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A bedtime story

This is a fairy tale. Once upon a time, in a land called Mayanagri, there lived a young man, who we shall call Jerry Pinto, for want of a better name, writes Jerry Pinto.

books Updated: Apr 17, 2009 20:46 IST
Word watch | Jerry Pinto

This is a fairy tale. Once upon a time, in a land called Mayanagri, there lived a young man, who we shall call Jerry Pinto, for want of a better name. One day, Pinto bought a book in which he discovered that his community had been called “Macks”, a word that is used by those who want to talk about the Roman Catholic Goan community in a certain way.

He did not stop to look at whether the author had called them Macks vindictively or whether the author was simply mimicking the way communalists speak. He did not stop to see whether there was any affection behind the use of the term or the context in which it was spoken. He was not interested in stuff like that. He saw a word that he thought was offensive and he went to the police who registered his case. The media made a fuss about it and Jerry found himself famous for being offended.

But little did he know that the artists and the writers, the creators and the publishers, the galleries and the editors, had all banded together to fight this kind of outrage. They had put together a fund, a corpus, because they believed in
freedom of expression, believed in it enough for them to contribute what they could to its protection. They now had several crores in the bank and they could put lawyers on retainer, they could hire security firms to keep their creative people safe, they could book hotel rooms to hide the journalists who were wanted for questioning by the mob.

They had done this because they wanted insurance, insurance that Mayanagri's police and government were no longer willing to give them. Once a journalist had asked a simple question of the people. Do you want a statue or do you want better sanitation? The mob had torn up his house. The police did nothing.

Now the organisation was thinking of setting up video cameras outside the houses of writers and artists so that when a mob rolled up to wreck an exhibition or pillory a creative person, they were caught on camera and individually and collectively held responsible.

They had done this because anyone could now be offended and turn the writer’s life into a living hell of police stations and courts.

And so Jerry was slightly surprised when he was taken to task in editorials, when he was pilloried by everyone from the leading actors of the day to the artists to the publishers. He was startled to find a lawyer on his doorstep one morning, with the milk. The lawyer said the writer was counter-suing for harassment and attempt to defile his reputation.

The case went to court. Jerry lost. The author was awarded damages of several lakhs. People then began to think twice about being offended. Their friends advised against it. Their lawyers pointed out the problems with being offended.

This is only a fairy tale. More’s the pity.