When I was in college, malls were only beginning to sprout in and around the city of Kolkata, and things were very different from now. At that time we could simply walk into a mall without being frisked or having to walk through beeping metal detectors. Fast forward seven years to the present, and everywhere we are assaulted by gates, separate queues for men and women, beeping metal detectors, frisking hands, demands to open bags, produce key chains for verification… and we have resigned ourselves to it. Earlier people would call out if one found someone leaving a bag behind; now we’re taught to run and call for the police if the same thing happened in a public place.
In short, my country has changed from the way I have seen through my growing up years. We are perpetually at war against a faceless enemy — terrorism. We live in constant fear; one can go to buy toothpaste and never return because some misguided moron somewhere may decide to blow up your local grocery store in the hope of winning his big ticket to heaven’s 72 virgins. Or some other moron may profess love, and if you refuse, he may hack you to death. Or maybe he was mistaken about your intentions since you were wearing tight jeans. It doesn’t matter to me what the reason is, because my point in this post is to analyse its effects.
- We in India live in fear, yet neither the media nor the government articulates this as fear. While reading up on reports of bomb blasts in Mumbai and elsewhere, some of which are too poignant to forget, I have often wondered why the press repeatedly talked about resilience of people resuming work after a spectacular terror strike. The difference strikes home when I read about the Connecticut shootout in American papers. It’s been four days, and I have not heard anyone talking of resilience. When news got around about the tragedy, US flags were ordered to fly at half-staff nationwide in tribute to the victims. We in India don’t have such overt manifestations of national mourning over random terrorist strikes. Neither do we have tearful presidents exhorting us to mend our ways. I’m not pronouncing a judgement on symbolism or Obama’s histrionics. The point I’m trying to make is that the ease with which we consume fearful news about death, disease, and deprivation makes me worry. I do not tear up while reading about drone strikes or civilian deaths, simply because I have got used to it. Multiply that a million times and you will have a sample of the educated Indian middle class — jaded, hopeless, self-centered and seemingly unresponsive.
- The unresponsiveness is only on the surface though. Much of the fear and deprivation transform into sage sermons — most of which boils down to escaping the constraints of the third world by settling down in a beautiful, pollution-free, landscaped neighbourhood in the first world, which unfortunately, is producing Adam Lanzas with alarming precision these days.
- A thick skin and a missionary zeal to settle abroad is not enough though; you also need some talent in prevarication and demagoguery. Which is more useful depends on your station in life, but both are needed. One chief minister of a state, for instance, declared monetary compensation for rape victims depending on the age and extent of damage. Yes, this is admirable, but there’s competition. A Khap Panchayat is a civilian body with some administrative powers in villages, especially in the north and west of India. They believe marriage, and not money solves the problem of rapes. And then of course there are certain foods, usually those that have a high protein content, that are widely believed to be aphrodisiacs. The new entrant to that list is the humble chowmein. When questioned about such random bullshitting, all of these people have invariably kicked up a storm on their good intentions, bad journalism, the degenerating social values, and a need to curb the wiggling tongues on the world wide web. I’m in two minds about whether to give a link to Julian Assange or to one that talks about our IT minister’s glorious but vague plans to curb inflammatory and offensive content on the Internet. Never mind that. You get the drift, I’m sure. The idea is to preach and profess different things, and when questioned, to drop verbal bombs big enough to obfuscate the issue at hand and muddy the inconsequential waters around.
- The most important part of this long rant — What does one do to overcome fear? Since offence is said to be the best defence, I have confessed to my husband that I would like to carry a kitchen knife in my bag. I elicited only laughter. I insisted that we need a gun. More laughter, followed by realisation. A gun would be too expensive and difficult to obtain. And no one would allow me to go around with a knife in my bag (refer to paragraph 2)! At any mall or movie, I’ll be the one handed over to the police if they catch me with a knife. Apparently, it’s perfectly admissible to drop random bombs, catch, rape and kill people, but you can’t carry a weapon to protect yourself.
I meant this post to be every bit the rant it is, and I’m already feeling better having written it. I promise to be back with a sequel if I ever get to use that knife I presume I wouldn’t be allowed to carry.