We are a Nation of Addicts Hooked to TV News. Rhea Chakraborty is Our Drug

Social Commentary

We are a Nation of Addicts Hooked to TV News. Rhea Chakraborty is Our Drug

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

Every night, around 9 pm, Sharma Uncle’s palm begins to itch.

He leans forward and reaches out for the Tata Sky remote. It fits snugly in his hands, like a syringe in the palm of a seasoned user. He switches on the TV, and then pauses. There is a decision to be made. Like Hunter S Thompson in the desert, staring at his suitcase full of uppers, downers, screamers, laughers, opioids, and hallucinogens, Sharma Uncle carefully ponders over his options.

His regular fix is Times Cow. But every now and then, he wants something stronger: Something which will slap his medulla oblongata, electrify his spine, and make him froth at his mouth in schadenfreudian pleasure, he switches to Publick TV.  The budget fuhrer from Assam never disappoints. Waving his arms, fogging his spectacles, and shouting at the top of his voice, he spits out Goebbelsian propaganda, much to Sharma Uncle’s delight.

On days when his senses demand something earthy, something a little less colonial, Sharma Uncle reaches out for Chee News and Kal Tak. The anchors here speak Hindi, but their “language” is the same as their English-speaking brethren, a giddy mix of propaganda, rumour, and accusation. And on those long, hard days when none of these channels can provide the cheap thrills he seeks, Sharma Uncle even stoops to using Pradarshan News.

But this evening, Sharma Uncle wants guaranteed pleasure and escape. He wants to leave the worries of his middling middle-class existence behind. So he chooses something dependable – the explosive, exclusive duo of Jai Jai Shivshankar and ‘Sari’ka Kumar. As he presses channel number 376 on the remote, Sharma Uncle’s pulse quickens. He licks his lips in anticipation. Music loud enough to jolt India’s founding fathers from their graves reverberates in the room. Sharma Uncle’s pupils dilate as the large, shiny faces of the anchors emerge on the Chinese LED TV bought on a website with a majority Chinese stake.

A new kind of junkie

Brimming with confidence which comes from knowing that you will never take on the government, the anchors smile and launch into a diatribe which confirms every bias Sharma Uncle has carefully nurtured over his life. With hubris which would put Ozymandias to shame, the duo taunt and ridicule the panelists who try to argue against their dominant narrative. The “left-wing liberandus” and “sickulars” are shown their place in the opening five minutes. Jai Jai Shivshankar caresses Sharma Uncle with his expansive vocabulary and priggish accent.

Cannabis is one of the five important herbs mentioned in the Atharvaveda

What is ignored is the absolute lack of coherence behind his glib and greasy sentences. ‘Sari’ka chimes in with platitudes which make Sharma Uncle moan with pleasure. They brim and bristle against Bollywood in unison. Such is their persistence that one would think it was this industry which was responsible for running the Indian economy into the ground, failing to protect the nation’s borders, causing farmer suicides, and botching up the medical and economic management of the pandemic.

Words in uppercase typed furiously, appear on the screen and enhance Sharma Uncle’s trip. CANNABIS, CBD OIL, NARCOTICS, RHEA CHAKRABORTY, NCB, JAIL, CONSPIRACY, WHATSAPP, ARRESTED, NO BAIL! Sharma Uncle squirms in pleasure as ‘Sari’ka Kumar and Jai Jai Shivshankar propel the modest ganja
to such heights that heroin, methamphetamines, and any other drug can only look on with envy.

Lost in this verbal haze, Sharma Uncle forgets that cannabis was legal in India until 1984, and is still used by millions of Indians for a variety of reasons. In some parts of the country, it is sold at government-run kiosks. It is one of the five important herbs mentioned in the Atharvaveda. It is a part of that illusory thing incessantly Sharma Uncle reminds his friends of: the unbroken Hindu civilisation spanning 5,000 years.

Seers from Bengal to Bombay have consumed it. It’s smoked in the hills of Malana and the beaches of the Malabar Coast. There would be anarchy in engineering colleges without the small 100-rupee packets of ganja to calm frayed nerves. It’s a drug which is a great leveller, consumed by film stars and the homeless alike.

Chasing a different high

But Jai Jai Shivshankar, who’s blissfully unaware of the usage of cannabis by his namesake, the great blue lord, seems to think the consumption of cannabis is a greater sin than driving the economy into the ground, remaining coy on deadly Chinese excursions into Indian territory, and having no plans for the pandemic.

Sharma Uncle, of course, is the symbolic representative of the vast swathes of Indians of all ages, class, and genders who have contributed to the TRP of these media cartels by staying glued to their television screens. Even heroin addicts have to leave their dens once in a while to get their fix. But the drug called television is directly beamed into lakhs of houses all day and all night.

We are so stupefied that we barely notice the swiftness with which our dealers change our drug.

And because of this incessant usage, because of this madness, because of this media trial, events were set in motion which culminated in the arrest of Rhea Chakraborty on the charge of sourcing drugs for Sushant Singh Rajput. After an investigation of over two months by the Mumbai Police, the ED, the CBI, the NCB, scoring a bit of ganja was the only charge the mighty Indian State could bring against her. The NCB, an agency whose mandate is to bust international drug rings and capture future Escobars, proudly charged Chakraborty with purchasing 59 grams of cannabis (and even that is disputed). Shake the dreadlocks of a sadhu in Varanasi and you’ll find more.

What the future holds for Rhea is uncertain. One hopes that the truth, which hasn’t been discovered in TV studios, comes to light soon. Hopefully, the scales of justice will be balanced swiftly and correctly.

But the bottomline is, as long as there is a demand for rumour, gossip, conjecture, misinformation, and a tamasha involving all of that, the 9 pm peddlers will keep supplying the Sharma Uncles of India with their fix. Now that Rhea has been arrested and her bail plea rejected, there’s already demand in the market for a new drug. And the media cartels are ready with one.

Being injected in our veins now is the breathtaking story of a Bollywood actress who is taking on the Maharashtra Government. But we are so stupefied that we barely notice the swiftness with which our dealers are changing our drugs. And before we know it, we are once again chasing a new narrative, a new propaganda, a new high.