Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Andar Ki Baat

News piece 1: A BBC radio presenter is sacked for making racist remarks on the phone when off-duty.

News piece 2: Homosexuality is declared a criminal offence in India, and weeks later Dostana is released.

Thought: I continue to be terrified of eunuchs

Observation: Matrimonials still maintain separate sections for Tamil brahmins and Telugu brahmins.

Realization: My blog is no different

News pieces 1 and 2, though different in every possible way, made me think along the same lines. When I tried to articulate my thoughts, Thought, Observation, and Realization struck. Let me try to explain.

Can any of us deny the fact that two truths exist- one inside us or inside a group of people, and the other in an environment that demands a certain extent of political correctness? Take for example the issue of gays. I will admit, and so will many of you reading this post, that I(you) have cracked jokes that would really hurt gay men/lesbian women if they heard it. Yet when we see debates about homosexual marriages, we generally advocate the right to choose one's partner and the right to freely express one's sexual orientation and all that blah. We were not wrong when we cracked the jokes, because we were, after all, just kidding. We are also not wrong in springing to the defence of homosexuals' rights. If any of our lewd jokes were to be leaked to the media, we would immediately be condemned as parochial or even inhuman. We even realize this when we crack these jokes. But we still continue to indulge in base humour because NDTV is unlikely to spy outside our homes waiting for an anti-gay soundbite. We are, in a sense, being hypocrites, but our inherent self-justice mechanism kicks in and tells us that it's okay as long as it's not discovered.

When we are kids, our mummy-daddy teach us not to say the wrong things at the wrong place and wrong time, and teach us where to draw the line. In most cases, the line is fairly clear. I would never call an Aaj Tak correspondent and share a gay or lesbian joke. That would be a recipe for primetime slander a.k.a Vishesh in Aaj Tak parlance.

Sometimes, though, the line is not so clear. Sam Mason, the BBC employee, will vouch for this. When she called to book a cab for her daughter, she asked the operator to not send an Asian driver as "A guy with a turban is going to freak her out". In the same breath she also insisted she wasn't racist, and went on to make a needless remark about the operator's intelligence. The operator leaked the phone call to the media, BBC was embarrassed, and duly fired the employee. Was the woman wrong in avoiding a sardar driver? Was the operator wrong in leaking it to the media? Was BBC wrong in firing their employee? Taken in isolation, all three parties were justified in their actions. If Sam Mason realized that the phone call had the potential to be leaked, she would have never said what she did. She might have had a bad experience with a sardar driver earlier, and by asking the operator to not send a sardar driver, she was not painting an entire community with one brush, but merely trying to ensure her daughter's safety. She saw no bravado or virtue in hiding her inhibitions. She also knew that calling a sardar driver was not going to earn her the Nobel Peace Prize. If British taxi drivers started coming to India and, for some reason, made us uncomfortable, would we be very wrong in telling the cab operator "Yaar ek desi driver bhejna"? The moment Sam Mason's call was netted by the media, what could have at worst been called imprudent, was immediately dubbed racist (and ironically painted the entire British community as anti-sardar!). BBC, being the globally recognized organization that it is, really had no choice. I couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman, because it is something every single one of us have said (about different groups of people), albeit in fora less accessible to the prying media.

Colour-discrimination & caste-discrimination are high on the list no-nos. As a society, we are expected to accommodate people irrespective of caste, creed, religion, or sex (remember seeing this in every second line of your Civics textbook?). In a group where we cannot pick our noses at will, we will take the moral Mt. Everest and advocate equal opportunities for all, while two hours earlier we would have sent our matrimonial to The Hindu saying "Seeking beautiful, fair, Koundinya girl" under the section of Tamil Brahmins. We sincerely mean it when we talk about not discriminating on the basis of c-c-r-s, but we also have personal preferences that might be biased towards or against a particular group of people. Both these attitudes can co-exist; what is good for society might not be good for us, and we'd rather be biased and be happy, than be over-righteous and apprehensive. (Terrorists are different- they consider their personal preferences and ideologies more important than civilized society's and do what it takes to assert them.)This is exactly what Sam Mason did, but her personal preference became a public statement, and was thus put in a context entirely different from what was intended.

One case in which each one of us is a little less shameless in expressing our inhibitions is regarding eunuchs. Though we might never say it on camera, we might admit even in a large gathering that eunuchs make us uncomfortable because of their provocative methods of asking for money. We are terrified and disgusted when they break into marriage ceremonies or when they catch us in trains. Still, we rejoice their emancipation when one of them is elected to the assembly, even though we would think a million times before employing one as, say, a domestic help in our house. We're able to express our discomfiture with eunuchs more freely because the majority agrees with, and thus in a sense vindicates, us.

Finally, my blog. I am, by nature, politically correct. I can admit as much. All the filmmakers, actors, and politicians I've mercilessly thrashed in my blog wouldn't think so. Filmmakers would be terribly offended if they read my reviews, but if I knew they're going to read them, I wouldn't write them at all, fearing being sued for defamation. Even if I did write reviews, they would be moderate or mildly critical. You might say I don't have the spine to speak my mind; I just say the cause is not worth falling in trouble for. So the acerbic me and the moderate me function together, and know when to take charge and when to step back.

This curious coexistence of two truths is a marvelous ambassador for the human mind. While opinions and inhibitions are not primal instincts like sex, they are pretty rigid unless logic forces them to change. Society compels us to mask them sometimes, and we are so successful in the art of masking that we might side with the masked mind even when nobody's watching. But in that small, wondrous, near mystical, portion of our brain called the subconscious, our true opinions are pickled and preserved by cranial juices, ready to spring into action whenever the conscious mind gives it the all-clear.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008