It was noon, and he just wanted some sugar.
Thanks to the deathly work timings of the underpaid, overestimated breed of desk journalists, it’s not often that I get to see my neighbours, except when some of them are leaving for their morning walk while I am coming back after yet another night of sifting through murders, rapes, political statements, Facebook-linked car thefts, movie-inspired robberies, invention of vulgar-sounding medical instruments, and other such stuff that makes news.
This was different. My parents had obviously left rather quietly as I slept at dawn as usual. The doorbell woke me up while the sun was still up. Mr Grover, my neighbour, wanted sugar.
Rubbing my eyes and keeping my stinking ‘morning’ breath away from him as he walked in without asking, like most loving neighbours do, I looked through the kitchen frantically so that I could send him away. Sensing that the cooking space was alien to me, Mr Grover found the sugar box in one of the cabinets himself and promptly put some in his jar. That should have ended it. But, Mr Grover, being a retired man with lots of time at hand, reads his newspapers rather seriously and also knows that I work for one. “Beta, AAP ke baare mein aap ka kya khayaal hai?” he asked.English translation of his question — "Son, what do you think of AAP (Aam Aadmi Party)?" — won’t really convey the hilarity of his sentence formation, but I could think only one thing at that moment. Give me my sugar back!
However, as propriety demanded from a good neighbour, I muttered something that had some big words — revolution, psephology, anarchy, the grammar of democracy, etc. — and that tired joke about Arvind Kejriwal and an Emirates airhostess. He smiled, seemingly satisfied. End of conversation, for now.
Mr Grover is not the guy’s real name, but the metaphor will return, in the form of our Modi-loving chaiwallah (tea-seller), that Kejriwal-obsessed ex-banker who runs a shady realty dealership, the Rahul-baba fan kaamwali (maid), or that security guard who watches TV debates while shirking duty.
All of them seek the expert opinion of a man whose biggest concern right now is the leaking tap in his bathroom, not the authenticity of AAP’s membership drive. As it turns out, not just a Gujarat strongman, but I too run the risk of 2014 spelling the end of my career. Nothing has ever made me regret becoming a journalist — discount those email stinkers from bosses and a haphazard work culture — more than the necessity to have an opinion on all things at all times. In this Year of Reckoning, if you happen to say something that they don’t like, you are ‘paid media’. And if you say something they agree with, they wonder if you were worth their time at all, since you added nothing new to their timeless treasure of endless thoughts.
The tyranny of the opinionated mob is a monster seemingly untameable. I do not know if such a mob’s rule could prove good for the country, but it is certainly detrimental to my snooze prospects. No one can really claim not to have an opinion about the ongoing political churning, yet it seems incomprehensible to me how journalists — despite being labelled hacks, thieves, opinionated retards and outright insensitive traitors — are expected to add masala to every dinner conversation that unfailingly has political beasts breathing down the diners’ necks.
If I am unable to match the pace of my opinion with Facebook, I am a fence-sitter. If I am not brutal like Twitter, I am the careless, non-voting type. If I say I am not interested in politics, I know I am lying. But if I am unable to impress relatives with some existential eloquence at the time and place of their choosing, even my family thinks it was a waste of their time and money to let me dedicate my life to such a wasteful vocation.
In such an atmosphere of ever-forming opinion, how do you defend consistency in views? Since AAP is the centre of every discussion, how do you say you are neither Left nor Right? How, then, do you make people understand that pitfalls mar every newbie’s progress, and that past record shows enough to expose the reality of our rulers so far? For once, we can be sure of intentions, even though some of the words and actions may seem churlish at worst, not corrupt at the least. Leave journalists aside, how do you fulfil society’s need to argue for a revolution and still be scared to end a terrible status quo?
The honest answer, Mr Grover, is that I do not know. And I am not giving you sugar the next time.