Just a few days back, we found ourselves at loggerheads with the monster we were forewarned about. The monster in this case being the inordinate, irresponsible and immensely aggressive beast that is right wing jingoistic nationalism. The well respected and renowned actor Aamir Khan said a few too many words, tried to be candid on the camera, when celebrities all over the world are berated about being fake, and essayed the fears that his wife felt in this time, in this age and in this country. He was clearly shocked and horrified to learn of his wife’s fears and misgivings regarding the safety of their child in an atmosphere where dissent is quickly suppressed and people resort to bullying as soon as something unsavory and unpalatable is brought forth in the public domain.
I know that you are expecting me to comment on the Hindu/Muslim situation in the country. However, the truth is that I don’t really want to because I don’t think it is something as uncomplicated as a fight over two religions and which one is secular and which one is not, or which has the right to exist or which doesn’t. These are questions best answered by the followers of those two separate religions, who have taken it upon themselves to declare their faith and kill and maim in order to prove that the particular illusion that they believe in is the right one. I will address these arguments in another post later. However, what I want to talk about is something more prominent in our Indian culture. Our vanity towards our culture has lulled us into believing that we actually have something of the sort. Let me declare then- there is no homogeneous entity in this country that we can call Indian culture and more importantly, most of us don’t even deserve to call ourselves cultured, not even by a long shot and the last few days stand a testament to this declaration.
However, we do have one particular kind of culture. Its the culture that has been passed over to different generations of Indians over decades and centuries. It’s so common that its almost innate. But it still isn’t something to proud of. We have all seen it in its myriad forms. We have experienced it, mostly when it is malevolent and destructive, throughout our lives. Its the culture of our neighborhood aunties and uncles and now it has taken over our social network. What I am talking about here is the propensity of every Indian to judge, gossip, interfere and bully other people or their business into making them conform to our own ideas. Its something that we see everyday on the news, on our social networking platforms, in our everyday conversations and in every other possible form of public or private communication. Take here for example the vitriol being poured over Aamir Khan’s supposed ‘seditious’ statement. People took to Facebook and Twitter to express their disgust for Aamir Khan. They abused him, called his wife the most abominable names (God only knows what they thought of Aamir’s kid), asked him to go live in places like Syria, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (choicest locales), also asked him to return the 330 crores he had earned from his movie ‘PK’ (which questioned organised religion) and lastly, and my personal favorite, asked him how could he betray the country and the fans that made him Aamir Khan. I don’t even want to challenge the stupidity of all the other arguments; its pretty much ipso facto. However, the last argument echoes a sense of entitlement that the Indian public feels towards its celebrities, its actors, its stars, its cricketers etc. We think that they don’t have the right to be who they are, because they have made their name on our money. We are naive enough to believe that Aamir Khan is as such because of his fans. Well, I am not particularly fond of Aamir Khan, nor do I like his movies. I personally think that that man is special kind of prick, who is more vain than he is talented. However, I will still defend his right to speak his mind. The mob doesn’t make a man. We didn’t make Aamir Khan. Most of us enjoyed his movies, and some of us were made to sit through them, because of our boyfriends and girlfriends. I have heated debates with so many people who thought Aamir Khan was the only saving grace of popular Indian cinema. They went to watch his movies because they thought he was really good at what he did. So, let me be frank here. I am addressing the public when I say this. Your power doesn’t mean a thing. It has never ever done a wonderful thing. It has never done a beautiful thing. Even in the things that were beautiful were not the result of your collective action, but only incidental to your collective strike. You, as a whole, can never achieve anything, if it is not up to one individual to guide you to a clear, logical and reasonable path. The epithet of an unruly mob does not suit you because it emits the feeling that you are unruly in exceptional cases. You never made Aamir Khan. Don’t be so misguided in your fury that you overestimate your importance. You may boycott his movies, you may even destroy the man but in the end, its always you who will stand to lose more than an individual like Aamir Khan.
We were declared a democracy back in 1950. However, we haven’t acted like one since. There were a few moments of wonder along the way, but except that it has been a rather dull affair. We haven’t learned the quintessential lesson of a democracy. Dissent is democracy. If an individual imposes his will, its dictatorship. If millions of people do the same, its fascism. The dictatorship of many is not better than the dictatorship of one, if not worse. You want to be termed tolerant, then learn to behave. Behave like we live in a civilized country.
Lastly, my heartfelt appeal goes out to the bullies on social media and in public. This is not your neighborhood, this is not your ilaaka, this is not your jagir, so when you go forth, go forth like men and women, not like unruly brats. Stop the chest beating. You are a human being not a gorilla. You are going to hurt yourself.