnote in our shillong controversies. We begin with Tarun Bhartiya’s initial piece on Shillong Chamber Choir and India Has Got Talent (published on 14th October 2010) – slightly overstated but keeping in line with his usual take on reality show (see his more obnoxious Omit Amit piece here). This piece got some sharp reactions in the paper – including an op-ed by the editor (Alas all lost in the web).
There were two notable responses to the piece in Khasi Press one by Wait Prat Shakhmat (Who are you) in Mawphor and other by Khulom Ksiar G. N. War in Every Khasi paper.
Paisa Pheko Talent Dekho
By Tarun Bhartiya
True memories seemed like phantoms, while false memories were so convincing that they replaced reality. Strange Pilgrims (1992) Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Just before you omit Amit Paul from your memories, remember the shock when Prashant Tamang won? Remember the conversations? Remember the anger at realizing that in the contest of mediocrity, the worse mediocre won just because his supporters, corrupt politicians, contractors and businessmen outspent our own corrupt politicians, contractors and businessmen? I am sure, our memories must be getting repeated in Arunachal Pradesh, whose Teji Toko was the focus of all the complaints of the viewers of a low TRP rated programme called IGT-Khoj 2. Master Toko may not have impressed the judges or appealed to many a musical taste, but his supporter’s ability to outspend every other contender in the competition ensured that he came second. Why were we troubled by the actions of the supporters of Tamang and Toko? Was it just fake outrage? Why have the opinion makers, who harp about and condemn the useless foreign trips by the MLAs, the buying of election votes through ill gotten money and the supermarket called MPSC where jobs are auctioned to the highest bidder, suddenly become the enthusiasts of a Fly by night talent show whose workings are uncannily similar to the workings of politics in our state.
We not only had politicians and would be politicians buying recharge vouchers and extra sim cards, but our very own ‘Big Boss’ Dr. Sangma (nee Kalmadi ) – whose excuse for every welfare measure is lack of funds and privatization – suddenly discovered a secret stash of public money to print posters, buy advertisements and even ensure a pleasure trip for himself and his cabinet cohorts, one of whom has been lecturing the valiant, ‘in chronic debt’ deficit school teachers about values of charity. Charity as it is said begins in Television Studios. Was the outpouring of state support really an overcoming of ‘political differences’ as hailed by those lacking political insight or was it that the powers that be were not to be outdone by the other Sangma family Corporation? Or was the big boss advised to act to prevent a coup similar to the one that happened in Darjeeling from a non-showing of support to the indigenous idol Prashant Tamang?
Anyway if etymology is something to go by then the word Talent comes from Latin talenta, which used to be sum of money. So in an etymological sense, SCC was more talented than the others on the show because it had more money backing it. Let us be clear, this victory was bought for them in the same way Master Toko’s second position was purchased. Because if that was not so, by the judges’ decision they would have been third and I don’t know where Teji Toko would have been – maybe in his room giving his neighbours an ear ache.
But who knows the judges’ verdict, just as who knows the best kept secret of SCC? SCC in its previous avatar as India’s representative in the World Choir Championship in China had returned with Diplomas not Gold Medals in the competition, because they were not ‘talented’ enough to qualify for the main competition. But Public Relation Lies peddled in the media made us believe that SCC, the local heroes, were one of the best choir in the whole wide world. I am sorry to shatter the fantasy, but when the media and the opinion producing elite show their talent in merely producing illusions, someone has to be iconoclastic. Genuine objective journalism is one that not only gets the facts right, but also gets the meaning of events right. In the case of SCC, the media not only suppressed the facts, but based on public relations, also subverted the meaning of events. Maybe the media (and SCC) should award themselves the Gold Medal for misrepresentation. Or should we refrain from calling their bluff because like the sad tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes they are blinded in their thirst for ‘heroes’ and ‘success stories’ and something ‘inspiring’ and a sad ‘something is better than nothing’. Is this fake image building for a community an act of generosity or an outright condescension that only serves to perpetuate mediocrity and corruption? A cover up just as it is happening in the ongoing commonwealth games.
