“Hold your horses woman. You will have us exiled before we can say Singapore. Or Equator. Or any three syllable word for that matter. Or even two. And our patriotism questioned to boot.”
My wife was complaining about the short but harsh winter in Delhi and wondering how nice it would be to be in an equatorial climate like that of Singapore at this time.
I looked around furtively to make sure we were not within earshot of anyone. In a country of 1.3 billion, it can be a task. Even inside your own house.
“Do you think our great leaders think about foreign climes when faced with harsh weather, whether it is the winter of Delhi, monsoon of Mumbai or summer, again of Delhi? Do you think Dr. Ambedkar, the founding father, and mother (I added as an afterthought lest a zealous, nameless, self-appointed guardian of something or the other label me something or the other) of the Indian Constitution, was never faced with harsh weather in his life? Do you think he dreamt of sunny equatorial climes?” I confidently added, knowing fully well that she would have no idea what our great leaders thought but did not express. Neither did I for that matter, not being one of the omniscient, zealous, nameless, self-appointed guardians of something or the other who somehow always know exactly what a great leader of the past, dead long since, thought and meant, even though he, or she, is not known to have ever shared that particular thought.
I was on a roll. Seasoned husbands would understand the rarity of the moment when one gets to pontificate to the better half. I was not about to let go.
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.”
I would have assailed her with Shakespeare’s lines but discretion got the better of valour, knowing that she was adept at assailing me with many other lines, from Shakespeare to Sachs. I continued with a more sedate “Then what right have you to think? Do you want a bounty on your cheek, with some unit, publicly chided and privately rewarded, of a political party, offering a reward to anyone who slaps you, as has been done for Aamir Khan? Or do you want another political party to book our tickets to a neighbouring country, as, again, has been done for Aamir Khan?”
She kept quiet. Even though the last idea would have sounded tempting, considering our free travel, while looking busy and important, has stopped ever since I stopped working for large corporations.
It could be because the Sheena Bora murder case trial is playing out in the media. It can be a challenge when two issues of national importance occupy your mind.
The second, of course, is the case of Aamir Khan, Bollywood superstar, who, during an interview, when asked about the issue of rising intolerance in India, stated, frankly and honestly it seems, that his wife Kiran Rao had suggested moving out of the country fearing for their children under the conditions the country currently is in.
As it is a matter of national importance, and being everyone’s business to decide what Aamir Khan and family should and should not feel, and say, this comment was not taken lightly by many who targeted the actor for spreading fear instead of thinking about his influential status before speaking. Their unambiguous message to him was, “India is a tolerant country, and you better apologise for what you said. Or else….”
We have always known that wives can get you into trouble.
Anupam Kher, a popular Bollywood actor, took it upon himself to lambast Aamir Khan for his views on intolerance and called him unpatriotic, giving rise to the Kher law of inanity:
Expression of intolerance = Intolerance
Intolerance = Being unpatriotic
Hence, Expression of intolerance = Being unpatriotic
He is understood to be on course for a Nobel Prize.
Kher has been followed by many other actors, supporting one view or the other.
The teeming millions, already on the bandwagon of giving opinions when none are required, are freely taking sides. Some are criticising Aamir. Some are defending him. Some are doing both. And some are doing sometimes one and sometimes the other. Their self-belief is so strong, their courage of conviction so remarkable, that they follow whichever wind is blowing at the moment.
Now, I have never been blamed for being lucid and clear in my thought processes. But this controversy has left me even more thoroughly befuddled.
Is Aamir Khan expressing his views an expression of intolerance? Of what he perceives to be a rising tide of bigoted right-wing views.
Or is that tolerance? Of the national fabric by expressing concerns in a public forum, like a concerned citizen.
Is Anupam Kher lambasting Aamir Khan’s views an expression of intolerance? Of another person’s point of view.
Or is that tolerance? Because he is being intolerant of someone he perceives as being intolerant of the tolerant national fabric.
If the teeming millions criticise Anupam Kher, are they being intolerant? Of the views expressed by another countryman.
Or are they being tolerant? By being intolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the statement of Aamir Khan.
If they support Anupam Kher, are they being intolerant? By being tolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the statement of Aamir Khan.
Or are they being tolerant? By being tolerant of the intolerance demonstrated by him on the perceived intolerance of another to a tolerant national fabric.
Meanwhile, as the debate rages on, our world is coming crumbling down around us. Pillars of society, both individuals and institutions, are turning out to be wolves in sheep’s clothing. We have been surrounded by traitors all this while, as is now becoming clear.
Big, public banks, for instance.
A well-known Indian businessman has accused banks of being intolerant. According to him banks have become intolerant of loans not being paid back. This is not the country our founding fathers, and mothers, wanted to create, he has lamented.
The well-known Indian businessman, for instance.
He is thinking of moving overseas to a more tolerant society. Is he so intolerant of the intolerance of banks?
The Indian diaspora, for instance.
They were intolerant of the lack of opportunity and overbearing politicians and chose to make a life elsewhere. It now transpires that the Prime Minister has been wooing an unpatriotic group ever since his party assumed office at the Centre a year and a half back. The PM is in a state of shock. His record-breaking accumulation of air-miles is at risk.
Youngsters trying to bring in change through their efforts, for instance.
Why do they need to bring in change? Are they intolerant of the suffering and misery they see around them?
The government, for instance.
It keeps talking about its intolerance of corruption and black money. Have we voted in the most unpatriotic government ever?
What about Mahatma Gandhi?
Was he intolerant of the opportunity in India, going to South Africa to practice law? What does that make him? What about his intolerance of the British rule?
Of course, many others are chipping in.
Taslima Nasreen, noted Bangladeshi writer, says Aamir Khan should be glad he is living in India and not Pakistan or Bangladesh, which are far less tolerant. Yes, we know. India has a great soccer team because it is ranked above Timor-Leste and Bhutan. And it only narrowly lost to Turkmenistan in the World Cup qualifiers.
“Whatever be the case, don’t be a traitor. Stop thinking. Start obeying”, I concluded, taking advantage of my wife’s silence.