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One tight slap

columns Updated: Nov 27, 2011 00:21 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
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The slap, like a conventional army with regard to nuclear weapons, serves as a deterrent for acts of aggression that are far more severe, much more violent.

Double agent 'peaceniks' such as Bertrand Russell, Praful Bidwai and Arundhati Roy have been immensely successful in turning the argument of 'conventional deterrent' on its head. By arguing against the case for nuclear weapons, they have actually made the military-industrial complexes across the world believe that it's the prospect of a nuclear war that stops countries from fighting each other. It has to be, since the peaceniks are dead against nuclear weapons.

But if Iran didn't have a decade-long war with Iraq, do you honestly believe that Tehran would be still A-bombless today? A key proponent of nuclear deterrence, former US secretary of state and earthly emissary of the Prince of Darkness himself, Henry Kissinger, came around to my logical and correct view when he co-wrote in a January 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal that essentially the prospect of having conventional wars was far less dangerous than having nukes lying around.

The same, simple principle applies to the slap. And the same simple denial seems to be in play when it comes to many people's view of the slap. Only if the world investigates the act of slapping more carefully will it realise the kind of debilitating violence that it actually stops on a regular basis.

Of course, in an ideal world overflowing with Disney characters, everyone should be living like Baloo the bear. (On the other hand, Bambi's mother wouldn't have been dead if hunters had slapped her, instead of shooting her dead.) But since we don't live in the world of shorts-wearing rodents and lions that look into the sunset while Elton John sings life-affirming songs, violence is a fact of life. And if in this violent world a slap can do the trick and stop the blood from rushing to one's head beyond fuelling an arm arcing to land on a face, wouldn't it be a prettier world to live in?

The master of pop culture, Raj Kapoor, understood this very well. When Nehruvian India first got a glimpse of that iconic scene in Awaara in which Raj Kapoor in a black t-shirt slaps a stunning Nargis - with the backdrop of coconut trees and wind in the air - it knew that this was a violence borne out of a trembling love, the violence of being frustrated of loving the unattainable.

Today's sociopathological social scientists will, of course, see the scene scandalously encouraging domestic violence. But they, like many Sunday Liberal folks, would rather be unaware and unimpressed by the fact that Raj Kapoor had predated that iconic scene of Catherine Deneuve's masochistic dream sequence in Luis Buñuel's Belle du Jour by 16 years. Even today, the Indian director makes much more of an impact with a choke-and-a-slap than the Spaniard did with a woman tied to a tree and being flogged.

But why go into such psycho-sexual depictions of the slap when we have more banal (and, therefore, practical) examples of the slap coming in the way of human disasters? As anyone driving on Indian roads knows, altercations are usually settled with a hand going through the rolled-down window of the front seat with an agitated hand seeking its target. It is perhaps the decline of this traditional form of road rage that now finds people flashing their guns on finding their bumpers dented.

But if it's the objectivity of physics you want, then know that even the hard slap that finds its target is far less harmful than other more violent and prevalent forms of aggression. Essentially, a slap is the concentrated aggregation of artificial gravitational force (weight per square unit of area not caused by the earth's movement - gravity - but by objects in motion) on a fixed area of your face. A hard slap amounts to hundreds of g-force. But the impact is so momentary and the area under consideration so small that it doesn't produce any real damage at all.

Which is where we come to the heart of the slap. There seems to be less unease at people being beaten up than people being slapped. This has been magnificently explored in Christos Tsiolkas' 2008 novel The Slap. A three-year-old child at a barbecue party is misbehaving and is getting on everyone's nerves. To make matters worse, the parents are blissfully New Age-y in their non-intervention. Finally, losing his patience, the cousin of the host slaps the boy. The gathering is horrified, and the novel proceeds to describe how all the characters deal with this cataclysmic act of violence.

The slap is delivered not so much to hurt, but to humiliate. And those who can't bear to be humiliated - or handle others being humiliated - simply can't see how the slap plays a sterling role in making this world a more peaceful one than it could be.