Oh good lord. I’ve just been dragged kicking and screaming onto Facebook, and now I owe Ye Ed an apology.
Ever since this column began, I’ve been shrilly accusing him of using a picture of Shrek instead of myself as the accompanying mug, and now I find that’s not true. That ghastly visage next to my name is mine. Whether I like it or not. So Ye Ed, here is my apology: I’m sorry. I’ll never be shrill again.
I realised this apology was due when I saw school photos of myself on Facebook. I was aged about 14 in those pictures, and resembled nothing so much as the kind of thug you’d never want to meet when you’re unarmed, alone, and in a dark alley. If that’s what I looked like then, in the springtime of my life, I can quite understand now, when I have more chins and not much neck, why no one reads this column. The sight of my mug would put anyone off his or her morning paratha. The fact that I’d been operating under a delusion (that my mug doesn’t scare people in real life, so the mug that accompanies this column is Shrek’s) was revealed because, at the time I was dragged onto Facebook, I happened to be reading Don’t Get Fooled Again: The Sceptic’s Guide to Life by Richard Wilson.
Looking at “the myriad ways we can deceive ourselves — and be deceived by others,” the book begins by telling us briefly that we’re usually predisposed to having an idealised view of ourselves and everything that makes up our identities, and then gets into some seriously scary stuff. Stuff like how so many of us delude ourselves into taking people in authority — whether government types, politicians, business people, scientists and ‘experts’ or the media — so seriously that we don’t bother to cross-check, investigate or question what they (or frankly, even what we ourselves) say or do.
Now that we’re dealing with some hardcore terrorism and communalism problems in India, I was particularly gripped by the chapter titled ‘Heroes and Villains’. This uses the example of the US treatment of captured Iraqis in Abu Ghraib to show how easy it is for people to be so single-minded in their zeal to ‘punish evil’ that all rules of humanity go flying. While there’s nothing I’d like better than to have terrorists and communalists caught, tried and punished — and I have to say, the crackdowns do seem justified — I’ve been troubled by the raids on Muslim localities, the controversial Nanavati Report and the fact that, despite assurances from the Centre and the state governments, not much seems to have been accomplished in tracking down the people responsible for the recent violence against Christians, even though the Bajrang Dal has been indicted.
I’d love to believe we have a fair, impartial system of justice. Unfortunately, I’d also love to believe that the mug at the top of this column is Shrek’s.