Woke in the Streets, Privileged in the Sheets: The Birth of the Half-Liberal


Woke in the Streets, Privileged in the Sheets: The Birth of the Half-Liberal

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

As the conversation to #DeleteFacebook drones around us in an annoying buzz (because you know nobody is really going to delete it), I can’t help but imagine what I’d do with my time if I didn’t have conversations to eavesdrop on. Like for instance, this one: A friend posted a status about how disastrous Donald Trump’s decision was – it doesn’t matter which one. The first comment was: “You live in Dombivli. You get water only thrice a week. Focus.” I spent a good 40 minutes laughing at that one. Is there anything more entertaining than witnessing the mirror of reality being held up to a – what shall we call them? – gullible, upper-class, privileged liberal-ish twits. Half-liberals?

Come to think of it, you don’t really need Facebook for this. This variety of deluded do-gooders – people who make the right noises about the right trending things – is everywhere today, out in the same real world that they refuse to acknowledge. He’s the guy standing at an ATM with 24-hour air-conditioning, refusing to take a printout of the receipt to save the environment. The best part is that he walks out thinking he has indeed saved it.

If you don’t have time to hang around at an ATM or lurk on Facebook, don’t worry. Just pay attention to them the next time you’re catching a drink. These are the guys who call a suburb a borough, because that’s what they’re called “back home” in America. They use nicknames for cities they’ve recently visited: Frisco, anyone? They won’t play Holi but will take a shower because buckets are too LS. They won’t celebrate Diwali because, hey, child labour. They mark themselves “safe” sitting in Bali when the earthquake was in Nepal. They’re constantly worried about a lot of the North Pole starting to evaporate, and that we could get to a tipping point. They think it is a little racist to call it a Black Friday.

Upcycling, granny glasses, part-time veganism interspersed with “dirty” burgers, an obsession with obscure coffee and craft beer – that’s their thing. They roll their eyes if you want a cutting chai, why don’t you go to Blue Tokai? In fact, it ain’t coffee if it isn’t priced at ₹499 plus GST. They sit in air-conditioned conference rooms, with a plastic Bisleri bottle on every table discussing global warming. And yes, these are the same people who observe Earth Day with more seriousness than kids approach their board exams.

The same hipster that pees a few millilitres and flushes it with many litres of water is outraged by an ordinary person bursting a balloon.

This is a breed of people that gets clubbed with anyone who espouses liberal values. You can hardly label me a fundamentalist if I read a report on Muslims being turned away from housing societies and do a Facebook rage-post about it, can you? But what if I am also the guy who says, ugh, slums are so unclean? What if I scream “#EqualPay” at the TV with tears in my eyes, everytime Anushka Sharma brings it up in an interview, but will choose to pay the bai the same exploitative rate that the apartment society has fixed? What if I were the woman who did a Twitter thread everytime someone so much as uttered the word “caste” but wouldn’t so much as blink an eyelid when my grandmother segregated the utensils: one lot for the family, one for everyone from outside?

What if I had all the attributes of wokeness, without actually being woke?

No matter how much I try, it’s really difficult to control an overwhelming urge to grab them by their arms, give them a good shake, and ask them if they’re fucking kidding themselves. Personal preferences aside, my trouble with them is the high horse they sit on. I can’t stand the righteous rage they fly into, the way they sniff at anyone who is perceived to be lower down the scale of competitive wokeness, especially because I know how divorced from reality some of them actually are.

The same hipster that pees a few millilitres and flushes it with many litres of water is outraged by an ordinary person bursting a balloon. How dare you waste water? Don’t you know Cape Town doesn’t have any left (pssst, neither does Bangalore)? These folks suffer from the same superiority complex as the girlfriend who, seven months into dating, finds your wardrobe choice wrong and table manners deplorable.

The important question is how did we get here? How did something that supposedly espoused the values of broad-minded thinking end up as narrow-minded judging?

Maybe it is born of the absurdity surrounding us. When the red of the Left and the orange of the Right gets brighter, it’s natural that the teal of the Liberal shall rise too. When reasonable conversations are well nigh impossible to have and common sense jostles for space, the only way to be heard is to shout above the others or shout something different.

Now lemme go order my flat white from Blue Tokai.