Just about every medium of communication these days- television, print, hoardings, social media, even the " chai pe charcha"- is dominated by politics, to the point where even our dreams now are of Kejriwal on a dharna or Modi on a white horse. Now, politics is important but I draw an Obama type red line when it excites my wife more than my ardent come-hithers, when she would rather watch Arnab Goswami"s Prime Time than ladle out the soup, when even the aging mastiff shows his preference for the Aam Aadmi party by barking fondly every time Kejriwal and his muffler appear on TV. Surely( the Bard would have no doubt shrewdly observed) there are more things in heaven and earth than are thought of by Rajnath Singh and Sitaram Yechury? So I've decided to make a weekly foray into other, unrelated issues that should concern us just as much and which should also be discussed. You may not be any wiser after reading this but you will be well on your way to developing the rounded personality that took us into the IAS once upon a time but will now get you arrested at India Gate.
THE DOWNSIDE OF POLITICAL CORRECTNESS.
The SMS went something like this:
Question: Why do women find Jewish men irresistible?
Answer: Because they can't resist anything with 20% off!
Its a joke, right? Wrong. In today's India this attempt at humour is sexist, racist, communal and a public obscenity. Reciting it can get you dismissed from your job, mauled by Arnab Goswami and his panelists, condemned by Kavitha Krishnamurthi and HER panelists, sent to jail for a few years, disqualified from contesting elections: it may even cause a diplomatic uproar. In this tower of Babel that is India today there exist a myriad lunatic fringe groups that claim to represent some community or the other: desperate for their five minutes of glory on TV they latch on to any statement, dissect it under the microscope and hey presto! discover the gene that denigrates a community, a sex( there are more than two, you know, though the Supreme Court has yet to realise this). a religion, an occupation. The script thereafter is predictable: street agitations, panel discussions on TV, NGO spokespersons frothing at the mouth, intimidated governments passing legislations more appropriate to the Dark Ages. Whatever happened to our sense of humour? Our appreciation for beauty? Our longing for romance? ( There are in fact many more dimensions to political correctness but I shall concentrate on just two- humour and romance).
The greatest truths are the most simple ones. Someone once said that the secret of happiness lies in having a sense of humour and a dirty mind. Both are forbidden by law today. The essence of humour lies in laughing at, or with, someone including oneself, without giving offence. Most of the civilised world does this-on Prime Time! In the USA their Presidents are the biggest butts of jokes, as are British Prime Ministers. Remember that gag about Margaret Thatcher when she was at the height of her power- that if she did to her husband what she was doing to the country then at least there would be one happy man in the UK!?( In this country the Minister of Information and Broadcasting, no less, warns the media to show more respect for the Prime Minister). Certain communities have had their legs pulled for centuries- the Irish, the Cockney, the Hillbilly in America, even the Sikhs in India personified by Santa and Banta. ( It is no coincidence that all the three communities referred to are among the most resilient and loveable in the world- after all, singling someone out for mention is also a sign of respect. Genuine humour does not defile the person or object of the joke, it brings that person closer to you). Today in India it requires genuine courage to publish a joke about Santa and Banta. Chances are that if the SGPC doesn't get you the DSGMC will, or the Akal Takht or the Akali Dal- all with the sanction of law. A degree of sexual nuancing is very much integral to humour, too, for after all sex is the primordial force that drives all living beings and is in fact responsible for all great literature- how then can it escape the gaze of the comic? Genuine humour is completely eclectic, secular and egalitarian-it holds nothing sacred, not even religion. ( I recently viewed a Jay Leno show where he rummages around in his desk to see what's been lying there for years. One of the objects he finds is a ladies' thong with a picture of Christ in front with the words: " What would Christ do?"! The audience( all Christians, presumably) had a good laugh. Can you imagine what would have happened if it had been a Hindu or Muslim god on that thong? Yes, we would have had a good riot or two followed by some stupid legislation. What has happened to the sense of humour in this country? When will we realise that humour has no agenda except to tell its audience or reader not to take life too seriously ? Humour assumes a maturity on the latter's part to get its true message across. And that precisely is the problem in this country: we take ourselves too seriously and are therefore quick to take offence. When Sashi Tharoor refers to travel by " cattle class" we demand his resignation. When Kumar Vishwas refers to the colour of Kerala nurses we demand a public apology. When Mandira Bedi wears a saree with the tricolour on it we want her to be jailed. When Farooq Abdullah jokes that men are now afraid of having women secretaries we denounce him as being sexist.
The entire cosmos of love and romance is equally threatened by this tsunami of righteous political correctness. Love is not merely consensual sex behind closed doors- in fact, that is rarely love. Love embraces a whole spectrum of nuanced actions and cues- the covert look, the hesitant speech, the tremulous epistle, the trembling touch, the hopeful pursuit. Women's organisations and a hysterical press have ensured that all these beautiful components of love-glorified and immortalised over the ages-are now illegal: each and every one of these can now send you to jail for they have all become variations of Rape! A Romeo serenading Juliet below her balcony would now be charged with sexual harassment, Rhett Butler would be guilty of rape because he had sex with Scarlett o"Hara by holding out false promises, Helen( of Troy, not Bollywood, fame) would no doubt be entitled to register an FIR against the poet who praised her beauty as " the face that launched a thousand ships" since the remarks are personal in nature and violate her sense of privacy. How will future generations of amorous youngsters woo girls, how will the passions of romance play out, what will happen to that oldest of literary legacies-the love letter and the love song? The expression of love today has been criminalised because of some cruelly distorted idea of what is politically correct; the finer senses have been taken over by the coarse instincts of the fringe groups-including women's groups and social activists- who are becoming more Orwellian every day and dictating to society at large what constitutes acceptable behaviour. Granted that the original intention-of preventing assaults on women- was bona fide. But it hasn't worked: the number of such assaults has not gone down, the time it takes to punish offenders is just as long drawn out, the rate of convictions is just as abysmal. Shouldn't we then roll back these misplaced nostrums and follow the real trail of police and judicial reforms? For what we have done so far is to not only throw the baby out with the bathwater- we've thrown out the ruddy tub itself!
No humour, no love, no romance-what are we reducing our society to? It would do well to remember- man does not live by law alone.