So you say that no one publicly makes fun of anyone’s looks anymore? That we, as a mature and genteel society, may crack a few silly, unsavoury jokes about Abdul Kalam’s hairstyle and Sonia Gandhi’s sweat marks in our living room. But then when the guests start looking at us as if we just cracked some Nazi jokes in Jerusalem, we go back to serving pakoras quietly.
But maybe, making fun of physical appearances is not completely dead after all. Don’t you see those cartoons (most memorably those by Stephen Bell of the Guardian) showing George W Bush as a cross between a Neanderthal and a chimp? Or Tony Blair as a grotesque, grinning poodle? Or, less famously, Amar Singh as... shudder... Amar Singh?
As you may have figured out by now, making fun of someone’s appearance is kosher when that someone happens to be what social scientists call a ‘bad person’. Quite clearly, the badness sticker has to be approved by the liberal lot — in other words, exactly the same people who howl in protest when you make fun of physical appearances in general.
In India, of course, not making fun of faces and appearances is vaguely stapled to those two other golden rules of public-private behaviour: don’t get personal about people who occupy public space; and, don’t make fun of elders. There is no reason why no one ever cracked a joke about Narasimha Rao’s — or, for that matter, Vajpayee’s — lower lip (except cartoonists) or Jagjivan Ram’s or Mamata Banerjee’s face in print except that none of them are bad enough.
On the other hand, Narendra Modi isn’t a bad looking bloke. Neither is Amitabh Bachchan. Only if one of the not-so-nice looking bad public figures started a war in Iraq or supported SEZs. What safe fun we could have had.