Monday, February 15, 2016

Bemused

In my long gone youth (not exactly prehistoric times and, no, I never had to shoo off any dinosaurs), I used to be frightened of comedy movies in English. You know what I mean - these Americans and British do not know how to speak proper English like us Indians. They have such peculiar accents and use such quaint phrases that it is difficult to understand exactly what they are saying, so how is one to know when something is funny? (I mean, really! 'I am good'? Good at what? And exactly what is 'Whatever'? Just examples. In my youth, they had not yet descended to these levels).

So, yes, it was always difficult to know when to laugh and when not to. For me, that is. Everyone around me in the theaters apparently found no problem with it. Being left out is such an awkward feeling that I concentrated keenly and laughed once...into sepulchral silence in the theater. THAT was the only total tearjerker scene in the entire movie, supposedly. Ah! It was too dark to see the lovely rose that colored my cheeks though my ears did burn like neon lights making me fear that they would give me away to everyone and not merely the couple of rows of people around me.

Then I hit upon the formula. I just waited till someone started laughing, emitted a couple of 'Haha's and fell silent. Yes, sometimes, it did so happen that I found myself the only other guy laughing - the leader being one other such benighted soul, who ended up with ears burning like neon lights - but practice made me perfect. So, over the years, I lost the habit of looking bemused like a Hindi heroine (Yeah! Yeah! the dinosaur days) waking up from a swoon with a faint query about the exact geographical coordinates of her presence. (Well - the pithily expressed "Main kahan hoon?" which was the only usable dialogue if the heroine had not also been struck with amnesia, when she could ask 'Main koun hoon?').

Till I joined the Social media, that is. Especially since the hashtag revolution took over, I have a permanently bemused expression on my face, which could, in the past, well have caused Mehboob studios, or some such, to cart me away and cast me as the heroine of their movies, despite minor problems like my gender and looks.

Take this Indian genius in UK who has found a way to turn the clock back and bring down intolerance in the country. Apparently, all you needed to do was rename (or re-rename) Mumbai to Bombay and, presto, Hindus and Muslims would embrace each other and decide to live in perfect brotherhood. That guy really needs to meet up with that other chap who said "What's in a name?"; Bill Shakespeare (also, incidentally, an erstwhile denizen of the same UK and, maybe, one of the guys who would get resurrected when the clock turns back) really could learn a thing or two. Crackpots like this have popped up and spouted nonsense every other day - in fact, every other minute since the advent of social media - so why is THIS particular crackpot a trending hashtag and not the other guys, who KNOW that the Earth is flat and it is a historical conspiracy that had made us all think it is round?

As for intolerance itself, that is yet another puzzle for me. Two or three incidents in the country -deplorable, tragic and worth condemning - happened but, unfortunately, such has been happening month after month in this country, and indeed around the world. Yet, suddenly, this time it was worth trending as a hashtag and lead to people returning awards (the first time I knew that they GOT the awards in the first place, I am ashamed to confess) and film-stars feeling far more insecure in the country than they did when Mumbai was burning with riots. I sit at my key board, eager to restart the hashtag 'IntolerantIndia' when the news breaks of the reprehensible incident of the Tanzanian student in Bangalore, and the collective Social Media just shrugs its shoulders and moves on to some idiotic mess in JNU. What am I missing here?

I am quite convinced that there are some cheerleaders in Social media whom I am missing. You know - those girls who help the audience to cheer when appropriate, even when the audience knows nothing of the game. Like in the IPL, you know if the ones in red start dancing, your team needs to be applauded and, when the ones in blue dance, you need to boo the opponents. Something like that. So, if only you knew who those cheerleaders were, you could join in on the hashtag bandwagon, without that 'laughing in a sepulchrally silent theater' feeling.

Could some kindly soul please indicate where I am to look for these cheerleaders? I am tired of looking bemused and, if that crackpot manages to turn the clock back, I may end up being the only bearded heroine of Bollywood.


19 comments:

  1. Loved your honest yet witty take on a not so funny topic. One incident and the entire country is labelled as intolerant. A few bad fish and the entire press is labelled as presstitutes. A dozen odd rogue students and the entire JNU is called anti-national. The cheerleaders, some from the press and some from politics, tell us when to laugh, err outrage.
    This one struck a chord with me in many ways. In my long gone youth, I too faced a similar dilemma - when to laugh. Brilliant writing.

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    1. Thanks Alka! Trust you to get to the pith of the post.

