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Cable Fool!

Cable Fool!

September 04, 2011

Wikileaks last week released a bizarre April Fool cable in which the US made a mockery of several Indian traditions.

Among the many thousands of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks last week, one from India stood out as being particularly extraordinary. Most of the missives from American officials in New Delhi, Mumbai and other parts of the country kept the US government in the loop on Indian current events and how they would affect the folks back in Washington and New York. They don't make for very interesting reading, especially if you've been following Indian news reports for the last few years.

But then there's cable #08NEWDELHI938. You may be wondering: what could it be? A salacious piece of gossip regarding hot aide-on-aide action? A particularly extravagant and unconstitutional canteen menu? Perhaps even a top-secret order to terminate with extreme prejudice?

#08NEWDELHI938 is none of these things. It's one of the strangest documents I've seen: a diplomatic April Fool's joke.

The cable tells the story of an ongoing struggle between US diplomatic staff and Indian ministers over India's proposed adherence to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The US Ambassador threatens to fast and march on AE headquarters in Mumbai, then meets with National Security Advisor M K Narayanan to discuss how planetary alignments and Vaastu Shastra might assist the Ambassador's crusade. No, I'm not making this up.

The whole thingis worth reading, but here are a few of the choicer bits:

“[...] during the fast he will consume only wasabi-and-lime-flavored California-grown almonds, on which, he noted, the UPA government currently imposes a luxury tax.”

“Menon counseled against the march, which he claimed would expose the Ambassador to potholes and wild monkeys [...]”

“The Ambassador asked how Uranus figures into the equation.”

“Narayanan warned him to stay away from nuclear-themed yoga positions such as "breeding plutonium" and "melting reactor” [...]”

(I'm not making any of this up. Really, go and read it for yourself.)

It appears as though Indian media organisations have taken the joke in good humour; in fact, only The Hindu deemed it worthy of a story, wherein they simply narrated the contents of the cable without any commentary. Internationally, only Foreign Policy have picked up the story, including it in their humorous 'Ten More Wikileaks You Missed' list.

One wonders, though, what might happen if an aggressive and vocal Hindutvavadi got wind of this. It would be a simple task to spin cable #08NEWDELHI938 as a vile example of America's insensitivity and disrespect towards India and Indians. You can flip it the other way, too: what if a leaked cable home by the Indian ambassador to the US revealed a similar April Fool's joke making fun of US culture? For example, the ambassador might be so up in arms about America's rising divorce rate that he threatens to protest by starting a highly lucrative evangelical Christian ministry, selling a selection of book and audio devotional materials at Wal-Marts nationwide. Can't imagine that would go down too well in Tennessee.

It's probably best to leave this as it is – an innocuous bit of 'timepass' – but #08NEWDELHI938 does betray a somewhat contemptuous attitude on the Americans' part. Astrological charts remain a key part of the matching process for most Hindu marriages, and Vaastu Shastra is a centuries-old design method that many Indians avidly practice. Then there's the small matter of including the Father of the Nation. The tone of the cable is clearly derisive, and whether or not one agrees with another person's philosophy, a certain degree of respect should be accorded, especially where a billion people are concerned.

But what do you think? Is cable #08NEWDELHI938 a genuinely amusing joke that we can all laugh about, a telling indication of America's contemptuous and superior attitude, or something in-between? Your comments, please. 


  • Jaai
    07.09.11 08:15 PM
    It's quite typical. It's just something you sigh about and move on. Not that I'm endorsing astrology and Vastu Shastra, but it's only natural to feel that someone who does not quite understand a certain culture must not talk about it.
    No offence to the writer: you aren't judgemental.
  • Slag
    04.09.11 01:03 PM
    OK, this joke is pretty cool, but I have a question that's peripherally related:

    Why the hell are they called "cables"? Isn't a cable another name for a telegram? Are these people still sending telegrams (or maybe ultra-modern telexes) to each other? Have they not heard of more modern media?
  • tys
    04.09.11 08:58 AM
    humour to some extent, i believe, is an act of passive arrogence..a joke , no matter how it can be passed off as 'just a joke' always has a root in yes, some of indian traditions and cultural values might seem to an uninitiated western eyes as down right indians too might find some of the american ones weird ... and we do make fun of it...

    i think here, The Hindu, acted with maturity...i think humour shud be answered only by humour..any other way will be rather tasteless...and getting worked up abt it is will be so , i dont know, dense?

    it was kinda funny....

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