One of the perils of America’s prominence in global affa irs is that it affects the psyche of its international partners, not least Indians. I met two impressionable Indians in Japan recently. Without being asked, both proffered the information that they were close to United States President Joe Biden. I did not have the heart to ask them whether Mr Biden reciprocated their affections.
Name-dropping is a tired art that does not appeal to me. Here in Singapore, name-dropping gets you dropped from the calculus of serious social engagement immediately. Indeed, you might draw attention if you keep broadcasting your special links with any leader since it would be obvious that you are seeking to leverage on your supposed connections, implying that the leader in question also has special reasons for being close to you. What are those reasons? Those in charge of sensitive issues of politics and economics deserve to know. And they have ways of finding out.
As a born and bred Singaporean, I have inculcated the unspoken norms of this society. One of them is: If you must boast (because you have nothing better to do), boast in moderation.
What infuriated me in Japan was that the first name-dropper, a minor scion of a globalised business family, behaved as if the United States was beholden to India in general and to the family business in particular for its nodal position in global affairs. This was bad boasting: You never should suggest that your benefactor owes his prowess to you. If he did, why would you be boasting about him? He should be celebrating you.
The second name-dropper was worse. He waylaid me on the Business Class aisle on the flight from Tokyo to Singapore and insisted on telling me about his alleged links with Mr Biden. I have no idea why he picked on me. Was it because of our common Indian ancestry? If so, I had to disabuse him. So, when he asked me whether I was Indian, I replied that I was Singaporean. This answer appeared to disappoint him since he went on to ask whether Singapore was a dictatorship. I replied: “Absolutely. In my dictatorship, men who assault women sexually get the cane. How is it in your democracy?” He slithered away from me.
What struck me was the impertinence of the man. He claimed to have a high level of security clearance in the United States — one that apparently allowed him to be close to the President, no less. Only an imposter would say something like that. Those who enjoy high clearance never say so, because they do not need to. Fraudsters need to drop these details to impress the unwise. I was not born in Singapore to be unwise at this age of mine.
It was a relief to be rid of both men when my Japanese sojourn ended. I hope that I never meet them again.
True, charlatans and fraudsters abound in the globalised world. Just two of them from India should not tarnish the image of the most populous country on earth. However, my international interactions over decades suggest that native Chinese are far more honourable and intelligent than native Indians when it comes to saying who they are vis-a-vis Americans. China does not possess the inferiority complex that manifests itself among Indians in their quest to claim a special relationship with Americans.
Joe Biden in particular.