Tanmay Bhat has had his 15 minutes of fame. He dissed both Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar in one fell swoop and earned undreamt-of notoriety in the twitterverse. Just when we thought that Bhat would vanish into the twilight of social media, the controversy has got another lease of life with the venerable New York Times referring to Ms Mangeshkar as a “so-called playback singer”. And off we go again breathing fire and brimstone at the newspaper.
The question I want to ask is does Ms Mangeshkar, several honours and awards under her belt, even care what the distant newspaper thinks? She has had more than her moments under the bright subcontinental sun. Would Frank Sinatra have cared if an Indian newspaper called him a so-called singer, though I might add that many in the US have questioned his abilities in the music department. The New York Times has done much worse, taking a swipe at our Mars mission, our recalcitrance at the climate change talks and so on. Are we going to get our knickers in a twist every time someone is unflattering to a person of great repute in India?
We do a pretty good job ourselves of chipping away at our national icons. It is pretty much open season on Jawaharlal Nehru these days, the jury out on Mother Teresa – was she an evangelist or a true saint? We are quite quick off the mark to tear into our cricketers, the great Tendulkar included in his day, every time they do badly. We expend a great deal of time and energy on non-issues and personalities – should Aishwarya have worn purple lipstick? -- and certainly the NYT’s description of Ms Mangeshkar is not likely to feature up in the marquee lights when it comes to insults.
The NYT’s South Asia bureau chief, Ellen Barry, tweeted after the article was published: “A note on ‘so-called’: Used here for non-Indian readers unfamiliar w term ‘playback singer.’ In no way a commentary.”
We really seem to have undergone some sort of humorectomy in recent times. While we rail against the NYT for its affront to a great singer, though not everyone would agree with that description, the Americans don’t hold back on their own. In a recent talk show which featured Donald Trump, who could very well end up in the White House, the host described him as a tangerine-coloured Godzilla. Woe betide anyone trying something similar here. So, let’s get over the NYT barb, if that is what it was in the first place, and leave Ms Mangeshkar to trill on. Let us not dine out on this issue of so-called national importance one minute more.