Shobhaa’s Take: Black is the new black

Something is going on. Something we are too close to right now. Something of great significance

Oh the times we live in! When everything appears black (and is literally bla-ck), it is often the lyrics of some meaningless, long forgotten pop song from one’s youth that keep playing inside the head. That’s what happened to me earlier this week when Mumbai and the rest of India saw a bizarre sight — the blackened face of well-known political thinker/activist/ writer Sudheendra Kulkarni, across countless television screens.

I will spare you the details of the attack, since it has been dissected and deconstructed across every conceivable media platform. Once the shock, outrage and audacity of the daylight assault (described as “non-violent” by Yuva Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray) had been dealt with, all sorts of silly, irrelevant observations started to invade my consciousness. For one, I thought Mr Kulkarni had cleverly converted a planned “humiliation” by six Shiv Sainiks, into a fantastic political masterstroke. This must have been a split-second decision, given that it was a sneak attack. Mr Kulkarni did not display panic, horror, revulsion or fear. Instead, he shrewdly summoned a press conference and flaunted his blackened face, his bloodshot eyes flashing contempt, defiance and rage. Brilliant!

This is what any seasoned political player would do — but rarely does. The first instinct of ordinary folks is to go clean up. Mr Kulkarni quickly figured his violated appearance would generate far greater mass hysteria than a cleaned up post-shower, fresh clothes visual. He pulled off a coup. Within minutes of the attack, he became a folk hero. The entire country knew his name. It was a truly bhayanak image... it will be etched in our collective memory permanently.

Damn! I narrowly missed my own blackened face moment a few months ago. I blew it! Believe me, had those 200 goons waiting with jars of surma to blacken my face outside one of Mumbai’s most popular bookstores (Crossword at Kemp’s Corner), succeeded in waylaying me, I would not have behaved with the sort of equanimity displayed by Mr Kulkarni. In my case, the goons had made the mistake of calling up the media and promising them a tamasha (“Come and watch us as we shame Shobhaa De and blacken her face to teach her a lesson”).

A friendly TV reporter called and tipped me off. I was half way to the venue, when the organisers advised me to turn around and head to a safe place (“But not your home!” advised a concerned lady). The goons were enraged by my no-show. They threw a few stones and dispersed. Had I turned up and walked straight into the mob, what would I have done? For one, I would have been deeply annoyed by such vulgarity and shown it. Chhhheee! My first reaction would have been to rush to the nearest washroom and get the muck off my face. Then… aaha... then, I would have taken them on. That’s the main difference between seasoned professionals (Mr Kulkarni) and idiots like myself.

What Mr Kulkarni did subsequently was equally brilliant. And what he said, after he had the oil paint meticulously removed, his head shaved and his drenched-in-black, tri-coloured clothes swapped for a more sober black-and-white outfit, was even more spectacular. The controversial book launch snow-balled into a vociferous, very heated national condemnation of the “black ink stunt”. And I couldn’t stop singing the old, Black is black... I want my baby back. But because the baby I was referring to, was essentially my freedom as a citizen, I was sounding stupid even to my own ears. There are so many “babies” that have come up in the wake of the Kulkarni debacle. Which one do I dangle on my knee first? You know what... it doesn’t really matter.

The Khurshid Kasuri episode was used by the Shiv Sena to put the Bharatiya Janata Party, its alliance partner, in the dog house. That the strategy backfired, is thanks to one man and his blackened face. It is entirely possible that this single image of Mr Kulkarni seated next to the former minister for foreign affairs, Pakistan (and the author of the wishy-washy book Neither a Hawk Nor a Dove), will do much more to consolidate the perception of Mumbai as a place crawling with violent bigots who think nothing of taking the law in their hands and terrorising citizens.

It is like taking an intimate, husband-wife ka jhagda into a village chowk and going public with a serious relationship rift! How can the two parties possibly work together after such an embarrassingly open show of discordance? That was the idea, Sirji! Enter Sharad Pawar and the NCP. What happens next? Mr Kasuri goes back to Islamabad as a martyr/ hero. His book becomes a bestseller in India. Mr Kulkarni’s position as a public intellectual who bravely took on the lumpen, gets hugely enhanced. Possibly, he hits the international lecture circuit and is hailed for standing up to hooligans, out to destroy the great city of Mumbai — a city known for its multi-cultural, multi-religious, pluralistic, intellectually vibrant and admirably bold traditions. It doesn’t matter whether one agrees with his politics. It doesn’t matter whether one likes or loathes Mr Kasuri. These men had not broken any laws. On the contrary, the laws were blatantly broken by his attackers.

Combine the face-blackening incident in Mumbai, to the literary epidemic sweeping across India — authors returning awards and snubbing the establishment. Something is going on. Something we are too close to right now. Something of great significance. This could be the start of a major uprising. Who knows? As Shashi Deshpande so eloquently put it, “One gunshot can silence many.” Sure. But the same gunshot can also trigger a revolution. To borrow from Salman Rushdie, who has expres-sed his solidarity for all the writers giving back awards, it is time for “Modi’s toadies” to review their stated positions on what citizens should eat, read, write, watch and think. There is just so much people will take before the worm turns. And turn, it will. Then the “ground beneath several feet” will shake. As it must. And the goons will run out of ink. Protest is our birthright. And we shall have it!

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( Source : deccan chronicle )
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