‘The art of arguing is the art of living,’ says Gerry Spence, in his book, How to Win Every Time you Argue. ‘We argue because we must, because life demands it, because, at last, life itself is but an argument.’
Spence makes a compelling case for us to hone our debating skills, the burden of his song being that we may have split the atom and reached the moon, but we still have a hard time persuading our fellow man to embrace the concepts of equity and justice.
The ultimate danger, he claims, lies in placing the power of technology in the hands of savages whose ability to articulate has made pitiful progress over the grunts and growls of his ancestors. Or be smartphone-savvy while being unable to string together a sentence spattered with “duh, so and like?”
This is a prescient world view that is especially relevant in a world where Trump’s barbaric fingers are on the nuclear football. Hopefully the gizmo is impervious to verbal commands: a basic necessity given the Donald’s track record in shooting off at the mouth and let’s not discuss his inability to use spellcheck.
Nobel laureate Amartya Sen chose “The Argumentative Indian,” as the title for his latest work, which suggests that the noble art of debate is particularly relevant in the desi context. Show me an Indian who doesn’t love to argue and his name will probably be Deepak Chopra. We thrive on dissent: it is as much a part of our daily lives as breathing, eating and sleeping. In fact, we sometimes manage to combine all three of these basic activities with a good argument; if you feel that’s stretching the point, some women insist that their husbands argue while asleep. My friend Prabhu says if five Indians are in a room, there are bound to be at least ten opinions floating around. Tragically, our outpourings generate far more heat than light while displaying a total lack of irony and this applies to NRI’s in particular.
One of them called at a particularly tense moment when I was trying to get to Chennai airport during the jallikattu agitation… I’ll spare you the details except to say that on a scale of difficulty it was like getting Trump to cuddle Hilary. One look at the female protesters, not to mention the bloodcurdling screams and slogans they came up with and one wouldn’t have to be an animal lover to sympathise with the bull. My caller, who overheard the sloganeering couldn’t help gloating that ‘riots like this over primitive traditions would never take place in a civilised, educated, first-world country.’
Revenge is a dish best eaten cold and I had my chance when Trump assumed the mantle of the presidency last Sunday and thousands from the “land of the brave and free” took to the streets to register their displeasure. Ironically, the President-elect claimed that a hostile press ignored the record attendance at his inaugural but what he seems to have overlooked is that over half a million marched on Washington DC in what was thought to be the largest ever inauguration protest, dwarfing the 60,000 who protested against the Vietnam war before Nixon took office in 1973.
“Welcome to your first day, we will not go away!” the protesters chanted. Say what you will about Agent Orange, but to pass off your most virulent protesters as loyalists calls for the kind of chutzpah that brings new meaning to the phrase, “blowing your own trumpet.” Perhaps he missed the poster pithily proclaiming, “We shall overcomb.”
Outside the US embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square the posters proclaimed: “Dump Trump”, “Reject hate, reclaim politics” and “No to racism, no to Trump”. In Berlin, where several thousand refugees from Syria have landed, protesters chanted: “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here.” But you can’t out-do Hair Fuehrer, with his Day-Glo suntan, that molecular gastronomy hair-do, the misspelled tweets and those sophomoric slogans, “Make America Grate again…” Yeah, like, whatever.