Help Me! My Father is a Bhakt

Modern Family

Help Me! My Father is a Bhakt

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

There was a point not too long ago when the most serious conversation my father had with me was about how kids these days need to stop listening to Beyoncé and appreciate some real music. This would usually happen before I’d be forced to sit through a 25-minute tabla solo. From music, the conversation would move into other things that kids today are bad at – not saving money, not waking up early – but it never really escalated into an argument, mostly because he referred to Beyoncé as “Bouncy” and no one can keep a straight face after that.

That was back in 2013, when things were simpler. We weren’t fully aware of Arnab Goswami and Times NOW’s existence, and political opinions were simply mini-rants about the government ignoring potholes and trash. There were no sides to take; we were united in our disdain of what we considered bad governance. When the news channels would run stories about scams we’d eat dinner and nod along with the anchors, stating just the facts at each other: “There is a government. It has done a scam.”

Back then, I don’t recall my father ever displaying any obvious political preferences, apart from “must not be a raging asshole” – a policy I follow to this day. The turning point came some time during the Modi wave, when he laughed at one of the then to-be-prime-minister’s acronym jokes. The PM had referred to the entire Gandhi family as RSVP, to refer to both their first names, and their model of governance – pretty decent wordplay, but nothing to clink gomutra over. This in hindsight was possibly the first time my father displayed political affinity of any sort. He turned to me and said quite seriously: “This guy is going to save India.”

Over the last couple of years, Arnab Goswami shouted enough to convince my father that acche din were on the way and also convinced my mother to invest in a good pair of headphones. Through these two-hour-long therapy sessions my father learnt the classic art of “whataboutery” that rendered all arguments about rioting or religious and class biases invalid. Slowly, his fandom developed to align with the interests of the party – he gave up the guitar to try his hand at yoga, he gave up his pulp fiction for a sudden keenness in Hindu mythology, he spent valuable hours that could have been spent watching TV, mastering the art of WhatsApp forwards.

The JNU incident was the first time my father and I seriously argued over politics. It started out innocently enough, with me casually remarking that there was no way those students could actually be anti-India, and just like that, in his eyes, I was the opposition. I saw Kanhaiya Kumar and Co as a group of young college students who had the courage to say things adults wouldn’t; father toed the party line of them being a waste of taxpayers money.

“These days when my father and I watch the news together, he quickly switches the channel to Republic TV and nods along with the most obnoxious members of the panel while I clench my fists.”

That day we started off on a litany consisting of three main sentences that would safely cover everything from Kanhaiya Kumar to Beyoncé: “Kids don’t know anything,” followed by “These guys wouldn’t have survived the ’70s,” and “They are spreading Marxist ideology”.

My mother, who didn’t like being disturbed during Sadhguru hour, wasn’t a fan of this new development. Her moments of peace were soon shattered by her husband and son arguing over whether we, “as a family”, should link our Aadhaars with our bank accounts. During the demonetisation days, my father was upbeat, because he thought it was going to save the country, I was upset because I was the one sent to withdraw money for him. Our mini flare-ups soon escalated into full-blown brawls and conversations began to end the way they do on the internet, with me being labelled a naive Congi.

These days when my father and I watch the news together, he quickly switches the channel to Republic TV (he doesn’t watch the other “fake news channels”, in his own words) and nods along with the most obnoxious members of the panel while I clench my fists. Intermittently, he says things like “those guys” when referring to Muslims. Sometimes he’ll throw a jibe about Arvind Kejriwal, or Congress spokespeople just to rile me up. I’m not the biggest fan of any of these personalities, but then again I was never really a fan of Beyoncé either, and that never really stopped him.

Like any good Indian boy, I try and respectfully put my point across, being careful not to accidentally insult any of my ancestors. The latest of these attempts came after the Kathua rape, which we solemnly learnt about on a late night news broadcast. My father, while horrified by the incident, questioned why news about rapes always got a religious angle in this country. When I told him that it had taken place in a temple, that the young girl was Muslim, that it was meant to make a larger statement, he waved his hand in my face. “Stuff like this has been happening for years, you think it didn’t happen during the Congress? This is not a religious issue.”

When you think about it, it makes sense that my father would blindly follow the BJP. As we grow older, our opinions tend to get stronger, they tend to get more conservative, and the number of fucks we give about people around us significantly reduces. My mother went from reading a book about Feng Shui to being that person who puts salt at the entrance of every doorway. Similarly, my father took his discontent with the Indian administration and turned it into blind faith for a political party that promised change.

It’s not really his fault. A few years ago, we never really had any kind of political slant, but things have changed. It’s now not possible to both read about the news and not have a strong opinion about it. The only difference is where we get our news from. While I adopted the liberal internet as my source of news, my father stuck to watching TV. For now, until one of us convinces the other to change our minds, we’ll continue to live in this scene from my future sitcom: A bhakt and a librandu, forced to live under the same roof.