The Dream Merchants

In the nineties India started liberalizing, or so the history books will say. The economic liberalization — forced by the foreign reserves situation or not — is supposed to have started then. In the small towns of India, though, the only liberalization that we saw in the nineties was the liberalization of media (yes, for a brief period, it was more liberal than today, in terms of censoring or lack of it). The satellite TV arrived in India, and with that, India (or Indians) suddenly had a window to the world. Before that there was, the iconic, The World This Week — with its last segment, ‘The News Makers’, that served most Indians their weekly glimpse at the world at large. But with the cable TV, the world entered Indian houses in the earnest.

Back to liberalization. In my engineering days, the debate was about liberalization, and how it could end up destroying Indian economy, making us slaves of the West again. The most frequent topics of the Group Discussions that were a hurdle to the coveted jobs, and MBA admissions, were two back then: the brain drain, the economic liberalization. But the actual liberalization was yet to reach we the people. We the people satisfied ourselves with dreams — the dreams sold by the dream merchants.

Zee TV, one of the first Indian channels on the cable TV had this program called The Dream Merchants. Among other things it showcased the best advertisements in the world. It’s curious how dreams were sold back then. We could not even aspire to buy any of the things being sold to other people by those ads. Not just because we did not have money. We sure did not. But even if we were to have it, the things themselves were not sold here. Yet. Instead, we were sold the dreams. Those who bought them, had to leave India to take the delivery. Most did not even understand the ads. We did not know the language. But that was a minor problem. Bigger problem was that we did not have the language. We did not have access to the cultural capital that went into the making of that language – visual or otherwise. And so we marvelled at the incomprehensible. The way, in Hollywood movies, African tribal is shown marveling at the magical machines of the West.

Two decades have passed. Now we don’t worry about brain drain so much, or at all. More importantly, now we have the cultural capital, we have the language (hell, we are the language — the ads have changed to accommodate the cultural capital of the East). We have the monies (yes, not just money), some of us; many of us, even. The tables have turned. Now we’re the merchant’s dream. No one sells us dreams any longer. They sell us goods. In plenty. We buy them. In plenty.

I was a staunch capitalist; not surprising, for someone who revered Ayn Rand once. Today, I don’t know where I stand. Staunch capitalists are in constant fight with the idealist within them (so must be staunch socialists). For years, I believed that choice was what was keeping us from better things. Today, with all the choice, when people seem to choose the soap operas, and the inane pulp of Bollywood and Hollywood, the music whose only fame to claim is being recent, lifestyle that’s unsustainable, ideas that are indistinguishable from the banal, diet that’s killing us; it’s hard to pretend to believe in the freedom of choice as the answer to everything, or anything.

Liberalism was doomed the day it had to be qualified as economic liberalism. It was free, but free like a bull left to roam around with no idea of what was worth mowing down, and what was worth harvesting. The illusive marriage of economic right and social left, never seems to find a date. And left free to do whatever they want to do, people do whatever they want to do. It’s not a pretty picture.

I wish they start selling the dreams all over again, those dream merchants. I wish we could go back and reinvent a right that’s centered on left, a bit. I wish we could choose differently, as Indians. As humanity. But we’re obsessed with the idea of choice, not with what we do with it.

I wish dream merchants will sell us a dream that tells us that all this chaos is a precursor to something else. But they’re busy selling us goods. And we’re busy buying them.


5 thoughts on “The Dream Merchants

  1. ricercar says:

    perhaps we are just so excited that we can suddenly buy things, rather than covet in magazines, and houses of friends with relatives in dubai and america …

    and giddy with the implications?

    when i was growing up, noone would even dream of throwing away the shell of an old radio that hadnt worked for decades, because of the deep wired value mechanisms, perhaps.

    now people buy, use and throw plasma TV’s at a rate that strives to match the speed at which new products are launched

    surely the last two inches added to my TV screen will make my life richer, more meaningful and alive?

    i think they are still selling dreams. but which ones?

    and is one persons dream anothers nigtmare?

  2. RGK73 says:

    This happens when merchants sell American dream to Indian consumers.
    And worst part is credit card economy.virtual money added to quantity and not to quality:(

  3. tubelite says:

    To become the Buddha you must first be the prince of Kapilavastu.

    To truly realize that money is not everything, you must first have money.

    When there is only one religion, even the wise man embraces it. Only when there are many religions can he reject them all.

    To be disillusioned with the fruits of choice and liberalism you must first have choice and liberalism.

    I would rather choose poverty, than be forced into it by poverty of choice.

    Our ancestors of long ago created civilization. Civilization created us. Twisted and grotesque we may be, like all animals domesticated by civilization, but that’s what we are. We can no more return to a pastoral-agricultural mirage than the farmer can return to hunting or the hunter survive in the jungle without millenia of orally transmitted culture.

    Anyone who thinks otherwise should take a naked stroll through tiger country. Enlightenment will be achieved very quickly.

    No. We are creatures of the concrete jungle, and our nirvana is the light at the end of the tunnel of consumerism.

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