It makes me laugh when I meet gullible foreigners during my travels, and they get glassy eyed about India and Indians. “You are so fortunate to live in such a spiritual country!” they often say, their eyes moist, their voices quivering. Sometimes, when I am playing the Wicked Witch from the East to the hilt, I egg them on and talk in lofty terms about our great heritage, our holy men and women, our incredible culture. I make no reference to holy cows, of course. After a five-minute discourse, I leave the group in a semi-trance, as they nod their heads and agree India is indeed an evolved place to be — the land of karma. And the Kama Sutra. They can’t hear me laugh!
I was thinking about how glibly we lie and fib and concoct a misleading mythology about our inner peace, our tranquillity, our souls. All bogus claims. Just look around you at the levels of rage and violence across the board. Nobody is spared. Today, doctors and nurses are getting beaten up by irate patients. Road rage takes several lives daily. We seem to hate everybody. And blame the world for everything that’s going wrong. Scan newspaper headlines at your own peril. Most front page stories are about violence in some form or the other.
Beheadings cause the most revulsion. As expected. When our soldiers are mutilated and murdered, national outrage overwhelms one billion patriots who start baying for the enemy’s blood. Gory revenge and vendetta sagas, which drive the TRPs of soap operas across the world, are played out in India so routinely, nobody really blinks. Stories of young brides being tortured and hacked to death over a few pieces of gold elicit yawns, not howls of protest. Children being abused at home, at school, just about anywhere, are greeted with a sense of déjà vu (“Didn’t I read the same story yesterday? No? Oh well... it sounds identical!”). The only ones to escape collective rage so far are our politicians. And that, to me, is the biggest mystery. How come we treat netas with so much consideration? Apart from a few notable cases of face blackening and similar humiliation, even our most despised politicians get away with murder — literally and figuratively.
We like to think we are a calm people. Philosophical and fatalistic. Not true! We are pretty horrid! To each other and others. Notice how rapidly an altercation on a busy road grows into a full-blown street fight with idle bystanders and complete strangers getting into a brawl and landing a few punches without having a clue what the cause of the argument was in the first place. Were we always like this? That’s a question for sociologists to answer. But I can tell you, as compared to my own childhood years, the level of public warfare has dramatically escalated. And here, I am not even bothering to include the hatred one finds on the social media. Our trolls are pretty unique!
Talking to a psychologist on this issue recently, I was given a few insights into the warped national psyche and how the average Indian is a far more aggressive creature than the earlier generation. We are touchier. And far less patient. We want instant resolutions to conflict. If a bride has not produced a son in the first year of her marriage, it’s okay to kill her and get another one. If the neighbour argues about noise pollution emanating from your home, it’s fine to set his car on fire. If the food in the restaurant is not good enough, breaking plates and cursing the chef is considered justifiable conduct. We stone stray dogs, we kill elephants, we attack animals — why? Because we can. And of course we lynch those we suspect.
Suspect? It could be any suspicion. But these days it involves cows and buffaloes. Neighbours are top targets, specially if their religious beliefs and food habits are different from ours. We spew hate with such generosity, it kills! None of this offends or shocks. We rapidly move on to the next horror show. When did we become this dehumanised?
Today, we expect our learned judges to run the country. Most of them are only too happy to oblige. Never mind that one judge from Kolkata is notoriously off-the-wall... even his shenanigans are treated casually. Cruelty and callousness have come to define urban living. More and more stories have started to surface about neighbours lying dead inside locked apartments for months before anybody complains. We used to pat ourselves on the back and boast that our “padosis” were like an extended family. Today, the nuclear family itself is rapidly breaking up. Get used to it, we tell ourselves. There will be more acid attacks, hangings, suicides and murders, as we rage on... Take a look at the faces of motorists in adjoining cars at traffic signals. Notice their expressions — flared nostrils, furrowed foreheads and angry eyes. Scowls. No smiles. And as for greetings and conversation even with co-passengers — forget it!
I tell myself: “It’s a phase... India is in transition. Once we figure out who we are, everything will be just fine.” I know I am kidding myself. Can a country sign up for anger management courses? The Indian summer is upon us. My brain is melting. I want to jump on that flight out to a kinder, gentler place. I am sure it exists. Will let you know if and when I find it.