By Karanjeet Kaur Jan. 05, 2019
In India, every day presents a new diversion, a new amusement. This week, we discovered the Kauravas were “test-tube babies” in a giant leap backward for science, and Kerala’s “Women’s Wall” protest against the violence at Sabarimala, showed us how to do solidarity.
Dear Probably-Still-Hungover-From-NYE Reader,
Here we are, already close to the end of the first week of 2019. Just another 51 weeks of this, before we can look back with mock astonishment and guilt, wondering where yet another year went by, when we’ve measured out our lives with coffee spoons and lapsed gym memberships. There’s a saying in Punjabi that is bandied about at the end/beginning of the year and is very loosely translated as, “The years roll by easily – it’s the days that are hard to get through.”
Well, the days aren’t all that hard to get through when you live in India, where every day presents a new diversion, a new amusement – and we haven’t even entered election season proper. I meant that the honour roll for “I Can Haz Science” Claims from the WhatsApp Institute of Eminence got off to a cracking start: G Nageshwar Rao, the vice chancellor of Andhra University claimed that the Kauravas were test-tube babies, that India devised guided missiles because the Ramayana makes references to hit-and-run astras, and that even thousands of years ago, India was awarded the UNESCO Best Most Amaze Country in All Universe Award. Only one of those three assertions is made-up. But what really takes the brahmastra in all of this, is that Rao said these things at the 106th Indian Science Congress in Jalandhar – proving yet again that the greatest educationist in this country was not Dr S Radhakrishnan, or Savitribai Phule, or Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, but Ramanand Sagar.
But can we really blame Rao, who I half-suspect is projecting himself for a sinecure as a BJP leader, when so many other party peeps make similar, outrageous claims? This social contagion starts at the top: After all, PM Modi claimed India’s supremacy in nuclear technology and cosmetic surgery. Then, we have Satyapal Singh, our MoS responsible for higher education, who is a famous Darwin denier. And then, our very own Dr Harsh Vardhan – union minister of science and technology, no less – who claimed (without proof, natch) that the late Stephen Hawking believed that the Vedas had a theory superior to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, at the (wish I were making this up) 105th edition of Indian Science Congress. Seriously guys, at this point, we should probably just rename this event Hindutva Tech Chintan Baithak or somesuch. One small step for Hindutva Tech, one giant leap – backward – for science. (Need a primer on the subject? We’ve been tracking it for a while now.)
Still, the first week has had its high points, so maybe it is too early in the year to begin on a note of such cynicism. Speaking of note of cynicism, we will no longer have to countenance the ugliness that was the ₹2,000 bill – maybe. According to reports that surprised absolutely no one except the top brass of the ruling party, the note might be used for hoarding black money, or the exact same purpose that the ₹1,000 note served, less efficiently. What is one supposed to do with that awkward currency anyway, except hoard it? It’s not like your rickshawallah or kirana store is going to give you change for it. Might be too early to celebrate, but I for one would be glad to see the back of the “Govinda of currencies”.
Just another 51 weeks of this, before we can look back with mock astonishment and guilt.
The new year also brought with it new #MeToo charges against new wokebros. While these continue, we’ll hope #MeToo penetrates small-town India, which is waiting for its own revolution. But maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath until Bollywood gets on board with that idea. In the imagination of Hindi cinema, “rebellion” by small-town Indian women, is limited to drinking, smoking, and cussing. As we wrote here, “Where are all the well-rounded girls who have lives that are social and political, who have an aspiration outside the bottle of tequila? The women who have careers, are serious about them, take care of families in times of need, are compassionate and caregiving, but fierce and independent? Can flirt with men, have casual sex, drink, and smoke? And in the end, are self-reliant, even when in love.”
Even so, it is difficult to imagine some of the tectonic shifts that are taking place in Kerala over the Sabarimala issue, without taking into account the impact that #MeToo has had. In the most joyous news of the week, even for our cold, depressive hearts, women (and men) across Kerala joined the 620-km Vanitha Mathil (Women’s Wall), resisting “the dark forces that want to push women back into the dark ages”. The completely offline mobilisation, that brought together the doctor and the farm labourer, the Hindu and the Muslim, is evidence of how the politics of #MeToo have indeed percolated down to places we didn’t think possible. (And no, dear Mr Modi, both triple talaq and Sabarimala are gender issues – more here.)
This week, we also lost two leading lights from two of our greatest national obsessions – Bollywood and cricket. Kader Khan, “who created the ’80s”, passed away after a long illness, followed by Ramakant Achrekar, the “man who made God”. We are grateful, however, that sub-inspector and my personal hero, Manoj Kumar was only injured in an “encounter” and not seriously hurt.
Seriously, Kumar, who’d yelled “thain thain” to scare away gangsters when his gun jammed during a face-off, had felt like the one ray of hope in an abject year in 2018. Because does anything encapsulate the seat-of-the-pants jugaad spirit of India better than “thain thain”? I don’t think so, and I hope the soul of “thain thain” animates the rest of your year too.
PS: “Do you flaunt a flagrant repugnance toward all things Indian, but hold off buying those coveted headphones in wait for the big billion sale? Do you speak English with a sprauncy accent, but resort to maa-kis and behn-kis in moments of rage? Are you a pseudo angrez millennial? Take our quiz to find out!”