“Aap newspaper chhaapte ho nah? Write an article on toleration,” thundered Chaddha ji, out of the blue, this morning. Between reacting to newspaper chhaapna as my vocation and the merciless death of language via ‘toleration’, I had to choose the latter. “Hi Chaddha saab, what exactly is toleration?” I asked, getting mentally ready to educate him on the right usage of the word ‘tolerance’. “Aap admin department mein ho kya? I thought you are a writer. It’s an English word which means having patience,” he blurted.
“Our admin department knows way better angrezi than you, sir,” I replied, knowing that my own patience was getting tested here. Anyway, I knew what he meant, so rather than prolonging the painful conversation, I told him I write on lighter issues, not on controversial subjects, and some such nonsense. And later got thinking about it. A simple, next-door guy like Chaddha ji, who I’ve hardly seen consuming media except mindless astrology shows or even more mindless film award functions, was suddenly conscious, and alert to the issue of tolerance or intolerance.
In the past few days, ever since students became the focus of a lot of politics and debates over nationalism, a lot of bitterness and negativity seems to have crept into the common man’s life. The very thought of writing on calmness when my own BP shoots up every evening at 9pm via TV debates, then shoots up at 9am via provocative newspaper reports, sounds like a silly idea to myself. It’s like emotions nah ho gayi, pingpong game ho gayi. You form an opinion about where you stand on an issue, and suddenly you get to know that your view was coloured by a fake video. You change your opinion, and then you get to know that the news itself was fake.
Considering that common people hardly specialise into research and investigation, the collective knowledge of communities is being swayed from one point to another by those who clearly have motives to do so. Anyway, a few minutes spent on social media showed me how passionately the younger generation is involved in this national vs anti-national debate. Passionate to the extent ki teesri world war Facebook pe hi shuru ho sakti hai kisi din. While I’m all for an aware and participative gen-X, there are some points I want to humbly make to the social media warriors.
1 Do care, but itna? Dekho yaar, it’s great to have a view on issues that matter to our society and country at large. Democracy thrives on freedom of expression, healthy debates, etc. etc. and you know all that. But itna kya pagalpan that your peace of mind goes for a toss on issues that are clearly driven by people who have agendas. Till a few days back, you had not heard of Rohith or Vikram or Kanhaiya or Umer or OP Sharma or whoever. Heck, be honest and admit that even Afzal Guru did not exist in your memory space. Ab suddenly, all these people, for right or wrong reasons, are becoming the cause of you venting such anger at friends and colleagues that it’s disturbing. Although it is critical, and appreciable, to be knowledgeable about current affairs, and hence contribute to the process of opinion-making in the country, it still doesn’t make sense to hyperventilate on Twitter and FB all day and move around with angry eyes and an imaginary sword in hand to set the evil right. Why such anger?
2 Do not drag unwilling people into debates: Not everyone enjoys having a point of view. Why, some people are physiologically incapable of having one. Look at Mrs Chaddha, she needs psychiatric intervention for the stress of choosing outfits for a wedding. Now, always existing in a debate mode makes such people in your life very, very uncomfortable. They could be your friends, colleagues, your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse. Naa unko pata hai, naa unko parwaah hai. You go deal with it. But don’t raise your blood pressure, and their anxiety levels, by constantly starting a high-voltage debate on a national crisis each time you talk.
3 There’s more to life: Oye suno, provocative FB posts pe likes to mujhe bhi achhe lagte hain, but exams vexams nahi hain tumhaare? How can you be lurking around on social media all the time, giving time, mind-space and energy to issues that elicit endless, heated discussions. You know what, come closer. Let me tell you the secret that all the TV debate panelists, anchors, newspaper columnists, political spokespersons — all of the opposing views, mostly share a laugh and a drink when they are offline. And why not? These debates are not personal, they are issue-based. But while they understand it and can switch off to return to normalcy after all the shouting which gets them TRPs, readership, followers, Padmashris etc. etc., some of you young people are left with the blood still boiling in your veins and mind immensely disturbed from all the growling and screaming.
Here’s the thing. A simple search on the internet would tell you that our life is way better than what a large percentage of humanity is suffering in various corners of the world. Surely, some of you would say that there are countries who are better-off than us, but then if cribbing makes you any calmer, please indulge yourselves. Till then, take the onus of making your own universe calmer by not falling prey to constant aggression of thoughts and views. It’s needless, and it doesn’t even help the cause. A country is not a piece of land. The people living in it make its destiny. Thoda mast raho, thoda tension kam lo, and you’ll do your land a great favour. And hey, taking a deep breath and smiling is not anti-national in any part of the world. Whatsay?
Sonal Kalra just watched a TV news debate and tried to stop this column from getting published. She is angry and wants to write a serious piece about liberalism versus nationalism. Too bad, ab toh chhap gaya!
Mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on facebook.com/sonal.kalra. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.