Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher & Everything That is Wrong in Being Just a “Tolerant Nation”

Social Commentary

Naseeruddin Shah, Anupam Kher & Everything That is Wrong in Being Just a “Tolerant Nation”

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Back in Delhi, a friend and I rented an apartment from a man so old-school, DJ Aqueel wanted to remix him. The Old Man didn’t work — he spent most of his time standing awkwardly outside the apartment so he could take notes about what time we slept, check out all our visitors, and ensure no one was throwing a rave in his Malviya Nagar 2bhk on a Thursday night.

On more than one occasion, we’d see his bald head shining in the lobby through the window, and wonder if we should invite him in. But as soon as we’d approach, Old Man would pretend to hide behind a trash can or fiddle with his door. So we’d just pray that he wasn’t secretly attempting to assassinate us, and draw the curtains.

Six months later, this situation comedy reached its season finale, when the roommate and I decided to have five friends over — three of whom happened to have two X chromosomes — to eat hummus and play Uno.

Old Man was enraged. He barged into our house, and went on a tirade, listing out all the flaws he’s noticed in our behaviour over the last few months — having friends, having fun, etc. We served him chai and sat quietly in shame. “This is not going to work anymore if you want to live in my house,” he told us. “I’ve tolerated you guys long enough.”

Much later that night, as we devised the most passive-aggressive form of revenge we could take, the word “tolerate” still stung. Was it really intolerable of us to have friends over after 10 pm? And if so, would living more like two 50-year-old lonely men make us more tolerable to Old Man?

Over the last few days, the word our landlord had thrown so derisively at us, has become the centre of a national debate. It started a couple of days ago when Naseeruddin Shah said he believed India was getting increasingly intolerant, in effect announcing himself anti-national of the month.

“Far from being grateful, I would assume that “tolerance” would be the bare minimum that should be expected of a government.”

This statement immediately drew the ire of both actor Anupam Kher and Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who found Shah’s statement — pretty ironically — intolerable. Anupam Kher’s said he believed India was super tolerant because we’re all insulting the army, and getting away with it. The night before, Rajnath Singh channelled his inner Donald Trump, pointing out that India might actually be the “most tolerant country in the world.”

Now, even if we assume that this is true, and India is actually very tolerant and perfect, is that really something we should be striving for? When Anupam Kher says something like he’s been very tolerant of stone pelters in Kashmir, I can’t help but remember that night with the landlord. “I tolerated you guys drinking alcohol in the house. I tolerated the fact that you come home from work late in the night (yeah, us too).”

Clearly, by using that word, our landlord was trying to imply that he’s done us a huge favour by dealing with our degenerate habits. Much like Anupam Kher has done us a favour by allowing us to throw stones at army men (thanks?). Both the home minister and national award winner are trying to argue the same logic — people who disagree with their views, or dare to criticise the government for not taking action on beef lynching, won’t be persecuted, but in fact “tolerated”.

Far from being grateful, I would assume that this is the bare minimum that should be expected of a government. Of course, the people in power should be tolerant of all views. But at this point, with all their nationalism, shouldn’t they also be willing to celebrate difference in opinion? Especially in such a massive country with so many opinions.

Much like in “The Case of the Pissy Landlord”, the implication here is clear. All of us live in their country, under their rules. These rules could be as silly as don’t have friends over, or as intrusive as don’t publicly practice your religion anymore, or express your views. Disagreeing means you’ve instantly found yourself on the wrong side, and are an annoyance that must be dealt with.

The problem here is that one day our landlord also decided that his limit of “tolerance” had been reached, and that if we couldn’t live by his arbitrary rules, we should seek shelter somewhere that isn’t his property. Pretty harsh for someone who was comfortable living in a house with four kids. Now imagine if something like that were to happen in our great and tolerant nation? Imagine if one day that tolerance is tested to the point where, we’re say, asked to shift to Pakistan by the people in charge? Nah, that probably won’t happen.