India's patriotism starts with saas-bahu and ends in Bollywood

I blame celluloid and its mawkish plots and maudlin lovesick songs for instilling a perpetual victimhood in the Indian public.

 |  4-minute read |   05-03-2016
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I have always thought that melodrama is deeply entrenched in the Indian spirit. We are an emotional lot who are transfixed by icons. This is why there are temples for Sachin Tendulkar and Amitabh Bachchan and Jayalalithaa. I have no problem with celebrating our celebrities but why do we elect them into a position of power that they have little knowledge or qualification for?

It seems the thinking goes, "hey this guy was really good at dishum-dishum and running around trees with actresses, I'm sure he would make a good railway minister". There's a reason why Meryl Streep wasn't nominated to be a senator in America; she does a mean Miranda Priestly but would be terrible at filibusters (having said that, there's also the fact that the Americans gave California to a man whose credentials were namely Terminator 1 and Terminator 2).

Comparisons have been made between Smriti Irani's caterwauling in the Parliament and Kanhaiya Kumar's speech upon release from jail. The HRD minister turned an important issue into a roadside nautanki with rehearsed dialogues about "bacche ki maut", demons and dismembered heads. Everything she said is refuted to the point that the opposition has even moved a privilege motion against her.

It has also emerged that one of Irani's former aides helped in promoting the doctored videos of JNU students that led to the kerfuffle that is still playing out. When questioned about her policy making, the minister is quick to give answers that are obstructions at best and delirium at worst.

"Histrionics" was a word that was much bandied about last week but when we let an actor into the Parliament, histrionics is what we will get.  Kanhaiya's speech, on the other hand, was packed with a commanding rhetoric and contagious humour. That's what the country needs: little more wit and a lot less melodrama. Watching him live on TV, it was palpable that his words would resonate with millions of Indians. It's no secret that Narendra Modi won the election because of his oratory skills.

The man who talked of his 56-inch chest and attacked the government (much like Kanhaiya) is these days as emotionally volatile as a Masterchef contestant whose soufflé refuses to rise. Still, no one has it as bad as Rahul Gandhi. Watching Rahul debate is like watching a goat attempting to open a wine bottle.

I look forward to the day when we can move past Mother India non-sequiturs and sappy talk of "desh ki mitti" and "maa ki mamta". Our HRD minister is talking of placing her dismembered head at her opponent's feet? What is this, the Mahabharata? The Telegraph got some flak last week for referring to Smriti Irani as "Aunty National". The problem with living in a society that has completely lost its sense of humour is that it can't even appreciate a good pun. We are drowning in palaver and turning into the kind of sourpusses who issue death threats to those who don't follow our idea of India.

In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University observed the "Dunning-Kruger effect" which is a cognitive bias where unskilled people suffer from illusionary superiority and mistakenly assess their ability to be much higher than it really is. Dunning and Kruger attributed this bias to a cognitive inability of the unskilled to recognise their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. I think it's safe to say that self-appointed patriots suffer from the same internal illusion.

The nationalists have also turned the Indian soldier into an infallible icon to win every debate. Shouting slogans? There are soldiers dying at the border you ungrateful Maoist! Questioning the government? There are faithful soldiers dying at the border you pseudo-intellectual! Wasting your vegetables? Soldiers are dying at the borders so that you can waste food, you bratty teenager!  

This melodramatic notion of India as the land of sacrifices is propagated even by media moguls sitting in their air-conditioned ivory towers. When Arnab Goswami invokes the death of a fallen (by natural disaster) Siachen soldier to make a point, it is difficult to counter that without coming across as an ungrateful anti-national who doesn't respect the sacrifices of soldiers.

Stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope famously said "Nationalism does nothing but teach you to hate people you never met, and to take pride in accomplishments you had no part in." It is so much more convenient to feel pride for our soldiers than actually rewarding their sacrifice by something as simple as the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme.

I blame Bollywood and its mawkish plots and maudlin lovesick songs for instilling a perpetual victimhood in the Indian public. Gone are the days of Kishore Kumar when one could bask in a happy-go-lucky melody that put a spring in your step. Most Hindi songs now are either full of bedwetter existentialism (Aashiqui 2) or chandelier shagging bravado (Honey Singh). There has to be a middle ground.

In Gangs of Wasseypur, the character of Ramadhir Singh laid it straight: "Hindustan mein jab tak cinema hai, log c*****e bante rahenge".

Ironically, this movie started with a family watching the opening credits of Kyunki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi that featured an oily Smriti Irani inviting viewers into the archetypal Indian home.

Writer

Abhishek Sikhwal Abhishek Sikhwal

Abhishek Sikhwal is a Calcutta-based writer.

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