WHO WOULD HAVE imagined that Gandhi’s India would become as angry a nation as this? Or for that matter, an India which was self-deprecatory, laughed at itself and cocked a snook at those who made fun of it? Who would have thought that our news television would have people shouting every evening when we grew up on a diet of calm and, at times, uninspiring newscasters? Who would have thought Clubhouse would change the India that grew up on Binaca Geetmala or loved Tabassum whenever flowers bloomed on her shows? Who thought people would storm out of interviews when all we imagined was a world where Simi Garewal would be that honey-dripping interviewer almost coming to tears with those she interviewed?
We were once a country where you could crack jokes on Sardars and Bengalis; poke fun at Parsis and Biharis without fearing either an FIR or an early dawn raid by some state police which you had no clue about. We could make fun of people in college depending on their accent and the way they ate their pakodas. Marwaris were the butt of almost every joke in Calcutta as were the Anglo-Indians. Many of us growing up in Calcutta still remember the fun we made of those who spoke in an ‘Anglo’ accent with the rickshawalla, or for that matter, whilst ordering some unpronounceable dish at Dalhousie Institute. People below the Vindhyas were always the crafty Madrasis and the people above were the boorish Punjus. There was mirth and lightness in what was said. The country was less serious about itself. Our movies had legends like Mehmood and Asrani; we made fun of the police, including the jailer in Sholay. We made fun of politicians and munims, and then suddenly all of this changed.
The calmness of Doordarshan and The World This Week was replaced with rage and vitriol. The land of Vivekananda suddenly divorced itself from knowledge and instead replaced it with innuendoes. Parliament, which used to be such a fun place with both respect and repartee jostling by each other’s side, has become a crude wrestling ring at times. The wit of Piloo Mody or, for that matter, the poetry of Vajpayee is missing. As is the suaveness of Nehru and the gravitas of Sardar Patel. Even Balasaheb Thackeray laced his anger with wit and a quaint turn of phrase. For all their idiosyncrasies, the oratory of Pramod Mahajan or, for that matter, Somnath Chatterjee, was a delight as was the scholarship of a Habib Tanvir or, for that matter, a Sahir Ludhianvi. Protests, too, were so elegant. Badal Sircar could create magic through his plays whereas Satyajit Ray, the maestro, would weave a tapestry of life that was so alien to many of the privileged and, yet, tugged at the heart.
No one judged you for what you said. Because they knew why you were saying it. There was pride and no prejudice. A man in a bulb would revel in risqué jokes week after week and still had no malice. And when Khushwant Singh did protest, he did it by returning the civilian honour bestowed on him. Sure, India did have angry people. We did have riots and arson; we had looting and louts but there was a clear distinction between the rogues and the respected. No one was termed liberal or illiberal: everyone assumed every other person was liberal, whatever liberal meant. Religion was a private affair but shared with much affection. No Hindu grudged a Parsi worshipping at Tirupati and many Hindus loved to make the trudge when the waters parted at Haji Ali. Our temples were sacred but never fearsome. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve was a ritual in Calcutta no matter what your faith was.
But then with progress, something seems to have happened.
For all those who believe India is not the same, I would say it actually is. This rage is a kind of churning. We are too strong a civilisational legacy for us to be consumed by flames of anger or misplaced passion. There needs to be a collective will to replace this constant anger. People get angry in India when they don’t like the sandwich they order. I wonder why? People get angry if the aircraft door doesn’t open mid-air. People get upset if they are not offered Iranian food in a Chinese restaurant. For this kind of anger, you can’t blame the nation: there is something drastically wrong with the way people are being brought up. Something is fundamentally wrong. And no Modi or Rahul is responsible for this. We are. We need to laugh a little; we need to bring satire back. We need to be able to make fun of people without being stabbed or marched off to a police station. Basically, we need to calm the F up.
We need to be the India we always were and actually are. Rage will get us nowhere.