" Our first 'guide' ( they are all indoctrinated, robotic creatures, as we discovered soon enough) in Shanghai, was female, thirty, single and still a virgin (her version). Our second guide in Beijing was female, thirty, single and still a virgin ( again, her version). Our third guide at Xian was - you must have guessed - ditto ditto. That made me wonder whether the tourism board hired ladies who met the same set of criteria, or whether, like everything else in China, this too was a part of the Official China Story.
The word 'propaganda' has a whole different connotation in that part of the world, since the average person does not now the difference between what the top dogs want them to know - even about themselves - and what the truth is. Talking to these earnest young women, who continued to live with their parents and were not 'allowed' to date or even receive calls from males, I found myself comparing their repressed lives to the lives of our urban women back home. Their Chinese counterparts were so totally fire -walled from the outside world, they had absolutely no idea of life beyond their province. Their concerns had to do with making enough money to look after ageing parents, and perhaps, marry some day. With no access via the internet to news or entertainment, their existence was dominated by some 'shadowy' bosses they lived in abject fear of. Clearly, their brief as guides was to stick to a parroted spiel that gave the impression they were fluent in English. This mechanical hard sell came apart swiftly if the questions went even a little beyond their brief. They were totally stumped... and went blank! Obviously , their knowledge of English was restricted to memorising the standard tourist brochure. I felt rather sorry for these lovely ladies, who spent most of their measly income on fairness creams, believe it or not, and wore full sleeved blouses and sun hats to protect them from the sun ( read: tanning). They were like programmed mice, scurrying around doing their jobs... their dreams never extending beyond the next small promotion. Their parents' lives were even worse - they had endured the Cultural Revolution.... just about survived the purge. With no money, no space to live, no education, and no hope, they were dependent on the one single child the state had permitted them to bear - ladies like these guides. It was worse , far worse, than anything back in India. For the construct of their lives was based on a lie. A huge lie engineered by the State, to keep people like them perpetually servile - like obedient worker ants whose sole purpose in life was to ensure the future of the Great Country.
Frankly, I see a very grim future for China. For, not being a worker ant, I dare to dream. As do one billion Indians. The idea of China is so vastly different from the idea of India, that it is inevitable we will clash one day. And that day may not be too far.Today's China relies on illusion to project its greatness to the world. Nothing is as you see it - not even the 'booming' economy, with all those manipulated figures. Our faultlines lie elsewhere. But at least we don't feel the need to hire bright eyed virgins as tourist guides, 'conversing' in a language they don't know and telling those who ask about Tianenmen Square with a straight face that 'nothing happened .... it is all Western propaganda." And yet, before you step even a hundred metres from your hotel room in Shanghai, away from the watchful eyes of those virginal guides, you are instantly surrounded by teenage pimps offering, " girls, boys, drugs...any shape, any age, any kind." Will the real China please stand up???"
I had written this for the 'Asian Age' on sunday. Today is tuesday, and once again China and India are at the 'Who Blinks First' game. Manmohan Singh's recent pre-poll waltz through neglected and semi-abandoned Arunachal Pradesh has little meaning - a case of too little , too late. It's a miracle voters in the state showed up in respectable numbers this morning. Mumbai, once again demonstrated its indifference by treating voting day as another public holiday and cursing the government for ruining the party by shutting bars and pubs. We really do deserve the goons we get as netas.