Hasna Seekho: To All the Guys Who Made Us Laugh in this Time of Protests

POV

Hasna Seekho: To All the Guys Who Made Us Laugh in this Time of Protests

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

In December 19, my friends from Bangalore were venting about the arbitrary imposition of Section 144 in the city. The police raid on the students of Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi had taken place only five days prior, and by then, protests in solidarity with the students and against the divisive CAA had snowballed into a national movement, albeit one characterised by outrage and a sense of helplessness. And then, one tweet came and defused all the tension.

“Bus full of protesters detained near Town Hall were dropped near Shantinagar since the bus had to go back and pick up more protesters. In the confusion, people simply got off bus and walked back to Town Hall. Bengaluru Traffic 1-0 Section 144”, tweeted the user @prajwalmanipal.

The sheer comedy of Bangalore police detaining protesters and removing them from the protest site, only to have to let them go because of traffic… file under “It Happens Only in India”. Small as it might be, it was enough to comfort some of us that this was a fight worth fighting.

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Yes, things are particularly bleak right now – which only means it is ripe ground for comedy of all kinds.

VoiceOfRebel_93/Twitter

Yes, things are particularly bleak right now – which only means it is ripe ground for comedy of all kinds. Great conflict gives birth to great art, even if that art is in the form of memes, jokes, cartoons, clever protest posters, and parody songs come as a much-needed balm for our distressed souls. Just look at the roots of heavy metal and punk rock, for example. As we seethe over police brutality and write long posts, attend protests, break up with friends, and fight trolls, what keeps many of us going is the wit of those around us – the Instagram-friendly cartoons of Satish Acharya and Manjul, the comic strips of Sanitary Panels, the graphic novel style of Appupen.

The aam protester on the street was not the one to be intimidated by a few lathis.

Even the aam protester on the street was not the one to be intimidated by a few lathis. Amid signs of “India Rejects CAA” and “Modi Go Back”, the placards with one-liners such as “Bure Din Wapas De Do” and “Don’t Love Us for Our Biryani” stood out. My particular favourite is an adaptation of the global, “It’s so bad even ____ is here” meme (filling up the blank are “privileged”, “South Bombay” and even “bhakts” in addition to the original “introverts”).

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My particular favourite is an adaptation of the global, “It’s so bad even ____ is here” meme.

Twitter

At a time when you risk losing your work contract or being dropped from a panel, speaking up against the establishment takes courage. But our comedians were not the ones to cower. For obvious reasons, José Covaco’s ill-fated conversation with Arnab to help him fix his printer is the one that has stayed with me; it’s the one I keep going back to when I find myself losing my optimism. Heck, there’s even an account that puts anti-CAA messages into “WhatsApp forward” format.

None of this is a laughing matter. Several of these artists also convey very serious messages in a manner that only a cartoonist can. And often, these comics have felt cathartic, reflecting what we ourselves were feeling… and so badly wanted to tell that bigoted uncle in our WhatsApp group or that friend who went full right wing on us unnanounced.

Over the past two months, we’ve had several flashpoints where the jokes seemed to write themselves. Pakistani Hindus rejecting India’s kind offer, for starters; PM Modi having to cancel his trip to a protest-laden Assam; an RTI revealing nobody in the government knew who constituted the tukde-tukde gang; late-stage capitalism manifesting itself perfectly with the same seller peddling anti- and pro-CAA tees on Amazon; and of course, the time the BJP IT cell made a typo and #ISupportCCA trended.

Humour, at least in my experience, often acts as a gateway drug to sombre news.

So well-entrenched is humour as a valve for us liberals that when Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella proclaimed CAA/NRC was a sad thing, elated folks took to Twitter and wondered if bhakts would now #BoycottMicrosoft enough to make it trend ironically.

Humour, at least in my experience, often acts as a gateway drug to sombre news. In an age of low-attention spans, it’s often a viral meme or a late-night show that draws your attention to the issue. Tamanna Jaisinghani, a counsellor from Mumbai, tells me, “Humour is a defence mechanism — something used when humans are overwhelmed with an unbearable feeling. Right now, I think there’s a pervasive anxiety and helplessness that people have been collectively feeling and as it becomes unbearable at times, they switch to humour.”

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In an age of low-attention spans, it’s often a viral meme or a late-night show that draws your attention to the issue.

Mavis D’Silva/Arré

But out of all the reasons we turn to humour in times of adversity and polarisation is this: Humour acts as a unifier. There’s an inherent belief that this is “our humour” and we can laugh together at the other side — at their hypocrisy, double standards, and whataboutery.

All this should not distract us from the larger point. I’m sure any of these artists and even us — the beneficiaries of this humour — would be happy to trade all the jokes, memes and laughs to get CAA repealed. But until that happens, it’s nice to know that we can fall back on humour for temporary relief. For today, I recommend “Hum Kagaz (Filmy Version) on Instagram.

We may go down fighting, but at least we’ll also be laughing.

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