“Watching the current SAARC jamboree unfold over television news, my young daughter asked why none of the officials were smiling. The SAARC Secretary General, Dr. Sheel Khant Sharma, was always scowling. Others didn’t have smiles on their faces either, even insincere ones. They all looked stressed out, wearing glum, miserable faces.
“I could only hazard a guess. Perhaps the assorted babus have too much to worry about, as they get through their very serious and grim business of fostering regional cooperation. On the other hand, after all these years of endless meetings and declarations, they might have forgotten the simple joys of smiling and enjoying each other’s company.”
The essay is my personal response to the meetings of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation or SAARC, taking place in my home city of Colombo this week. Assorted babus (a derogatory South Asian term for pompous officials) from all over South Asia have invaded the city, displacing its people and severely disrupting normal life and work.
And all for what? So that the unsmiling babus can congratulate each other on how little they have accomplished since the last such gathering in New Delhi in April 2007!
As I note in my essay: “Make no mistake: SAARC is a good idea hijacked by unimaginative and pompous, unsmiling babus of South Asia and run to the ground. The self-congratulatory rhetoric of the inter-governmental merry-go-round is once again deafening us as the 15th SAARC takes place in Colombo. In reality, SAARC at 23 has the mental development of a 3-year-old (if that). There isn’t, in fact, much to smile about.“
I go on to note:
“The proof of the SAARC pudding is not in over-hyped Summits or crusty declarations, but in the free flow of people, ideas, creativity and culture across the political boundaries jealously guarded by governments and their militaries. Most SAARC initiatives miserably fail this test. Typical of this arrested development is the SAARC Audio-Visual Exchange, SAVE.”
The rest of my essay is a critique of SAVE, and how it has failed to foster greater regional understanding among the people of South Asia through the airwaves. This is because SAVE brought together only the state-owned radio and television stations of South Asia which are no more than propaganda organs for ruling parties and/or militaries that are running our countries.
I go on to cheer the recent initiative called TV South Asia, a collaboration involving 5 private TV broadcasters in South Asia. Without any of the pomposity of SAVE or SAARC, TV South Asia is quietly doing what SAVE has failed for nearly a quarter of a century.
The essay builds on my 6 July 2008 blog post TV South Asia: Nothing official about it, yipee!
All images courtesy Daily News, Sri Lanka