AA Gill and India

December 16, 2008

AA Gill ? On India ? This sounds too good to be true. And it is here.

The article is supposed to be about a vintage car rally but it is, really, about Bombay – and I am glad to see that he too sticks to the city’s old name: “Don’t call it Mumbai. Only CNN weather forecasters call it Mumbai“. I am with you, AA.

To say that I wasn’t disappointed by the article would be a wild understatement. I was bowled over right from the opening line about street-sellers in Bombay:

How often have you been stopped at a traffic light and thought, Damn, what I could really do with right now, this very minute, is a pink Barbie hairbrush and some skin-lightening ointment, or a plastic toy helicopter; a wrench set would be nice, or a yellow nylon teady bear.

Let’s not elaborate on his extraordinary command of the English language – I am merely grateful to be able to enjoy it.

To tell you the truth, I am actually tempted to shut this blog down and go build an AA Gill ashram somewhere around Matheran, with people chanting his articles and adorning his marble statue with strands of Golconda diamonds.

AA Gill is one of the very, very rare people whom I have had the urge to kiss and marry on the spot. Sadly, he is spoken for – he was married twice and now lives with Nicola Formby, Tatler’s society columnist, with whom he has twins. I was quite startled to find out that his cruelly witty restaurants reviews haven’t earned him only praise. He even got into some racism-related trouble because he said Welsh people were “pugnacious little trolls” or something like that. Which I must say quite sums up the only Welsh person I know. Now, I don’t want to keep digressing.

AA Gill, the Internet tells me, is a malicious Scottish star-columnist who jets around the world terrifying the likes of Gordon Ramsay ( thank God for AA Gill the world felt a little too safe lately). The man drives a bicycle and a Bentley and uses his pen like the Mughal soldiers their katar daggers.

Only, AA Gill doesn’t use a pen. He is severely dyslexic and has to dictate his articles to copytakers. Well, I am sorry to say but someone who managed to be a contributor to the Sunday Times, the Guardian and Vanity Fair despite not being able to handwrite a decipherable sentence will get my total and unconditional admiration, no matter how malicious he might be.

And it’s only getting better. He is a reformed alcoholic, and after a few phone calls to former and current alcoholics his age and nationality (yes, I have all kind of friends), mark my words: he was a hardcore alcoholic. The man comes from far. I don’t really feel like elaborating on the family scene (father died of Alzheimer, brother disappeared ten years ago) but let’s just say that there is some excess luggage there that makes the man highly likable to me.

Any. Way. You probably know all of this if English is your mothertongue, I only didn’t, being born and bred in the wuthering hills of Lorraine, France.

Sadly, the most interesting thing I read about AA Gill wasn’t elaborated on. He apparently claims to be of Indian descent. I searched that but didn’t find anything more than one laconic sentence at the end of a wikipedia article. Damnit.

Whatever he is, Scot or of Indian descent or both, Gill (a fairly common family name in India by the way) writes about India beautifully. There is the trademark wit, exquisitely brutal. He writes with the unimitable spice of someone who has seen beyond the curtain of knowledge and is telling us to laugh, because, well, because that’s the only way.

And indeed, sorry for all those who think about India with stricken, tragic faces, but a pretty good way to cope with India is to laugh. Because there is too much to take in and too little to rejoice on. Because wherever it is going, it is leaving millions and millions behind, stranded in their mudhuts or, for that matters, in their nothing. Because interreligious marriages might be the toast of Bollywood but they still mean, all over India, torture and murder. Because governments we support as the new India – India freaking Shining, they said – support the killing of 2,000 Muslims, no child spared, no pregnant woman left unopened, in the year 2002.

So yes, I am very seriously claiming laughter as the only way to get India. To get to enjoy it without letting it crawl under your skin.

AA Gill does this, and he does it brilliantly, because even though he is mercilessly funny, you can still see he cares. At least I do. I think he cares for this damn crazy country and wherever this thing comes from, it’s gotten him. He cares, and he understands what’s going on.

I can’t resist quoting him on the Indian middle-class:

” […] you know them when you see them. They have the worried and harassed, over-nourished look of the rest of us, and they suffer from all our acquisitive ambitions. They want stuff. Their wives want more stuff. Their kids feel entitled to stuff. Their aunts and their cousins, whom they count by the dozens, demand stuff. Then there’s the neighbor’s stuff to be kept up with. And stuff doesn’t just happen. They’re in debt, right up to the little red dots between their eyes. India’s emergent middle class is learning the first lesson of the international credit caste: that you will be held hostage by the very consumer economy you create, and the bigger it gets, the harder you work, the higher the ransom.

AA Gill, malicious writer? I am not sure. But maybe that’s because I am French. In my language, malice is not a vice. It is the breezy wit you only find in children. And in the Übermensch, says our friend Nietzsche.