Keeping Up Appearances


The Indian media had a ball in the months leading up to the recently completed Commonwealth Games, hosted by India for the first time. Every major newspaper and television station weighed in, with banner headlines and lead stories—stories about the mammoth waste involved, the staggering levels of corruption, and, most important, the organizing committee’s shocking ineptness.

Just days before the athletes were to arrive in Delhi, an inspection tour revealed uninhabitable housing, stadiums knee-deep in stagnant water, and open ditches, broken pavement, and piles of rubble everywhere. Terrorists attacked a bus filled with foreign tourists; a dengue fever outbreak worsened; and, a day after its inspection, a footbridge collapsed, injuring twenty-seven workers, five critically. Athletes from around the world began pulling out of the games, most citing injuries or personal reasons, but some openly admitting they were worried about their safety, health, and comfort.

At a press conference called to explain the committee’s lapses, its second in command, Lalit Bhanot, told the Indian press, “These rooms [in the athletes’ village] are clean to both you and us.” But, he said, foreigners “want certain standards in hygiene and cleanliness which may differ from our perception.” The immediate reaction to his remarks, both at home and abroad, was fury. Salman Rushdie suggested that Bhanot should be publicly rebuked. On Facebook, Twitter, the blogosphere, and in all the major...

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About the Author

Jo McGowan, a Commonweal columnist, writes from Deradoon, India.