The Time Press

Being authentic seems to have become the be-all and end-all for valuing anything these days

Whenever I hear the word ‘authenticity,’ I reach for my cucumber – which, in the absence of a gun, I will have to make do with to showcase my intense irritation. The cult of authenticity has reached new peaks. Being authentic seems to have become the be-all and end-all for valuing anything these days. If it’s not daubed on all things ‘cultural,’ we see it being smeared on everything else from food and attire, to music and – Gott im Himmel! – people.

Take food. Last week, my mother Swiggy Genied me a tankard of her famous chingri malai curry, a recipe she picked up from her mother, and an absolute favourite of mine. As usual, it was terrific. But as I lipsmacked it down, I recalled the time when I first confronted the truth in my early 30s: this was not prawn malai curry at all. The Real McCoy was a Bengali dish in which coconut milk is mandatory. Frankly, the word ‘malai’ suggesting coconut milk should have given the game away ages ago. What Ma made was a fiery prawn curry, san malai. A bit like Romeo and Juliet without the ‘and’. But what fabulous palate theatre anyway. Coming to terms with the fact that I had, right until my late youth, walked through a sea of misknowledge, I now realise that it doesn’t matter. I still love this mock-up malai curry, and am not very fond of the genuine deal. My mother’s explanation for perpetuating this delicious hoax? ‘Malai curry sounds grander.’

Even outside the shadowy world of appropriating nomenclatures, who can deny that Indian Chinese food is so much tastier than Chinese Chinese food? Except the Chinese and their cohorts, that is.

Then there’s other questions about authenticity. Are you a real Indian if you love football – which Indians play the way Germans play the tabla – over cricket? PJ Harvey over Lata Mangeshkar? Are you really ‘English-medium’ if you use words like ‘prepone’ and ‘revert back’? Can you be an authentic agent of Hindutva if your Sanskrit sucks? Was Sardar Patel an authentic Congressman?

There are smart alecs posted across the land – whether at dinner parties, office canteens or WhatsApp groups – who take great pleasure in pointing out that what you’ve been valuing is not authentic, and by extension, inferior to the point of fully faltu. ‘This Chikankari sari you’re wearing isn’t Lucknowi. The embroidery is so Meeruti.’ Depending on how much you care what other people think, you’ll either gasp in horror at your own favourite sari, or be glad that all you need to know is your chikankari from your chicken (malai?) curry. The authentic Christ was a Judean, resembling a modern Iraqi, not some Californian hippie. And yes, we know, we know that the Romans crucified folks by driving nails into their wrists, not through their palms – gravity wouldn’t have allowed palm-pinning. But if we’ve grown fond of an Allman Brother Jesus, a chikna beardless Shiv of Amar Chitra Katha and serials, a knock-off Louis Vuitton Nike Air Force 1 sneaker (Sotheby’s sold one of 200 pairs last week for Rs2.63 crore), a Swindon Tufted Back Fabric Sofa that favourite furniture-maker in Sarojini Nagar replicated ‘perfectly’ from the catalogue, why on earth would you love them less for being inauthentic?

In 1976, the Californian 1973 Napa Valley Chateau Montelena Chardonnay shocked the wine world by beating French white wines in a Paris tasting. Authenticity snobs need to be given similar and regular blind tests. Authentocrats are people just desperate to keep up with the Chopra Joneses.

If you like something, like it for what it is, not whether it’s authentic or not. Or you’ll be one of those bores who’ll send an email saying, ‘Dear Mr Hazra, the famous line, ‘Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’, I reach for my gun,’ that you tweaked in your column is misattributed to Hermann Goring. a variation of the line is actually from the 1933 play, Schlageter, written by the Nazi sympathiser Hanns Johst.’ To which I shall indeed make genuine efforts to trade my cucumber with an authentic gun.

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