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    2. Alka, I agree completely about not generalising regarding the journalism profession as well as a university. At the same time there is something to be said about the systemic rot that has crept into institutions like JNU as well as some of our powerful media houses. These things haven't just cropped out of nowhere. These institutions and individuals have been very systematically groomed with a very specific ideology, and for a very sinister agenda. So I would say that there are very strong anti-national elements in JNU and a few other universities, as well as NDTV and a few other media houses. I have seen personally how certain things began to change at Pondicherry university when a VC with a political agenda took over. Why? because a certain political ideology had to be given a boost. So such eco-systems are built very carefully. And we will be doing disservice to our nation by not recognising and naming them for what they are. Just my opinion :)

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  2. Yes, yes, I am all for looking for some strong pointers like cheerleaders to guide me when/whom/what to follow and how to act! Pretty tiresome for guileless endangered mortals like us, when in the company of a whole species of enlightened species that has the social media and politics on a remote control! Superb piece!

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    1. Thanks Kala! I am sure that the cheerleaders ARE around. We just do not know where to look :)

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  3. Great piece of writing, Suresh! As always. While the crux of your post is quite something, I also found the reference to the "I am good" very interesting. In fact, I picked up on this phrase during my years in the US and even now sometimes I find myself saying it in response when someone asks casually - how are you? And in fact, I have been told the exact same thing - good at what? :) Still, I like the 'good', it sounds even better than 'fine'!
    As for that bemused look of yours - The only saving grace in this age of hashtags is that generally the attention span of social (and other) media consumers is so low that nothing really matters for more than a day. Hashtags come and go, sometimes lasting as trend for only a few minutes. And thank god for that! So you need not worry. You can safely pretend that you were sleeping when the previous trend disappeared, and you could still be with the new "trend" :)

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    1. That 'good' thing was a mere sideswipe Beloo! Each country that uses a language develops its own idioms and catch-phrases over a period of time. Having heard this 'quaint' comment on the use of Indian idioms, I thought that it was time to point out that there was nothing peculiarly right about the idioms of the so-called 'native speakers of English' :)

      True about trends - but I'd still need the cheer-leaders to let me know WHAT is worth becoming a new trend and what not :)

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  4. I have to confess that I don't buy newspapers or watch TV so to be very honest, I have no idea about the JNU situation and I am frankly scared to open any links with details ;) I just thoroughly enjoyed this post and the 'I'm good' reference. Of course, I have enjoyed English comedies a lot primarily because , well, we've watched them as a family for as long as I can recall :D I stay far away from the trending hash tags and the 'burning topics' of the day on social media. I need my sanity ;)

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    1. All of us do :) I stay away from newspapers and TV too but FB ensures that all these intrude into my life :)

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  5. A witty take Suresh and Alka's comment is spot on. We are driven by the herd mentality as probably we find security in numbers and hence, decide to speak for or against when we see sufficient number of people voicing the same opinion.

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    1. True - that was precisely the point of the post as well :)

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  6. I am actually grateful to the television channels in Chennai as they screen English movies with English subtitles as its so difficult to follow some of the accents...i called up the Singapore cable guys and requested English subtitles for English movies and I received a " u need a doctor " silence.... Coming to the actual crux of this post, I read about the incident and it was so sad and shameful.... It's like classroom days where you look around to confirm if you have company before raising your hand to the teachers question

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    1. Hahaha! Multiple incidents and, in each case, outrage before thought :) AND it does not even appear to be consistent. One such incident sets the social media afire and another similar incident evokes total disinterest.

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  7. Having lived in the US, yes, I have picked up that phrase too. :) And your post. I loved it! I have been feeling confused as well. What shocks me is how easily our tempers flare and every issue leads to namecalling of the worst kind with people cursing their country and government at the drop of the hat. Is this animosity and polarization for real, I wonder? I just want to stay out of it.

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  8. Well written Suresh! I had similar experiences in my younger days as well when on Sunday mornings, I used to visit one derelict cinema hall of our small railway town.Having studied in vernacular medium, Bengali in my case, and a pair of ears used to Indian pronunciation, I really had tough time because on those days, they didn't use sub- tittles. I made me laugh once again recalling those awkward and funny moments! Kudos!

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    1. Thanks Debashis. I think we all had issues of this sort then :)

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  9. Loved reading this. Remember one of those three guys (Kalia and his collaegues) in Sholay, standing in front of Gabbar Singh's wrath - that famous 'ab tera kya hoga Kalia?' scene?

    I got reminded of the way the three scared shitless guys began laughing. :D

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    1. Hahaha, Achyut! You will have me quaking in my boots :)

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