So what does a program like IGT mean? In a Las Vegas/Night club like assortment of its acts – from Sufi singers vying for attention with a hula hooping dancer to a choir wearing its religiosity by singing filmi numbers, to a band of token have nots and their heartrending musical beats to (my favourite!) violin wielding faux cobra family, IGT annihilates living cultural traditions. It manufactures cultural talent in accordance with saleability. It recreates culture in the same way as McDonalds creates its burgers -same and tasteless. Unlike the popularly peddled line, the origins of this success does not lie in the vocal chords of the talented choir, or their young–next-door-middle class-humble-god fearing cultic demeanour or even Shillong’s disgust with its small town anonymity. Its origins have to be traced to the overheated machineries of the Culture Industry. To survive profitably this industry does not produce useful goods and services but manufactures aspirations and dreams of the people to fit them more easily with the culture of the powerful.
Even if we accept that the SCC can really sing, what does it mean? They may have exceptional voices and yet they seem to be singing mostly from a dumbed down playlist demanded by TV producers. They are not using music as a means of relating to a world that might oppress them or bring them joy or just generally anger them. SCC, if their post victory pronouncements can be believed, sing for the greater glory of God who showers them with heavenly glitter. But on IGT, they did not use their voice to create something new. Instead they simply packaged the technical aspects of their voice in order to achieve ‘glory’ . They convinced themselves that ‘sin’ inspiring Bollywood songs could spiritually coexist with awe-inspiring praise of God. We would have once called it opportunism, now we call it talent.
Anyway the music on these talent contests is created not for its intrinsic use value of beauty, originality, and the experience it encodes, but solely as an exchange value – something whose existence is all about its ability to command a market price making the contestants swing to the rhythms of the market not rhythms of their music.
But I don’t for a moment blame SCC in their opportunistic delusion. They are but a minor player in this industry of illusion that the powerful create. This deception industry has meant democracy is all about (in the words of SNOWWHITE) electing ki lei san snem (gods of five years) based on the power of the wallet and not the wishes of the ballot. The powerful, who have always been uncomfortable with the idea of democracy, try to cynically emphasise only the procedural aspect of democracy. Elections, choice, vote or sms are highlighted over the existential, substantive, deliberative and critical.
When societies are deceived into smsing away their capacity for critical thinking, the results can be catastrophic–however sympathetic we may be to those who have bought the deception. This deception arises because we reject critical knowledge in favour of easy choices, ignore sobriety because it narrows hope and run away from uncomfortable truths out of deference to the opinion of the vulgar.
It is because of this illusion industry that corruption has become normalized. What is happening around SCC’s ‘achievement’ – between the government sponsored half day Bandh for a Public reception and a cheering media we have a ringside view into how corruption and mediocrity is elevated into common sense by the elite. This is a ‘common’ sense that believes in turning Shillong into a franchise of some mainland Indian fantasy. This is a common sense that teaches us to be comfortable with our mediocrity, and coerces us to be inspired by this ‘achievement’.
Should we be inspired to believe all the Public Relations gimmicks and ignore truth? Should we be inspired to finally accept that Wallet is more powerful than the ballot? Should we be inspired to believe that the end justifies the means? Should we be inspired to ventriloquise Bollywood songs in order to finally make it as an Indian musician?
But maybe it is not we who need the inspiration but SCC and its elite comforters, so that they can finally stop believing in their own carefully invented fiction of talent and maybe work really hard to qualify for the real competition in the next World Championship and get for themselves even a real bronze medal. Till then I am back to listening to ‘Scary Truth’ and chanting to myself that Latin Proverb Ubi dubium ibi libertas – where there is doubt, there is freedom.
Official Website of Shillong Chamber Choir is here
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