And so Bollywood actor Shilpa Shetty makes news for all the wrong (or wronged) reasons. She didn't make heads turn at least when I bumped into her at Delhi airport last year. But I vividly remember looking at her and thinking, hmmm... at least she is darker than me. OK racial prejudice begins at home! Apologies.

But what is this Big Brother brou-ha-ha that has suddenly become a justifiable cause for outrage among the national press and Indians the world over? The former we know gets sidetracked too easily from matters of national importance to trivial ones, but building a public opinion on a televison programme that thrives on controversy and provocation seems nonsensical at once. Helping its TRPs, are we?

However, coming to this potboiler. The setting: a reality TV show on Britain's Channel 4, a special edition called Celebrity Big Brother in the sixth series of Big Brother, starring has-beens of sorts from all fields. And the drama that unfolds is bitchiness plainspeak. The most reported is of former model and 'disgraced beauty queen' Daniel Llyodis calling Shilpa a 'dog', among other things. Deplorable of course! And that has set the stage for a wider public debate from those trying to keep an Orwellian eye on society. But where was public opinion when tabla maestro Zakir Hussian said of his own country fellows --Manipuri artistes -- that they should "now be traveling without their hunting knives". Yes, if one were to debate racism, a closer look at our own society will hit your nerves.

The most common racial slurs are the ones that people from the north east face. From 'chinky' to 'Nepali' to 'Bahadur', these are names they are called by their own country fellows some of whom still have difficulty deciphering Ceylon from Shillong, Imphal from Nepal. Its this divide between 'them' and 'us' that is making India an even more disparate society. In the same vein, why is the brown skin comment so hurtful to our Indian sensibilities when we are not so known to equate darker skin with beauty and success. Not to mention that the domestic skin lightening cream industry is $190 million or so.

And why is Shilpa Shetty hanging in there when two contestants -- Ken Russell and Leo Sayer -- preferred to walk out on Day One saying they had come to the wrong place. Oh I forgot, the reported whopping Rs 3.5 crore she got for participation. For more on this, read Germaine Greer in

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