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Indian Grand Prix 2011 - What it Says About India

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I just got off the phone with my dad in Bombay. "It's that guy, what's his name...Bettel...Vettel who won. Karthikeyan only came in 17th." He said a little crestfallen before perking up "Its an amazing success for India, the track is supposed to be the best in the world."

For the first time in a long time, we did not exchange cricket scores. Even though the T20 between England and India are being played as I write this. Probably because England had just beaten India by six wickets at Eden Gardens, Calcutta.

"F1 will gradually match cricket's popularity in India: Ecclestone" proclaimed the headlines in the Times of India. Hmmm! Now this really was a first, in my lifetime at least - a sport other than cricket in the headlines of the Times.

Then on twitter my friend @Sudscor tweeted: "Sad - F1- worst environmental sport moves from Europe to Asia over the past 20yrs."

And on and on it went. The Guardian's Jason Burke commented: "Away from the glamour of Formula One, poverty stalks India's villages", to be greeted by a barrage of comments from Indians on why the BBC were yet again exploiting 'poverty porn.'

But then what does one have to do with the other? Isn't the F1 that most showy of 'sports' coming to India as a jewel-in-the-crown opportunity for corporate hospitality after all? Move over cocktails with Lady Gaga, Twitter is a-buzz with who was present when Tendulkar met his 'dear friend' Schumacher. It's another route for channelling all that money that the Goddess of Wealth has of late been pouring into the country. More square inches of content to replace the Sunday morning matinee.

Oh yeah and the really funny stuff such as William Hill pricing the odds of a dog running on to the track and interrupting the inaugural Indian Grand Prix were at 100-1 Friday, despite two incidents during first practice at the circuit. Ha ha! Only in India.

Yes, the workers who built the Budh F1 circuit don't have basic amenities. And that doesn't even begin to cover land disputes, unjust resettlements, protests...you get the picture.

For me, this is the contradiction that is India. The very rich and the very poor have coincided side by side for many years. It's not fair. But it's true. This is everyday life in the country. This is why India is the ultimate in exotica for many of my friends. Yet I know more than one who has stepped off the plane onto the tarmac at Bombay airport - as the flight swoops over Asia's biggest slum just before landing - and at their first sight of the city have panicked and stepped right back onto the next return flight.

The country is growing in power, money, world influence...and in the inequality between rich and poor. It seems on the world stage the Indian F1 will become more notorious for holding up a mirror to the country's poverty. But for the everyday middle class Indian, inured as he is to the poverty all around, it is a shining example of India's success on the world stage.

What do you think. Where do you stand on this?

For more go to http://www.laxmihariharan.com

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